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29 Minutes of Fourth Meeting of Principal Delegates to Imperial Conference

E (PD) (37) 4 (extracts) LONDON, 22 May 1937


The question of regional pacts, initially raised by the U.K. in
connection with proposals for the reform of the Covenant of the
League of Nations, was considered by a Cabinet sub-committee on 11
September 1936. The memorandum prepared for the sub-committee was
used as an Imperial Conference brief and is printed as Document 5.

Further reference to Australia's interest in promoting regional
understanding and a pact of non-aggression in the Pacific can be
found in the extract from one of the Defence Department memoranda
for the Conference printed as Document 13.

The British Government was not, however, given any warning that
Lyons intended to raise the matter at the Imperial Conference. For
the initial British reaction, see cablegram 101 from the U.K. High
Commissioner in Canberra to the U.K. Government on 19 May 1937 and
accompanying Foreign Office minute of 20 May 1937 in PRO: FO

MR EDEN: At the opening Session of the Conference Mr Lyons had
alluded to the possibility of concluding a 'regional understanding
and Pact of Non-Aggression by the countries of the Pacific
conceived in the spirit of the principles of the League.'[1] No
doubt in due time Mr Lyons would elaborate this idea which must be
of the greatest interest to all present. Though he (Mr Eden) was
not yet quite clear in his own mind as to what Mr Lyons had in
view, it might perhaps assist clarification if he were to submit
one or two observations. Great Britain was not opposed to Pacts of
Non-Aggression if there was a general desire for them and if they
represented a real intention for peace and collaboration. They
might play a part in producing a detente and he would do nothing
to discourage any attempt to consolidate the situation in any part
of the world. He did think, however, that we must be sure that a
Pact of NonAggression would contribute to that end before we
embarked upon it, because after all a simple Pact of Non-
Aggression only repeated what was already contained in the Kellogg
Pact [2], and to reaffirm Treaties might only have the effect of
casting doubt on their validity-a doubt which in a few years' time
might attach to the reaffirmation. Constant reaffirmation of
obligations risked undermining the validity of international
engagements. In the past we had attempted to supplement the
Covenant by regional agreements of which the Treaty of Locarno was
the prototype, but these agreements were in the form of a Treaty
of Mutual Guarantee. [3] If what Mr Lyons had in mind was anything
of this nature, Mr Eden was sure that he would not be unconscious
of the difficulties:-

(1) we should be assuming a new, definite and very grave
commitment in joining in any guarantee of the status quo;

(2) our experience taught us that it would almost certainly be
impossible for the United States to join in such an arrangement,
and without their participation the scheme would lose much of its

Since China in 1931 failed to find protection in the League, the
Chinese Government had on various occasions approached us
tentatively with the idea of such a regional Pact. We had always
indicated to them the necessity of sounding the United States
Government on the subject, but if they had done so we certainly
had not heard that they had obtained any result.

Reverting to the idea of a simple Non-Aggression Pact he (Mr Eden)
fully realised that there might be, so to speak, a great moral
value in securing a United States signature to such a document if
that could be done as a specific indication of the particular
interest which the United States took in that region, an interest
very similar to our own in that she was concerned for the
maintenance of the status quo and for the peace and well-being of
all countries in the Far East, but whether it would have more than
a moral value was doubtful. If Russia could be included in such a
Pact it might be very useful, but this of course might well raise
difficulties with Japan. It would be very helpful to hear at a
later stage exactly what was in the minds of the Australian
Delegation and other Delegations interested in the matter, but if
any action was taken it would be necessary to move with extreme
caution, and in particular to ensure that Japan was favourable to
what was proposed from the outset.

[matter omitted]

MR LYONS said that the Australian Delegation had in mind the
making of a Non-Aggression Pact on the lines of the old Quadruple
Treaty. [4] If such a pact covering the Pacific could be made this
would be a very important first step towards the bringing together
of the countries concerned with a view to the improvement of their
relations and the growth of closer and more intimate collaboration
between them. He (Mr Lyons) had mentioned the suggestion to the
President of the United States, who might perhaps have been
expected to react somewhat unfavourably. In point of fact,
however, Mr Roosevelt had stated that the preservation of peace
was the first and most important consideration, and that he would
be quite ready to enter into an agreement with Japan or with any
other country to secure this end. [5] If it was found possible to
bring about some understanding of the kind in contemplation, it
might be found possible to relieve Great Britain to some extent of
the heavy burden of her defensive preparations in the Pacific and
the same would apply to Australia and the other Dominions
concerned. Mr Lyons suggested that the proposed pact should in
general be based on the old Quadruple Treaty which contained
provisions to the following effect:-

'With a view to the preservation of the general peace and the
maintenance of their rights in relation to their insular
possessions and insular dominions in the region of the Pacific
1. The High Contracting Parties agree as between themselves to
respect their rights in relation to their insular possessions and
insular dominions in the region of the Pacific Ocean.

If there should develop between any of the High Contracting
Parties a controversy arising out of any Pacific question and
involving their said rights which is not satisfactorily settled by
diplomacy and is likely to affect the harmonious accord now
happily subsisting between them, they shall invite the other High
Contracting Parties to a joint conference to which the whole
subject will be referred for consideration and adjustment:

2. If the said rights are threatened by the aggressive action of
any other Power, the High Contracting Parties shall communicate
with one another fully and frankly in order to arrive at an
understanding as to the most efficient measures to be taken,
jointly or separately, to meet the exigencies of the particular

Australia's objective in this matter was the preservation of peace
and the maintenance of ever-increasing friendly relations with
Japan. It was true that Japan had objected to the measures which
Australia had taken to protect British exports to Australia
against Japanese competition. These objections had now been
overcome. It would no doubt take a long time to achieve the
proposed Pact, but it would be helpful if the Conference could
give the proposal encouragement and support.

MR MACKENZIE KING enquired whether the signatories to the proposed
pact would be the same as the signatories to the Kellogg Pact. It
should be remembered that the United States had been responsible
for the Kellogg Pact. There was some danger that in any new Pact
it might eventually be found, that responsibilities had been
incurred by the Commonwealth Governments, which were not shared by
the United States.

MR LYONS said that he fully appreciated difficulties of this kind.

At the same time Mr Roosevelt had told him that if serious trouble
arose in the Pacific the United States would be prepared to make
common cause with the members of the Commonwealth concerned.

MR MACKENZIE KING added that Mr Roosevelt had spoken to him of his
desire to see the fortification of the islands of the Pacific
dismantled as a measure of furthering peace in the Pacific.

MR EDEN said that there was of course a considerable difference
between an expression of opinion by Mr Roosevelt in private
conversations and the entering into by him, as President of the
United States, of undertakings and commitments in a formal

MR CASEY enquired whether Mr Eden was ready to say anything about
the Philippines. The grant of independence to the Islands would
raise certain problems as regards the Pacific generally.

MR EDEN said that he did not know whether the attitude of the
United States would undergo modification before that time. His
impression was that Mr Roosevelt was thinking of the
neutralisation of the Pacific as a means of safeguarding the
Philippines during the transition period.

MR CASEY enquired whether anything would be done as regards a
guarantee of the independence of the Philippine Republic.

MR EDEN said that he had no definite information, but he
understood that the United States would like the other Pacific
powers to have the same commitment towards the Islands as the
United States had now. In any case, the grant of complete
independence was still eight years off.

MR CHAMBERLAIN asked whether Mr Savage wished to make any

MR SAVAGE said that he would like to thank Mr Eden for his simple
and frank exposition of the problems.

As regards a Pacific Pact, he did not yet know enough to express
an opinion and he would like to have more information before doing
so. He rather imagined that any such arrangement would necessarily
have an economic foundation. He was prepared to go a very long way
for peace, but he would not much like a Pact which necessitated
New Zealand shifting her trade from the United Kingdom to Japan.

LORD ZETLAND said that India and Burma were vitally concerned in
relations between the British Commonwealth and Japan. His chief
apprehension in this connection at the present time was the
penetration in Eastern waters of Japanese shipping and more
particularly Japanese fishing fleets. The latter were scattered
over all the coasts from the Persian Gulf to New Zealand, and
comprised very efficient boats fitted with wireless which were
undoubtedly carrying on intelligence work for the Japanese

The matter was under consideration in consultation with the
Admiralty here, with a view to plans being devised for dealing
with the situation.

MR CHAMBERLAIN said that the suggestion made by Mr Lyons appeared
to be the most important matter arising out of the discussion. It
seemed desirable, however, to work it out in greater detail before
it was in a form on which the Conference could express an opinion.

He felt that the best course would be for those present to turn
the matter over in their minds during the forthcoming week and for
the matter to be discussed between individuals.

Further discussion could take place at the meetings which would be
held on Mr Eden's return from Geneva and a decision could then be
reached whether there should be a resolution by the Conference on
the subject.

1 Document 25.

2 See Document 17, note 6.

3 The Locarno Treaties, signed 1 December 1925, the most important
of which confirmed the inviolability of the frontiers between
Germany and France and Germany and Belgium and of the
demilitarised zone of the Rhineland. There were also Treaties of
Mutual Guarantee between France and Poland and France and
Czechoslovakia, and arbitration conventions between Germany and
France, Poland, Belgium and Czechoslovakia.

4 Signed 13 December 1921 at Washington by the British Empire,
France, Japan, United States.

5 This apparently referred to a conversation Lyons had with
Roosevelt in July 1935, an account of which is in Dame Enid
Lyons's book, So We Take Comfort (London, 1965), pp. 241-43. No
record of the talk has been found in Prime Minister's Department
files, or in the Lyons papers held in the Australian Archives.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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