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282 Bruce to Curtin

Cablegram 168[A] LONDON, 25 September 1943, 8.40 p.m.


Your telegram 244 of 16th September [1] is of paramount importance
in that it raises the great issue of the international status of
the Dominions and the reconciliation of that status with the
Dominions' membership of the Commonwealth of British Nations.

Your telegram has forced the facing of this issue here and before
a reply is sent to you its terms will have to be approved by the
Prime Minister and possibly the matter may be taken to the War
Cabinet. This will involve some delay and, in the meantime, it
would perhaps be useful that I should send you some thoughts.

It appears to me that there are two issues involved. The first is
to find a way of dealing with the immediate problem of securing
the proposed British-American-Soviet Security Declaration without
doing violence to the principles, which may be involved in the
second issue which has to be determined, namely the reconciliation
of the Dominions' international status with their membership of
the British Commonwealth of Nations.

With regard to the former of these issues it is clearly desirable,
if practicable, that the British Party to the Security Declaration
should be the British Commonwealth of Nations and not the United
Kingdom alone. The British counterpart to the U.S.S.R. and United
States of America with their immense, concentrated resources and
their respective populations of about 200 and 130 million people
is not the United Kingdom plus its dependent Empire, but the
association of British Nations known as the Commonwealth of
British Nations.

In paragraph 6 of your telegram you suggest that Australia should
be definitely included as one of the parties to act on behalf of
the community of Nations 'either separately or as part of the
British Commonwealth of Nations'.

I am sure that you will have realised the serious practical
difficulties of 'separate' adherence to the Declaration. It may,
however, be helpful if I briefly set them out with particular
reference to how they would be seen here.

(a) The intention is that the Declaration should be by the great
powers which have the armed strength necessary to implement the
undertakings they are entering into.

In paragraph 2 of your telegram you suggest that in view of the
fact that 'the terms of obligation are of such a nature that it is
extremely doubtful whether China could be regarded as capable of
fulfilling them' it is undesirable that China should be a party to
the Declaration.

The same argument could be employed with regard to any one of the
(b) The other United Nations e.g. Netherlands would never accept
the inclusion of individual Dominions and their own exclusion. The
only grounds upon which we could draw a distinction would be that
we are continuing active participants in the war in control of
substantial armed forces, but I cannot see their opposition being
overcome by this argument.

(c) The United States of America and U.S.S.R. would not agree to
multiple British representation in the discussions for the purpose
of implementing the objectives of the Declaration.

(d) I do not think there is any prospect that the other Dominions
would unanimously desire 'separate' representation. If they did
not, the objective of showing that the British party to the
Declaration is the Commonwealth of British Nations and not the
United Kingdom would be defeated and an impression of division in
the British Empire would be given.

By your phrase 'as part of the British Commonwealth of Nations'
(paragraph 6 of your telegram) you clearly mean that the British
Commonwealth of Nations should be the third party to the
Declaration, but presumably with a definition which would include
the individual Dominions, i.e. the United Kingdom would sign the
Declaration for and on behalf of the members of the British
Commonwealth of Nations who would be specifically named. This
would involve fewer difficulties than 'separate' adherence.

The doubt is whether agreement between the constituent members of
the British Commonwealth could be obtained to this course. The
reason which I see that might make it unacceptable to the
Dominions is that the matter is not limited to signature but the
signatories will subsequently have to consult and co-operate in
securing the objectives of the Declaration.

In such consultation we should only be able to secure one British
representative and in face of the facts it is difficult to see
that representation being other than the person for the time being
acting for the United Kingdom. Whether you would be prepared to
accept that position I do not know, but I am very doubtful whether
either Canada or South A[frica] [2] would be willing to do so. It
might, however, be possible to get acceptance of the proposed
method of signature, leaving the difficult question of
representation to be settled later.

If, however, this is found impossible, it is essential in view of
the great importance 'that the United States of America and Soviet
Russia should definitely commit themselves to post-war
collaboration and to policing the peace settlement' (paragraph 1
of your telegram) to find some other way out of the difficulty.

The only way I can see is for us to agree to the United Kingdom
being the party to the Declaration and concurrently for a public
statement to be made making clear that the Dominions had been
consulted with regard to and concurred in the terms of the
Declaration and that the United Kingdom will consult and co-
operate with the Dominions in giving effect to it.

I appreciate of course that such a line brings us back to the
fundamental problem that you have recently publicly raised of ways
and means whereby effective consultation and co-operation can be
assured between the constituent members of the British
Commonwealth of Nations. [3] Notwithstanding this I attach such
importance to getting the United States of America and U.S.S.R. in
the bag I would adopt some such course as I have suggested above
rather than wreck the possibility on the rock of inter-imperial
constitutional relations.

The lead which you have given on this constitutional question
must, however, in my view be followed up and there are healthy
signs that this necessity is being increasingly recognised here.

I shall be obliged if you will let me have your views so that I
will know what line you would wish me to [follow] in my personal
contacts here.

I have not referred in detail to the question of China. While I
agree entirely with your views I am afraid there is no possibility
of moving the Americans.


1 Document 280.

2 Words in square brackets have been corrected/inserted from
Bruce's copy on file AA:M100, September 1943.

3 See Document 272.

[AA:A989, 43/1/1]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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