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149 Curtin to Forde

Cablegram 19 LONDON, 16 May 1944, 2.40 p.m.


Addressed to the Acting Prime Minister, Mr. Forde.

Colonial Questions
1. The Colonial Secretary regarded the establishment of regional
bodies as the most important development contemplated in the
colonial field for the following reasons:-

(i) He thought they would be of real practical value. It was of
the highest importance that the Commissions should achieve
practical results in order to allay possible suspicions on the
part of the inhabitants of the more advanced territories. In the
West Indies, suspicion of the Caribbean Commission had been
dispelled because by concentrating on practical objectives, the
Commission had been able to accomplish beneficial results which
were obvious to all.

(ii) He believed that the establishment of regional bodies with
practical objectives in view would be an effective answer to the
desire expressed in some quarters for the establishment of some
form of international control of colonial territories. So far as
the British Empire was concerned, we had nothing to fear from
criticism and it was the intention to revert as soon as possible
to the publication of full annual reports of our administration.

But while we welcomed constructive criticism, we were anxious to
avoid ill informed and academic interference.

He did not regard the Mandate system as wholly satisfactory. It
was out of date in the present day world, being largely negative
in character in that its aim was to lay down negative principles,
e.g., the prevention of the use of forced labour. The system had
served its purpose, but it had become more of a hindrance than an
assistance. Large scale development was generally beyond the local
resources of a colonial territory and without any guarantee of
permanency of sovereignty the parent power was naturally reluctant
to provide for large scale expenditure from its own funds. This
had been brought home to him in a recent visit to West Africa
where he had found that the Cameroons and Togoland were for this
reason the most backward areas in the territories with which they
were amalgamated. He therefore hoped that the mandate system would
be abolished.

The Colonial Secretary also pointed out the disadvantages he saw
in the subordination of the proposed regional bodies to any
central international organisation. Such a central organisation
would contain representatives of powers who had no colonial
experience and whose views on the subject could only be academic.

In any case, control of colonial territories throughout the world
would be a gigantic task and any supervision which was attempted
by the central organisation could only be theoretical and

In his opinion, provision for third party opinion could best be
made by the association with the regional commissioners of powers,
which although they had no direct interest by virtue of possession
of territory in the area, were concerned because of strategic,
economic or other interests. Such powers would, he hoped, be
prepared to assume a certain amount of responsibility in regard to
the area.

(iii) A third point was that any functional bodies established in
connection with a central world organisation such as the
International Labour Office should be encouraged to set up
branches in the areas of the regional commissions to work in close
co-operation with the commissions.

2. These were the main considerations the United Kingdom
Government had in mind. Before action was taken to implement the
proposals they would require to be worked out in detail. Certain
problems arose, for example-
(a) Which areas were suitable for the establishment of regional
commissions. In the Caribbean there was already an embryo
organisation. In the South Pacific the Australian and New Zealand
Governments had suggested another natural division. There was
ample scope in South-East Asia for the establishment of a
commission. Africa presented more difficulties. He felt that the
territories south of the Sahara presented too great and varied
problems to be handled by one commission and that the solution
might be the establishment of two or three bodies.

(b) Whether defence should be included in the scope of the
functions of the proposed regional commissions. On further
consideration he inclined to the view that it would be
inappropriate to include defence. The areas suitable for the
establishment of regional colonial commissions were not
necessarily the most suitable areas for defence zones. Moreover,
bodies charged with defence responsibilities would require to
exercise some form of executive powers or control which, in his
opinion, would be inappropriate in the case of regional colonial

(c) In what manner would the local inhabitants be associated with
the regional commissions? This was not the least difficult of the
problems which had to be faced. In the Caribbean it had not so far
proved possible to find a representative of the local inhabitants
acceptable to all the islands. No hard and fast rules could be
laid down regarding the manner in which the local inhabitants
should be represented on or associated with the regional
commissions. This would have to be left open for decision in the
light of local conditions.

In reply to a question by me, the Colonial Secretary explained
that he contemplated the establishment of a regional commission in
the South Pacific which would include New Guinea, the New Hebrides
and Dutch New Guinea. He regarded Australia as the principal
parent state in this area. The United Kingdom territories would be
represented by the High Commissioner for the Western Pacific. He
assumed that France would be represented as the parent state of
New Caledonia.

3. I explained that the Australian Government contemplated two
areas for regional colonial commissions to the northward of

The more northerly area might include South-East Asia and the
Dutch East Indies. The southerly area might be delimited as
suggested in the Australia - New Zealand agreement. [1] I called
attention to the welfare and social development of the native
inhabitants as one of the primary objectives. In New Guinea, the
local inhabitants had proved themselves loyal. This was no doubt
partly due to the excellent foundations of administration laid
down by Sir Hubert Murray. [2] But my information was that in the
Dutch and Portuguese territories the position was not so good. The
Japanese had received a certain amount of aid from the local
inhabitants and I did not think that the same loyalty had been
shown to the Dutch and Portuguese authorities as had been the case
in the British territories. Another aspect to which I drew
attention was the opinion voiced by certain sections in the United
States typified by the recent Senatorial Mission [3] that the
United States should hold on to territories re-occupied by
American arms at the cost of American lives. While I, and I
thought I could speak for Mr. Fraser too, welcomed the intrusion
of United States influence between their countries and Japan we
did not wish this to occur at the expense of British territory,
but at the expense of the Japanese and if need be the Dutch and
the French. Australia and New Zealand had not the resources to
cater for such far flung defence lines as the Marshalls and the
Carolines. I hoped that the United States would undertake
responsibility in such areas, but at the same time, the Australian
Government had felt that some declaration of its claim to have a
full say in matters affecting their interests was called for. This
had been one of the reasons underlying the Australia New Zealand
agreement. I said that I was not altogether happy about the
possibility of allowing large colonial territories to remain the
responsibility of weak parent states which had not the resources
to provide adequately for defence. The position could not but
remain precarious and, if the Japanese succeeded in building up
their power again, it would become dangerous. For this reason I
hope that the United States could be persuaded to undertake
definite defence commitments abutting on Malaya. Subject to these
considerations I was in agreement with the general principles
enunciated by the Colonial Secretary.

4. Mr. Churchill pointed out that the future of the islands to
which I had referred was bound up with questions of strategic
security. He contemplated that all islands removed from their
original possessors should pass under authority of United Nations
for strategic purposes.

Some might be held by the United States in trust for United
Nations. In reply to questions re the precise nature of the
sovereignty which the United States would exercise, Mr. Churchill
said that he thought the matter should be approached as a question
of high principle. All over the world there were islands of great
strategic consequence. These would come under the authority of the
world organisation and be allocated amongst the great powers,
which would undertake strategic responsibilities to be carried out
as a duty on behalf of the United Nations. The Azores and Dakar,
for example, might come under the strategic control of the United
States. In his view the United Kingdom should seek no territory.

If pressed, we might agree to undertake certain responsibilities
in certain areas, but only on the condition that the cost should
be met from the United Nations funds.

5. He felt that the matter should be approached on high
principles. The peace and safety of the world should be our
object, but with the assumption of strategic responsibility, the
power concerned would also have to undertake to maintain certain
standards of native well-being. There must be no question of
despoiling the weak. The British Commonwealth was the only body of
nations still in the struggle which had drawn the sword for honour
alone. We must take care not to tarnish it. He would like himself
to see some statement of the principles he had in mind made to the

6. Mr. Fraser said that he entirely agreed with Mr. Churchill.

7. Field Marshal Smuts agreed with the policy outlined by the
Colonial Secretary. It appeared to him to be the only wise and
sensible course. As regards Africa, he called attention to the
value of Madagascar and its magnificent harbour at Diego Suarez.

How were we to apply the principles which had been described. Were
we to hand back the island to France and inform her that the
United Nations would regard her as responsible for the provision
of facilities and for the safety of the island. He foresaw dangers
in such a course and suggested that the interest of the United
Kingdom and of his country in the future of the island was
comparable to the United States interest in Dakar. I drew
attention to the analagous position of New Caledonia.

8. Mr. Churchill felt that the solution lay in supervision by the
proposed world council which would be empowered to address the
French Government if necessary and request the provision of proper
facilities and defences. He recalled at the time of the
negotiations for the release of bases to the United States in the
West Indies his thought had been not so much of the immediate
benefit to us in the shape of destroyers, but rather of executing
an arrangement to the common advantage of two powers whose only
concern was mutual security. These islands were only of strategic
use to a power which wished to attack the United States or to the
United States for her own defence.

We had regarded the defence of the United States as part of our
own safety. In Madagascar facilities could be claimed for fleets
moving under the authority of the United Nations, and the French
could be required to ensure that the island did not fall into the
hands of possible aggressors.

9. Mr. Churchill said that he had been careful not to commit
himself to any suggestion that Italy should recover her overseas
empire. He thought that the solution might lie in some of these
territories being placed under the care of the proposed world
organisation which could delegate its authority and the
responsibility for administration to powers of good repute.

10. The Conference adopted the suggestion by Mr. Churchill that it
would issue a statement which would bring out the high moral
principles they had in mind, demonstrate the high spirit of unity
within the British corporate body, reassure the powerful peoples
with whom we had to work about our intentions, hold out the light
of hope to the unfortunate and weak whom we wished to succour and
lay stress on the all-important objectives of peace and security,
law and order throughout the world.


1 Document 26.

2 Lt Governor of Papua 1908-40.

3 U.S. Senators Ralph O. Brewster, A. B. Chandler, Henry Cabot
Lodge, James M. Mead and Richard B. Russell toured war zones
between July and September 1943 to inspect U.S. equipment and
civilian agencies and report on ways to maximise the efficiency
and postwar benefits of U.S. spending abroad.

[AA:A989, 44/735/321/5]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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