Skip to main content

Historical documents

132 Attlee to Chifley

Cablegram D867 LONDON, 21 September 1946, 9.15 p.m.


White Paper on central organisation for defence.

The following is the text of paragraphs on Commonwealth

'Paragraph 36. Commonwealth Collaboration. Methods of
collaboration between the various members of the Commonwealth are
governed by the principle enunciated in the Statute of
Westminster. Even before 1923 [1], the conception that there
should be a central authority in London, representative of all the
self-governing members of the Commonwealth to review defence
questions and prepare central plans which would be binding on the
whole Commonwealth and Empire was never recognized as practicable
even if it were desirable. Admittedly the Dominions have a close
interest in problems that affect the Commonwealth and Empire as a
whole but each of them has a special and distinct outlook on world
affairs dependent on its geographical position and its political
and economic environment and Dominion Governments must retain full
liberty of action. Co-operation in Commonwealth defence has
therefore always taken the practical form of promoting uniformity
of organisation, training and equipment of military forces, the
closest possible touch between staffs and the interchange of
officers to promote a common doctrine and outlook in military
affairs. Collaboration between the naval, land and air forces from
different parts of the Commonwealth and Empire in war-time has
thus been easy and effective.

Paragraph 37. Since 1923, the natural tendency of the different
parts of the Commonwealth to view problems from their own
individual standpoint has become more marked. During the recent
war no attempt was made to revive the Imperial War Cabinet of
1917-18 but this did not prevent the maintenance of a very close
touch between the Governments of the Commonwealth not only by
telegraphic means but by constant meetings between ministers,
officers and officials on all levels. In this way it was possible
to make common plans for military action for the coordination of
munitions production and for the co-operation of scientists and
technicians in research and development. This flexible system of
handling problems of mutual concern has proved very effective and
it was the object of study at the recent discussions in London in
the Spring of 1946. The attitude of the assembled representatives
of the Governments of the Commonwealth is illustrated by the
communique issued at the conclusion of those discussions. Although
this was concerned with consultation with the Dominions generally,
it is fully applicable to our existing methods of consultation on
defence questions. The following is an extract from that

"At the conclusion of the meetings the assembled representatives
of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South
Africa place on record their appreciation of the value of this
series of consultations which exemplify the system of free
discussion and exchanging of views that characterises the
relations of the countries of the British Commonwealth.

The existing methods of consultation have proved their worth. They
include a continuous exchange of information and comment between
the different members of the Commonwealth. They are flexible and
can be used to meet a variety of situations and needs, both those
where the responsibility is on one member alone and where the
responsibility may have to be shared.

They are peculiarly appropriate to the character of the British
Commonwealth with its independent members who have shown by their
sacrifices in the common cause their devotion to kindred ideals
and their community of outlook. While all are willing to consider
and adopt practical proposals for developing the existing system
it is agreed that the methods now practised are preferable to any
rigid centralised machinery. In their view such centralised
machinery would not facilitate and might even hamper the
combination of autonomy and unity which is characteristic of the
British Commonwealth and is one of their great achievements."

Paragraph 38. The natural starting point for future progress in
Commonwealth defence has been the idea of regional association.

Geography largely decides what problems most directly concern the
separate members of the Commonwealth and it is the aim of the
various Governments to recognise and take advantage of this fact
by arranging that regional questions shall in the first place be
studied in the appropriate regional centre. His Majesty's
Government in the United Kingdom have proposed that there should
be established in the capital of each of the Dominions United
Kingdom liaison officers who could join with the Dominion Chiefs
of Staff in studying regional security problems. Similarly they
have proposed that Dominion Governments should appoint liaison
officers in London. It has been suggested that by this means
regional studies can be directed by the Government most
immediately concerned with the help of a team of joint advisers.

The fruits of these studies can be made available in London and in
the other Dominion capitals and in this way the measure of co-
ordination which is necessary can be secured. The exact method of
organising the interchange of missions will depend upon the
varying constitutional practice in the different parts of the

39. These proposals received a favourable hearing at the
discussions in London in the Spring and His Majesty's Governments
in the Dominions are studying them in detail. There is reason to
suppose that in the main they will prove acceptable and that they
will pave the way for machinery which while giving full play to
the independence of the member states of the Commonwealth will be
effective as a means of consultation and collaboration.

This regional method of organisation will also fit well into any
regional schemes evolved under the aegis of the United Nations in
which other states will join with members of the Commonwealth in
appropriate geographical areas.'

1 The 1923 Imperial Conference had agreed that empire governments
could conclude treaties and agreements with foreign powers.

[AA:A1067, E46/38/9]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top