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145 Stokes to Department of External Affairs

Paper SINGAPORE [30 September 1946] [1]



I have no detailed comments to make on this Appreciation [2]
because I dissent from the conception of the Appreciation as a
whole. This dissent is mostly based on my finding that no active
political defence policy is set forth beyond the anachronistic
'maintenance of good relations' to defend us against present and
future political menace.

2. A main conclusion of the paper is that the first line of
defence is political. With that I wholly agree. But that having
been stated, the remaining conclusions are based on the assumption
that the first line of defence is military.

3. As an Australian, I look upon South East Asia as the gateway
through which the next enemy to the Commonwealth will come. When I
reason how best to prevent him coming through that gateway, or at
least how seriously to check him in his passage, this is my line
of thought.

4. The possible menace to Australia is Russia and China in
combination or singly. If it were to be Russia alone, then that
would presuppose Chinese conquest or acquiescence. But I can
conceive of no Russian menace to Australia without Russia first
challenging the United States. If so challenged I believe the
United States would defend Australia in order to defend herself,
as she did in the instance of Japanese aggression. It would seem
to follow that Russia is not the greater menace to Australia.

5. That leaves attack on Australia by China, alone or with the
support of Russia. That would appear to be the major threat to
Australia. It is my conviction that the British Commonwealth can
do little to arrest or check any Asiatic aggressor through Malaya
by military arms. The problem is first and last political.

6. I see no use for military forces in Malaya and Singapore, now
or in the future, beyond adequate forces for the maintenance of
internal law and order within the British administered territories
of the area-be they Dominion, Colony or Trusteeship.

7. In the era in which a new life or death war will be fought I do
not see how Britain will afford forces to hold-quite apart from
reinforcing -Malaya. And surely Malaya would be as untenable a
base for the enemy as for ourselves. By the time war is
precipitated it will be clear how far Britain has been able to
decentralise her industry and defence: how far the Australia-
United Kingdom axis has become a complementary axis with respect
to population and economic strength. I suggest that from now on
all military planning, expenditure on bases, experiments,
training, etc., were better concentrated on Australia with the
intention that Commonwealth defence should be in and from
Australia; that is, integrated from the outset with the Australian
Defence authorities and forces.

8. What possible aid can we in Australia expect against an enemy
approaching through Malaya? I believe that it will depend on the
extent to which the Malay race, from the Siamese border to New
Guinea, has been enabled to stem Chinese economic and therefore
political penetration. If it is possible to secure that the Malay
race shall stand by itself in its own lands and absorb or at least
control the Chinese element, then that is the political policy
which we should adopt at once: a positive political-defence policy
in South East Asia.

9. For the Asiatic challenge which we are planning to meet I see
no rhyme or reason for the military or strategic defence of
Hongkong, Malaya and Singapore as it is envisaged in this
Appreciation. By the time the challenge came, Hongkong and
Singapore would surely be of far greater real strength to us as,
say-free ports under some form of international trusteeship, than
honeycombed with underground headquarters and defences, and with
accommodation ready for supplies and reinforcements which it would
never be possible to send.

10. I find no reason in present planning beyond seeing that the
forces to be stationed here for the next ten years are entirely
adequate for the maintenance of law and order in the British
territories of the area. Such forces cannot be of too high a
calibre or too well cared for.

11. Why should the projected Malayan Force be anything more than
an internal police force? Any money which is forthcoming would
surely be more usefully devoted to the creation, training and
maintenance of a first-class Malayan gendarmerie and naval patrol
force for the quelling of any local disorders by local men and not
by European hand, and for the prevention of smuggling,
superintendence of fishing, etc. Such remnants as exist of the
Malay Regiment and Navy could be absorbed into this-Malayan
Military and Naval Police Force-and paid for locally after a few
years subsidy.

12. So far as the establishment of Service headquarters is
concerned I see nothing so important as Intelligence-and again
Intelligence. If political defence is to be adopted in South East
Asia, and be successful, it primarily depends on the quality and
co-ordination of our Far Eastern Intelligence organisation; an
organisation closely knit with the diplomatic, police and economic
intelligence sources. Then the policy ordained by London can be
put into action on the best advice obtainable. I suggest that now
is the time, while all the political reefs of the area are open
cuts, that energy should be concentrated on securing a first-rate
Intelligence organisation. It is now that the best young men
should be gathering up all the complicated threads of the area.

The rewards of the work should be sufficient to see that we have
the best retained here. It seems to me the most false economy to
stilt your Service attachments to Bangkok, Saigon and Batavia
while spending money on garrison officers who get bored and
inefficient because they have nothing to bite on.

13. Whatever Commonwealth battle there is to be fought in the
Pacific in the future, my belief is that it should be fought
outwards from Australia as the citadel with a screen of very
mobile advanced air bases in territory where a political defence
policy has been well conducted. The battle of Malaya will be won
or lost before war breaks out, if it is to break out, in the
future. And I repeat my small opinion that it is a political
battle that really begins today and that the forces we should use
should be political with the best brain-weapons available.

14. In general, I feel that while this Appreciation has accepted
that the Committee's first line of defence is political it has
baulked the radical re-orientation in defence policy such
acceptance entails. In another way it may be said that this most
fundamental and refreshing principle of political defence appears
as an intrusion in the paper rather than the activating principle
from which the Appreciation should logically flow. I feel that
while there is a certain vision in the paper as it stands, that
vision might easily be discarded in London in favour of the more
orthodox proposals it also contains. I think that even if the
orthodox defence and offence planning of the Appreciation be
accepted, channels are charted with unnecessary haste in waters
where the currents and sands are more unknown than ever.


1 The paper itself is undated. It was sent to Evatt by Massey as
'Annex K' to Dispatch CM17, dated 30 September, reporting his and
Stokes's attendance at a meeting of the British Defence Committee
in South East Asia on 26 September.

2 The Appreciation, 'Annex J' to Dispatch CM17, had been drafted
by the British Defence Committee in South East Asia to consider
'how best to organise and position British Forces in S.E.A. to
meet internal and external threats likely to arise in the
foreseeable future'.

[AA:A1838/2, 382/8/2/1, i]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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