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102 Minutes of Meeting of Prime Ministers

PMM (48) 11th Meeting LONDON, 20 October 1948, 11 a.m.


MR. ATTLEE said that the discussions on foreign affairs had been
an essential preliminary to the consideration of defence problems.

At the outset of the Meeting, the United Kingdom Government had
circulated a paper (P.M.M.(48)1) [1] in order that all members of
the Commonwealth might be informed of their views on the defence
aspects of the world situation. They recognised that the facts set
out must be seen in a different light and approached from a
different angle by each of the Commonwealth countries. Principles
of policy might be generally agreed, but their practical
application must vary with the special interests, status and
geographical position of each country. The Meeting should by this
time be well informed as to United Kingdom views. The United
Kingdom Government in its turn was now seeking the views of the
Commonwealth countries, so that, if possible, a common view might
be established.

[matter omitted]

Lord Tedder [2] then discussed the broad outlines of strategy in a
possible war. The conclusion had been reached that the fundamental
basis for United Kingdom strategy must rest on the defence of the
United Kingdom; on the maintenance of sea communications between
the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth and the United States; and
on the defence of the Middle East. The strategy of a world-wide
war would have many facets. Each country would have problems of
its own; groups of countries in various regions would have their
different regional problems. The United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff
thought that these regional problems might be discussed and worked
out amongst those immediately concerned so that they might be
fitted into the world-wide problems with which all Commonwealth
countries were concerned. In Western Europe some progress had been
made in this direction; the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff would
like to feel that similar progress was being made in other fields,
especially as regards the defence of the Middle East, in which so
many members of the Commonwealth were more or less directly
concerned. If, without setting up any complicated organisation,
Ministers could give authority for their military advisers to
consult on this specific problem and to draft concerted plans,
without committing their Governments, an advance would have been
made towards filling a very dangerous gap in the armour against

[matter omitted]

DR. EVATT said that his Government were in general agreement with
the views and proposals contained in P.M.M. (48) I, though this
did not imply acceptance in detail. He thought that this paper
contained three basic assumptions: that the Soviet Union was
unlikely to provoke a major war in the immediate future; and that
the Soviet Government hoped to obtain their objectives by methods
such as political pressure and infiltration which fell short of
active aggression; and that the democratic Powers must maintain a
firm and united front against further Soviet pressure, and prepare
themselves against the eventuality of unforeseen war. Whatever
estimate might be made of Soviet intentions, prudence demanded
that the Western Powers should take into account the possible risk
that a minor incident might result in war, and experience had
shown the risks attendant on failure to maintain Commonwealth
defences in an adequate state of preparation. For these reasons,
the Australian Government were in general agreement with the views
of the Chiefs of Staff, as set out in the Appendix to P.M.M. (48)
1. The Australian Government had, indeed, already adopted a five-
year defence plan, which would involve a total expenditure of 250
millions; and a large part of this expenditure would be devoted to
the technical and research side of defence. When Commonwealth
Prime Ministers last met in 1946, there had been agreement on the
need for the development of close consultation in defence matters;

but only the Australian and New Zealand Governments had attempted
to give concrete effect to the recommendations then made. In their
view, it was not sufficient for Commonwealth Governments to
consider defence problems on a regional basis; for instance, in
the last war, Australian and New Zealand troops had early been
employed in defence of the Middle East. If war came, it would not
be a regional war; and consultation on defence matters should take
place on the Commonwealth as well as a regional basis.

The second major consideration which Commonwealth Governments
ought to keep in mind was the close interconnection of political
and defence policy. It was an axiom that international collective
security could only he established in an atmosphere of
international confidence, though it might be true that, once such
confidence had been secured, little attention would be given to
building up arrangements for security. There was no doubt that
even a limited agreement on the restriction of armaments would
contribute significantly towards the growth of international
confidence. The Charter admittedly contemplated the establishment
of regional defence arrangements, but it ought to be remembered
that, in so far as this involved the division of the world into
two groups, the ultimate aim of world-wide collective security
might not be furthered. He did not dissent from the view that in
military planning the assumption must be that the enemy would be
Soviet Russia. The assumptions on which military planning took
place necessarily governed also the political decisions on such
matters as policy in relation to Spain, but there was a risk that
excessive concentration on the purely military aspects of any
problem might obscure the equally important political issues
involved. Political action based on considerations of justice
might at times have to outweigh immediate military advantage; but
there was a real sense in which action arising from moral
considerations might bring substantial material advantage. In
general, the basis of Commonwealth policy should be adherence to
the principles of the United Nations and a determination to ensure
the success of the Organisation. Reference had been made to the
weaknesses which it had so far displayed; these had been
accentuated by Soviet policy, but had not been unexpected. All
were agreed that, in the economic and social fields, it had done
work of the greatest importance; and in the political field its
achievements had been substantially greater than many of its
critics were willing to admit. For instance, the recent
discussions in Paris had undoubtedly had a sobering effect on the
Soviet authorities. Dr. Evatt did not think that there was any
hope of a comprehensive agreement with the Soviet Government
covering the whole field of the questions at issue, but he was not
unhopeful that agreement could be reached step by step. It must,
however, be made clear to the Soviet Government that an essential
condition of a general settlement was that they must cease to
intervene in the affairs of other countries through the means of
Communist agents and parties.

MR. FRASER said that he was much impressed by Lord Tedder's
remarks. He did not deny the importance of supporting the United
Nations; but in his view a meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers
had equal importance. If Commonwealth Governments agreed on unity
and on the need for pooling their resources in time of trouble, a
major contribution towards world peace would have been achieved.

Was it not possible for the Commonwealth and the United States
together to declare their intention of defending world peace
against any aggressor? He agreed with Dr. Evatt that each
Commonwealth Government was necessarily closely interested in the
regional arrangements covering its own area; the New Zealand
Government was immediately concerned with the problems of the
Pacific. But it was obvious that the events which affect the major
issues of war or peace did not take place in the Pacific. In his
view the right course was for all Commonwealth Governments to pool
their knowledge and plans in the defence field. Even if the
Meeting could not commit Governments, yet much could be achieved
by securing identity of outlook between the Commonwealth
representatives present. In 1946 the Prime Ministers Meeting had
agreed on the need for establishing Military Liaison Staffs; but
conditions had not been created in which this arrangement could
work effectively. The New Zealand Government were anxious for the
fullest information about the international situation and to learn
what, in the view of the United Kingdom Government, was the best
contribution which New Zealand might make in time of war and what
form this should take. His Government wished for this information
because both they and the people of New Zealand were fully alive
to the necessity for an effective defence policy. In modern
conditions of war, no country could hope to stand apart in
isolation. The universal sense of danger underlined the need for
co-operation; and he hoped that all Commonwealth Governments would
recognise the need for mutual co-operation and consultation in the
defence field.

The discussion was then adjourned until the afternoon meeting.

1 Document 100.

2 Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Tedder, Chief of the Air

[AA: A6712, 4 COPY 2]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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