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73 Minutes of Meeting of Prime Ministers

P.M.M. (49) 6th Meeting LONDON, 27 April 1949


[matter omitted]

2. Commonwealth Objectives MR. FRASER said that it would be
appropriate if, before the Meeting concluded, the representatives
of Commonwealth Governments could re-affirm their unity of purpose
in pursuit of the positive aims of the Commonwealth association.

The Commonwealth might now be starting upon a new phase of
development, as an association of independent democratic nations;

and he hoped that the bonds uniting them would be sufficient to
give the Commonwealth, not only moral and spiritual strength, but
material strength also. The Commonwealth connection was not merely
a matter of constitutional forms: even more important were its
methods of practical co-operation in the conduct of international
relations. It was an essential feature of the Commonwealth
connection that all Commonwealth countries should keep one another
fully informed of their views and policies so that they might be
able to help one another in matters of foreign policy, trade and
defence. Not being foreign countries, they had no need to define
those relations in Pacts or Treaties or to enter into formal
commitments for mutual assistance; but it was of the essence of
the Commonwealth that its members should desire to help one
another, whether in peace or in war. Could they be confident in
the future, as they had been confident in the past, that
Commonwealth countries would all stand together in an emergency in
support of a just cause.

MR. ATTLEE said that Mr. Fraser had expressed the spirit of the
Commonwealth connection, which lost nothing in strength because
its obligations were not reduced to formal commitments. The
conference recently convened by Pandit Nehru to consider how
assistance could be given to Burma [1] was an example of the
method by which a group of Commonwealth countries could usefully
co-operate in matters of common concern. Similar opportunities for
mutual assistance would doubtless arise in the future, and he was
confident that all Commonwealth countries would continue to be
willing to take advantage of them. Practical co-operation between
Commonwealth countries was more than ever necessary to-day, when
the free democracies of the world were threatened by communism.

MR. LIAQUAT ALI KHAN said that Pakistan, while not asking for any
formal commitments, would like to be assured that she could rely
on the help of other Commonwealth countries in time of trouble.

Each Commonwealth country, in framing its policy, should be able
to rely upon the assumption that all the countries of the
Commonwealth would stand together in support of a just cause.

PANDIT NEHRU agreed that it must be of the essence of an
association like the Commonwealth that its members should consult
one another on all matters of common concern and co-operate with
one another to the fullest possible extent. Their co-operation
would be determined, not by any formal commitments accepted in
advance, but by their friendly and understanding approach to
common problems. The situation now confronting the free nations of
the world was, however, a very complex one; and it would be a
mistake if Commonwealth Governments approached it primarily on the
basis of mutual assistance in defence against aggression. He could
best illustrate his point by reference to Asia. The present
upheaval in China was due to deep-seated causes going back at
least as far as the revolution of 1911; and although it was being
influenced and exploited by Communists, it was due fundamentally
to a widespread sense of dissatisfaction with the existing regime.

It must be seen in this wider context. And policy must be so
directed as to appeal to the great masses of people throughout
Asia who were not committed to any particular ideology but were in
a state of unrest due to dissatisfaction with their conditions of
life. The problem was to capture the minds and imagination of
these peoples. It was not in essence a military problem. If war
were imminent, Commonwealth countries would have to prepare to
defend themselves. But the first object of policy should be to
prevent war; for, as experience after the two world wars of this
century had shown, war could only intensify the very conditions
which created that social dissatisfaction and unrest on which
communism flourished. The problem for Commonwealth countries was
how to combine a policy for preventing war with preparations
adequate to ensure that, if war came, they were ready to meet it.

It would be disastrous if, by concentrating on the second object,
they frustrated the first. It was for this reason that he
deprecated the discussion of world problems in terms of Power
blocs. Such language encouraged the formation of Power blocs by
others and caused people to think in terms of war. It was true
that the Commonwealth could exercise a powerful influence in the
world, in peace and in war; but the Commonwealth could no longer
dominate the world by military strength alone. It must therefore
develop, and pursue, a positive policy for preventing war. And, in
Asia, that must take the form of removing the conditions which
encouraged the growth of communism.

India was watching very closely the political developments in
neighbouring countries, and was anxious to influence them in
directions which would be helpful to the stabilisation of
conditions in Asia generally. The handling of the Indonesian
situation by the Dutch had produced a bad effect on public opinion
throughout Asia. Similarly, French policy in Indo-China was
calculated to encourage those forces which aimed at the violent
overthrow of Colonial domination in Asia. The removal of these
irritants to public opinion in Asia would make a much greater
contribution to the cause of international security than any
military precautions which could be taken. Political developments
in Asia over the next few years would have an important influence
throughout the world. And those developments would turn very
largely on the attitude of the masses who were not already
committed to any particular ideology. It was vitally important
that the democratic countries should do nothing at this stage
which might cause those people to look elsewhere for inspiration
and assistance.

MR. CHIFLEY said that he was in agreement with much that Pandit
Nehru had said. The policy of the Dutch Government in Indonesia
was, in his opinion, a serious threat to the peace of the Pacific.

MR. FRASER asked whether it was possible, in the conditions of the
world to-day, to avoid the creation of Power blocs. Was it not the
policy of the Soviet Government which had forced the peace-loving
democracies of the West to come together in the Atlantic Pact? Was
it not clear that the countries which had subscribed to that Pact
were making a stand for the survival of democracy in the western
world? And was it not likely that, if they had not been ready to
show this united and determined from, a tyrannical regime would
have been established throughout Europe?
PANDIT NEHRU said that free democracy, as it obtained in the
United Kingdom, was a form of government worthy of imitation. All
the peoples of the world should be able to see that it was
infinitely preferable to the regime established by the Soviet
Government. India, certainly, was greatly attracted by these
democratic ideals; and its political institutions were largely
modelled on those of the United Kingdom. Democracy was, however,
threatened at the present time from two directions-first by a
direct onslaught by communism; and, secondly, by an internal
weakening, largely due to unfavourable economic conditions. In his
view policy should be directed against this second danger, for it
was this which would create the conditions in which Communism
would flourish.

It must not be forgotten that throughout Asia, and even in India,
there was still suspicion of Colonial domination-though in India
there had been a remarkable change during the past two years in
the attitude of public opinion towards the United Kingdom. It was
against this background of suspicion that Commonwealth policy
would be judged in India. Unless these susceptibilities were kept
constantly in mind, the influence of the Commonwealth in Asia
could not be strengthened.

The expansionist policy of the Soviet Government had undoubtedly
been the cause of much of the troubles now confronting the peace-
loving peoples of the world. Pandit Nehru agreed that Commonwealth
countries must be prepared to resist military and political
aggression by the Soviet Government. He believed, however, that
the more important object of policy was to prevent the political
encroachment of communism; and this could only be done by
persuading peoples who were exposed to Communist encroachment that
the democratic way of life had better things to offer. It was
never right to yield to evil influences. But the better course was
to take positive action to create the conditions in which evil
influences could not flourish.

MR. CHIFLEY agreed with Pandit Nehru that the primary object of
Commonwealth policy should be to create, in countries exposed to
Communist influence, social conditions in which it would be
impossible for communism to flourish. It was by these methods that
the advance of communism must be checked.

In Asia certainly, and possibly in other countries also, military
strength was not an effective weapon against Communist

3. Conclusion of Proceedings
MR. FRASER, on behalf of the representatives of all the other
Commonwealth Governments, expressed appreciation for the
hospitality accorded to them by the United Kingdom Government, and
thanked Mr. Attlee for the skill and patience with which he had
presided over the meetings.

MR. ATTLEE thanked Mr. Fraser and expressed the appreciation of
all the Ministers present for the assistance which had been given
by officials of all Delegations and by the Secretariat.

1 For a report of the conference Burma see Document 221.

[AA: 1838/283, TS99/6/1, 1]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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