97 Conclusions of the Council of Defence
CANBERRA, 20 April 1948
THE STRATEGIC POSITION OF AUSTRALIA-REVIEW BY THE CHIEFS OF STAFF
Conclusions of the Council of Defence 20th April 1948
Consideration was given to the appreciation of the Strategical
Position of Australia by the Chiefs of Staff Committee.  The
observations and conclusions of the Council of Defence were as
In the appreciation of the Strategical Position of Australia by
the Chiefs of Staff Committee, which was circulated under Agendum
No. 1/1948, the Chiefs of Staff 'recommend its acceptance as the
basic document on measures necessary for the Defence of
In view of this, it was necessary for the Minister for Defence to
point out in regard to several matters, some of which extend
beyond the scope of a strategic appreciation into the political
and administrative spheres, that the information is not complete
and, in the absence of any reference to action that has been taken
or views expressed by the Government, the impression may be
conveyed that nothing has been done on these subjects, or that
they are now raised for the first time. Accordingly, Supplement
No. 1 to this Agendum  had been circulated for the completeness
of the Council's records.
There are three major questions of substance in the Chiefs of
Staff Appreciation from the aspect of Government Policy:
(1) The Foreign and Defence Policy basis of the Appreciation.
(2) The relation and possibility of an Overall Plan for British
(3) Australia's zone of strategic responsibility.
The Council considered each of these in turn.
(1) THE FOREIGN AND DEFENCE POLICY BASIS OF THE APPRECIATION
The purpose of a Strategical Appreciation is to establish a basis
on which Defence Policy may be based and on which Defence Measures
and Planning may proceed.
The starting point of such an Appreciation is the assessment of
the risks of the International situation, and this, in the last
analysis, is a matter of the Government's Foreign Policy.
The fundamental basis of the Foreign Policy of Australia and the
other members of the British Commonwealth is enthusiastic and
sustained support of the United Nations.
The relation of Foreign Policy to Defence Policy is stated as
follows in the Government's statement of June, 1947, on Post-War
'The growth of a scheme of collective security under the United
Nations will necessarily be slow... In the meantime, reliance must
primarily be placed on cooperation in British Commonwealth Defence
and, in the last resort, on the forces that can be raised in an
emergency to provide for the inherent right of individual self-
defence under the Charter.'
The basis on which co-operation in British Commonwealth Defence
should proceed has been outlined as follows by the Prime
'It was recognised that Australia must in future make a larger
contribution towards the defence of the British Commonwealth, that
this could best be done in the Pacific, and that the approach to a
common scheme of defence for this area should be by agreement
between the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, and
thereafter with the United States, and later with other nations
with possessions in this area.'
Following the Prime Ministers' Conference in 1946, machinery has
been established for co-operation in British Commonwealth Defence
between the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, and is
capable of expansion to provide for co-operation with the United
States. Article 52 of the Charter  provides that regional
arrangements for security may be made, provided they are
consistent with the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Also Article 51 of the Charter recognises the inherent right of
individual or collective self-defence, if an armed attack occurs
against a Member State.
The fundamental conclusions recorded by the Council at this point,
(i) At the level of Governmental Policy, Foreign and Defence
Policy must be in harmony with each other.
(ii) The Government's Foreign Policy is based on unwavering
support of the United Nations.
(iii) Co-operation between members of the British Commonwealth and
others in regional defence is consistent with the purposes and
principles of the Charter, and collective defence against
aggression is authorised by the Charter.
(iv) The Government's Post-War Defence Policy is as outlined in
the Minister's statement of June, 1947.
(v) At the level of Government Policy, the designation of a
potential enemy at this stage is not consistent with the
(vi) This does not preclude Defence Planning in accordance with
established principles relating to precautionary measures and
preparedness, but such planning does not involve any commitment in
regard to Government Policy, except where approval is specifically
sought and obtained.
(2) THE RELATION AND POSSIBILITY OF AN OVER-ALL PLAN FOR BRITISH
In paragraph 95 of their Appreciation, the Chiefs of Staff state:-
'Provided an enemy can be prevented from establishing himself in
the Australian zone of strategic responsibility-and this can be
prevented only by the successful implementation of an agreed
overall plan-there is no danger to Australian territory except
In paragraph 83 the Chiefs of Staff correctly add:-
'An overall strategic plan cannot be developed, however, until
political arrangements between the nations concerned have been
made and effective machinery for the co-ordination of British
Commonwealth defence measures has been introduced.'
As indicated in paragraph (5) (B) of the attachment to the
Supplementary Agendum, political agreement between members of the
British Commonwealth on joint strategic plans is impossible of
attainment at the present time. This likelihood is even more
remote in the case of participation by the United States.
The conclusion of the Council in regard to an overall plan was
that, until one can be consummated, the position of necessity must
be as stated in paragraph 86 of the Chiefs of Staff Appreciation:-
'However, should hostilities occur before agreed overall plans
have been formulated, then each nation of the British Commonwealth
would be primarily concerned with the defence of its own zone of
strategic responsibility and its vital communications. Plans made
for this purpose would have to form the basis for the subsequent
preparation of hastily improvised overall plans with other nations
of the British Commonwealth and the United States of America.'
(3) AUSTRALIA'S ZONE OF STRATEGIC RESPONSIBILITY
In their Appreciation, the Chiefs of Staff state:-
'Economy of force, and the great distances between the components
of the British Commonwealth, require that the initial
responsibility for defence of its vital interests, should be
borne, as far as practicable, by the nation nearest to, or most
immediately affected by, events in any particular area. This
factor, coupled with the knowledge that Australia must make a
greater contribution to the security of the British Commonwealth
than in the past, establishes the need for defining the zone in
which Australia should formulate and control strategic policy, and
accept the responsibilities involved in the formulation and
control of such policy. This strategic policy should conform, in
general, with overall British Commonwealth policy, but it will be
difficult to define Australian Policy unless agreement is reached
as to the zone with which Australian planning should primarily be
'It is essential that the areas containing Singapore, North Borneo
and Manus, should be included in Australia's zone of Strategic
Responsibility. Since attacks could be launched on the vital area
of South East Australia from bases in the Malay Peninsula and the
Philippines, hostile penetration South of a line including these
areas, would be dangerous. The Australian Zone of Strategic
Responsibility should, therefore, extend at least, as far as this
Appendix 'A' to the Chiefs of Staff Appreciation shows the
suggested Northern limit of the Australian Zone of Strategic
It is important to note the recommendation of the Chiefs of Staff
that Australia should accept responsibility for Strategic Policy
for the defence of this zone. This involves the question of
commitments and resources to meet them. In his letter of 16th
September to Mr. Attlee on Co-operation in British Commonwealth
Defence , the Prime Minister said:-
'Each Government must retain the right of deciding its own Policy
and the commitments which it is prepared to accept... It would be
quite misleading to accept responsibilities and make promises
which could not be carried out... As you are aware, there may also
be legislative enactments which relate to such matters.'
However, Mr. Attlee has informed the Prime Minister in regard to
the position in the Pacific that, though the United Kingdom intend
to maintain forces in those parts in peace to secure their
strategic and economic interests, they would not, if also engaged
elsewhere, be able to make any large contribution to the remainder
of the area.
The vital question is whether Australia has the resources to
accept the responsibilities which the Chiefs of Staff say would be
involved in undertaking the formulation and control of strategic
policy in the zone recommended by them. For example, the
Government has decided that the 250,000,000 Programme is the
maximum provision which can be made for Defence in the next five
years. This Programme includes substantial commitments of a
British Commonwealth nature, such as the Guided Weapons Project.
The ceiling for additional peace-time commitments is thus
established. Until manpower and supply resources are examined and
plans prepared, it cannot be determined what will be the size and
strength of the Forces that could be raised by Australia for the
defence of this zone in war, and to what degree reliance could be
placed on Australia as a source of supply. The United Kingdom and
New Zealand also have vital interests in the defence of this zone
and the plans of the three would need to be correlated. Finally,
under a regional arrangement, these plans would need to be linked
with those of the United States.
The Chiefs of Staff state in paragraph 86 of their Appreciation:-
'A plan will be required to deal with each of the varying
situations which might occur on the outbreak of war. This should
provide both for action by the British Commonwealth alone, and for
action in conjunction with United States Forces. Essential pre-
requisites to the formulation of any plans are the knowledge of
the forces which each nation might be prepared to provide, and the
alternative tasks each nation might be prepared to undertake. It
is evident, however, that in the event of war with U.S.S.R.,
Australia should be prepared to make a contribution in either the
Far East or the Middle East. Her dependence on co-operation with
other nations, for her security, will compel her to accept the
fact that the strategic employment of her forces will be governed
by considereations wider than those of a purely regional nature.'
The following conclusions were reached by the Council in regard to
the proposed zone of strategic responsibility:
(i) The defence of Australia is best effected by preventing an
enemy from establishing bases within range of Australia. In view
of the range of aircraft and the development of modem weapons,
Australia's security is closely related to the defence of the zone
recommeneded by the Chiefs of Staff as the Australian zone of
strategic responsibility and its vital communications.
(ii) Also, as mentioned earlier, the Prime Minister has stated
that Australia must in future make a larger contribution towards
the defence of the British Commonwealth, that this can best be
done in the Pacific, and that the approach to a common scheme of
defence in this area should be by agreement between the United
Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, and thereafter with the United
States, and later with other nations with possessions in this
(iii) Accordingly, strategic planning may be developed within the
limits of the zone recommended by the Chiefs of Staff, subject to
the following considerations:
(a) The authority for planning does not imply any commitment for
the despatch of Forces for service outside Australia without the
specific approval of the Government, and conformity to legislative
provisions for service abroad.
(b) The plans may be coordinated with those of the United Kingdom
and New Zealand at the official level through the machinery
established for co-operation in British Commonwealth Defence.
(c) Should it be possible to open discussions with the United
States on the Naval level, the plans may be coordinated with them
at that level, though, should Joint Service and Supply aspects
arise, the co-ordination should be brought within the scope of the
(d) The relation of the Eastern limit of the Strategic Zone to the
New Zealand Government's zone of responsibility should be raised
through the machinery established for Co-operation in British
(e) Planning should provide for a situation in which the United
Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand are co-operating in the defence
of the zone either alone or in conjunction with United States
Forces, and bearing in mind the advice of the United Kingdom
Government that they would not if engaged elsewhere, be able to
make any large contribution to the remainder of the Pacific area
in which forces are not maintained by them in peace.
(4) GENERAL CONCLUSION
In addition to the foregoing conclusions, the following was also
approved by the Council:-
(i) That the Chiefs of Staff should keep the strategical aspect of
the international situation under review and submit another
appreciation at the end of six months, or earlier if they consider
the position requires it.
(ii) That, prior to its preparation, the Department of External
Affairs should furnish a review of the international situation for
the information of the Council, and as an authoritative background
to the Chiefs of Staff Strategical Appreciation.