Skip to main content

Historical documents

299 Watt to Department of External Affairs

Cablegram 283, MOSCOW, 28 August 1948, 5.15 p.m.


I have sent no comments upon the Berlin negotiations since my telegram 261 of August 1st, because, in the absence of precise knowledge of the facts, comment would be futile, particularly when Canberra already has them[1] actually mislead. Some comments upon implications, as distinct from the substance of the new, secret, three power diplomacy may, however, be of some interest.

2. The Diplomatic Corps in Moscow are distinctly uneasy about the current negotiations. With the exception of the United Kingdom, United States and the French Missions, who form a group apart, which is quite satisfied that world war and peace can safely be left in their hands, members of the Diplomatic Corps are concerned lest their national interests are being prejudiced by decisions in which they have no voice. Some of these misgivings are ill-founded, but they are nevertheless real. For instance, China is so nervous that, on instructions from his Government, the Chinese Ambassador recently saw Bedell Smith and delivered a warning against any impending four-power decisions on matters like Korea in which China is vitally interested. Bedell Smith replied that Korea was not under discussion.

3. Members of the Dominion Missions feel various degrees of frustration. While some at least can comfort themselves with the feeling that their Governments are being kept informed, all are keenly aware of the fact that the main value of a separate diplomatic mission is its ability to function with advice at rare moments of emergency. Yet in the present serious situation, only facts they glean are leakages from the B.B.C., The Times' Diplomatic correspondent, and Reuter or The Times' Berlin correspondent. They cannot understand why it was considered practicable for the Dominions to be consulted by Mr. Bevin himself here in Moscow during the Moscow Conference, whereas now, a systematic black-out has been imposed the practical effect of which is to deprive all the Dominion Governments of the possibility of benefiting from the advice of their diplomatic representatives in Moscow. In these circumstances, the value to the Dominion Governments of maintaining separate missions in Moscow is seriously reduced.

4. In the circumstances, relationships between the Dominion Missions and the United Kingdom Embassy in Moscow have inevitably become somewhat artificial. This applies, particularly to the regular fortnightly British Commonwealth meeting at the British Embassy where everyone senses that 'consultation' is taking place only on matters regarded as not sufficiently important to keep secret. What the true reason for this is, one can only guess. Again, it has been quite impossible to conceal from the Diplomatic Corps as a whole, the fact that the Dominion Missions here know nothing. This has caused some astonishment and some speculation as to possible changes in the Constitutional position of members of the Britannic Commonwealth. As these foreign missions do not know that and cannot be told, some Dominion Governments are being kept informed, they are speculating whether the hands of the clock are being turned back to pre 1926.

5. Representatives of the smaller Brussels Pact countries, also feel the position keenly, particularly the Belgian Ambassador. As countries which are likely to be overrun quickly in the event of war with Russia, they feel that they have a special claim to be consulted about the Berlin negotiations.

6. [2] painted an exaggerated picture of the position here. At the same time I submit that it is necessary to give serious thought to the implications for future procedure adopted during the present negotiations. In the first place a very important precedent has been created for not holding Britannic Commonwealth consultations on the spot whether the spot be Moscow or any other city. In recent years the tendency has been in the opposite direction. Secondly, middle and small Powers which are members are bound to feel that the great Powers are determining the issue of world peace or war in their own way, in secrecy, in accordance with their own interests outside boundaries where the voice of other Powers could at least be heard. In the circumstances, great Powers can scarcely be surprised if countries like the Arab States, South Africa and India showed no greater respect for boundaries when their own vital interests are affected than is shown by the great Powers themselves.

[1] A sign and a gap in the text indicates words 'mutilated'.

[2] A sign and a gap in the text indicates words 'mutilated'.

[AA : A1838, 29/2/1/5]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top