Skip to main content

Historical documents

324 Burton to Evatt

Minute, CANBERRA, 3 May 1948


I attach a summary of the communication made by the High Commissioner to you and the Prime Minister.

2. The whole suggestion is preposterous, and the following are some of the worst aspects:-

(a) It is alleged in the second paragraph that the Conference of Atlantic Powers would be based essentially on Article 51 of the Charter. Article 51 merely gives the right of members to 'individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations until the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to maintain international peace and security'. It is sheer hypocrisy to justify the proposal on the basis of Article 51.

(b) Paragraph (3) suggests the President might declare support to countries in the event of an armed attack. The whole idea apparently is that Russia will be restrained if the United States gives this public warning. The assumption is made that Russia has an aggressive intent. In fact, the probability is that the so-called 'warning' will be interpreted as another move to encircle Russia and will bring about just the set of circumstances that the proposal purports to avoid. In other words, this will be the signal to go ahead in including other countries in the Russian security zone.

(c) The principle stated in Article 5 is one of the most blatant statements of the policy of containment that I have seen. In fact, it is not containment but encirclement. If this is U.S. and U.K. thought, any responsible Soviet Government must, in the interests of its own security, immediately take all possible steps to prevent this military encirclement which is being backed by economic encirclement.

3. The question is what action Australia can take to prevent the implementation of a fatal policy such as this. The United Kingdom Government has proved that it takes no notice at all of any responses from here. If that were not the case, they would not have the effrontery [after past replies][1] to communicate a message of this nature to you and the Prime Minister. They obviously hope, by ignoring responses, the time will come when this or another government will be persuaded to go along with them.

4. I have not attempted to draft a reply. A reply, in any case, would presumably be verbal to the High Commissioner. This calls for other action which may be politically difficult and inconvenient, but which is nevertheless vital. It is noted that the U.S.-U.K. effrontery goes to the length of suggesting there are no dangers in this area and that the only danger to security is in Europe, and, by implication, our fears regarding United States policy in Japan are unjustified.

5. In the circumstances, I think the Prime Minister should either immediately replace our present representatives both at London and Washington[2], or alternatively agree to the appointment at both places of officers who can see the implications of U.S. and U.K. policy on Australia and whose instructions would include the right to be associated with all the political activities of the Australian representatives at both places. At this stage, it is of no effect merely to be sending communications which are ignored and there must be people on the spot who can find out what is going on and who can put unequivocally a point of view. Secondly, this communication shows the urgency of a visit by yourself, not only to London, but also to Washington. In fact, the answer to this document should be an immediate visit so that there can be not only argument on the spot, but a certain amount of publicity where it is most required.

[1] Words in square brackets were added by Burton in handwriting.

[2] Beasley and Makin respectively.

[AA : A1838, TS78/7]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top