Skip to main content

Historical documents

356 Department of External Affairs to External Affairs Office, London

Cablegram 2918, CANBERRA, 5 August 1948, 11.50 a.m.


My immediately preceding telegram. Statement should include following:

1. Introduction.

(a) Refer to previous Australian disapproval of restriction of decision to Four Powers which does not take sufficient account of rights of other belligerents. Australia also concerned that certain powers have decided their attitude before studying of relevant information.

(b) Emphasize question of disposal to be decided on principle that interests of inhabitants are paramount. Further principle that decision should be reached only after study of all relevant information.

(c) Point out that reports of Commission suffer from failure of certain delegations to approach problem objectively, and also from limited terms of reference. These defects would have been avoided if other belligerents had taken active part in Commission's work.

(d) In absence of all information to which it is entitled Australian Government is in position only to offer certain general comments.

2. General.

(a) Refer to difficulty of forming reliable estimate of wishes of inhabitants as to their future owing to their immaturity and also to [empirical][1] methods used by Commission. Commission's findings indicate trends only. However, more weight should be given to findings when opinions are of inhabitants based on previous experience. For example, wishes in regard to Italian trusteeship more reliable because all colonies have experienced Italian rule.

(b) In many cases clear that wishes of people conflict with their welfare. It is the latter which should generally prevail.

(c) The Four Powers must decide whether physical resources of former colonies are such that they could ever attain genuine independence. Preservation of what were purely artificial boundaries not necessary if it can be proved re-adjustment is to the benefit of inhabitants. On this point, Commissions reports, in view of limited terms of reference, do not provide adequate information. Where Four Powers unable to obtain full information solution should take into account need for flexibility so that present administrative abnormalities need not be perpetrated.

(d) Finally, Four Powers must decide on type of trusteeship. Australian Government does not share view that United Nations can not itself undertake trusteeship. Nevertheless it recognises practical difficulties which would face United Nations in such a task. United Nations should only undertake trusteeship where prospect of independence is remote and where task is long-term. On the other hand, where ingredients of independence are present single power trusteeship should be considered.

3. Italian Somaliland.

(a) No point in preserving purely artificial administrative unit unless it accords with wishes and welfare of inhabitants. Note strong trend of opinion in favour union of Somali tribes. Report gives little guidance as to advantage of union from economic point of view but this should be examined by Four Powers.

(b) Whatever the decision on boundaries no alternative decision to establishing trusteeship. Do not favour Four Power trusteeship. Serious consideration to trusteeship administered by United Nations.

4. Eritrea.

(a) Eritrea also artificial administrative unit, not self-supporting and lacking ingredients of independence. Four Powers should consider possibility of combining Eritrea with already established territories. Basic principle must be whether adjustment would be to interest of inhabitants. Report indicates possibility of attaching at any rate, part of Eritrea to Ethiopia but does not indicate whether this would be to the economic advantage of inhabitants. This must be examined.

(b) In event of decision in favour of union of part or whole of Eritrea with Ethiopia, consider union should take place after period of trusteeship and that trusteeship agreement should contain definite safeguards to ensure purposes of Charter. Will be respected.

5. Libya.

(a) Clearly no possibility of immediate independence. However, appears that ingredients of eventual independence are present. Four Powers must decide whether to treat Libya as one or more trustee territories. Report gives little guidance as to whether union would be to economic and social advantage of inhabitants. This aspect must be considered.

(b) If Libya divided, separate territories should be under similar systems of trusteeship so that eventual union, if it proves necessary, would not be prevented by different administrative systems.

(c) Since Libya more developed than Eritrea or Italian Somaliland favour short-term trusteeship under single power, although United Nation trusteeship acceptable. Do not favour Italian trusteeship and consider wishes of inhabitants in this respect carry weight. Do not favour trusteeship by Arab League although League's views should be taken into account in drawing up trusteeship agreement. Obvious choice of trustee is United Kingdom which contributed more than any other power to victory in North Africa and which has proved by its relations with the dependent territories since the war that its administrative principles are in harmony with provisions of Charter.

[1] The file copy reads 'Imperial' and the draft reads 'imperical'.

[AA : A1838, 85/4/2/6, II]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top