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Historical documents

1 Cablegram from Makin to Chifley and Burton

Cablegram, Washington, 16 March 1949


Regional Defence Pact for Pacific
Press and radio have reported statements by Minister for Defence on 14th and 15th March regarding the possibility of a Pacific Defence Pact.[1] I would appreciate text of statements and also advice as to background including connexion with Listowell's[2] visit to Canberra. If possible I suggest that you might send by air bag (having in mind the Minister's[3] forthcoming visit) full brief bringing up to date top secret summary enclosed with your memorandum No. 629 of 9th December 1947.

The attitude of United States is clearly most important since I assume that it is the intention to seek to associate the United States with the proposed arrangements. There has been practically no press comment, but the BALTIMORE SUN today quotes 'diplomatic sources' as saying that the United States appeared unwilling now to take on new and expensive military commitments in the Far East.

I have, of course, not discussed the matter in any way with the State Department, particularly as I do not know the recent background. However, the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD correspondent in New York has just informed us that his contacts in the State Department are 'most frigid' towards the idea of any formal U.S. commitment in the Pacific. Rothman says he was told (a) that the State Department was engaging in no discussions with Australia or anyone else regarding a Pacific Pact and do not contemplate doing so; (b) that the State Department is very busy with the North Atlantic Pact and events in Europe; (c) that even if there were not questions of immediate concern in Europe, the United States would not be in a position to enter into broad commitments in the Pacific until the situation in China is clarified. A Pact excluding China might merely drive China into the arms of the U.S.S.R, whereas the U.S. hopes China may develop a distinctive nationalism.

While Rothman was clearly fishing for information, and the reactions attributed to the State Department may have been only kite flying, such reactions would not have been unexpected by me in view of recent trends in U.S. policy. As I have frequently reported, the whole basis of Marshall's policy was strategic concentration on Western Europe, hence E.R.P.,[4] the North Atlantic Pact, etc. A Dewey administration might have placed more emphasis on the Pacific (my telegram 1094 of 8 October, 1948),[5] but there is no sign that the present administration has abandoned Marshall's principle.

The State Department is certainly alarmed at the implications of the Communist victory in China, and at the spread of Communism in South East Asia, and the Department would view sympathetically any collaboration designed to halt the spread of Communist influence. Again there is a strong body of opinion in the Senate that the Administration is concentrating too much on Europe. Fifty Senators a few days ago jointly urged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to give priority to a Bill setting up a programme for China. It may be possible to capitalize on this sentiment, provided there are no dramatic developments in Europe this summer. However, the Senate move was concerned solely with assistance to China and did not envisage anything in the nature of a Pacific Defence Pact.

The above assessment is admittedly based on a limited study of U.S. trends, and does not preclude the most strenuous efforts to convince the United States that collective defence in the Pacific is essential to the security of this country. The success of the United Kingdom in leading the United States into a commitment to defend Western Europe has been spectacularly successful. However, the success of the United Kingdom in increasing its own security probably reduces the prospects of U.S. formal commitment in the Pacific, since (apart from the Chinese school mentioned above) there is a strong feeling that the U.S. must not spread its resources too thin.

The Minister, and also Sir Frederick Shedden will be in a position to ascertain at the highest level whether my assessment is correct, but I felt that in so vital a matter I should let you know my tentative conclusions immediately. I would be glad if you could transmit to Dr. Evatt any of the above which you consider relevant in the light of your fuller knowledge.

1 In reply to a question in the House of Representatives, J. J. Dedman, Minister for Defence, stated: 'The defence of this country depends upon, first, security arrangements that may be made through the United Nations, secondly, upon defence plans made in co-operation with the United Kingdom and other members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and thirdly, upon the inherent right, under the Charter of the United Nations, of every country to develop whatever plans it considers to be necessary for the defence of its territory'. He continued that the ideal in the Pacific area would be an international security force under the control of the United Nations or, as the next best course, the development of a regional pact by the Pacific nations themselves. The latter would be the 'best we can hope for at present'.

2 Earl of Listowell, UK Minister of State for Colonial Affairs.

3 H. V. Evatt, Minister for External Affairs.

4 Economic Recovery Program.

5 Published in Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. XVI, Document 392.

[NAA : A3094, 217/6]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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