Skip to main content

Historical documents

11 Cablegram From Spender to Menzies

Cablegram, Canberra, 21 July 1950


Thank you for your telegram 3411.[1] While I fully appreciate the reasons for your view that we should not do anything which might tend to narrow the field of discussion between the United Kingdom and United States, further information which I have just received makes me feel that there is some danger of American misapprehension of the Australian attitude if our views become known to the United States only through the United Kingdom, even though the United Kingdom may be putting forward views which in some general strategic sense are those of the Commonwealth as a whole.

2. I refer to Mr. Attlee's personal message to Mr. Fadden dated 20th July on the subject of the request by the Secretary-General of the United Nations for increased combat forces for Korea. This message, the text of which I assume is available to you makes it clear that the United Kingdom thinks it essential to elucidate the United States attitude and requirements through the British Ambassador Washington. At the same time Attlee asks that he should be kept in touch with the thinking of the Commonwealth Governments on this subject.

3. While the British approach to Washington is perfectly understandable, I do not think it would be right and proper for Australia to make no contact with the United States Government, either through our Embassy in Washington or the American Embassy, Canberra, on this subject. After all, our decision to send naval and air forces was an independent decision, conveyed independently to the United States, even though in making the decision we kept Commonwealth interests in mind. It is abundantly clear that this separate and immediate action by Australia made a strong impression on official and unofficial American opinion which has since resulted in the closest of friendly relationships. While in making any such independent sounding of the Americans we would no doubt make it clear that British Commonwealth interests and arrangements are involved and that inter-Commonwealth consultation must take place before we could bind ourselves to a final reply to Lie's request, it is my firm belief that such a direct Australian request for 'elucidation' should be made. If it is not made, or is made only through the United Kingdom (whose policy on the Korean issue has in some respects met with criticism in America) I have a real fear that the Australian attitude may be misunderstood and that the genuine warmth of present Australian-American relationships since the opening of the Korean conflict may be diminished. Naturally, the more favourable the American political 'climate' towards Australia during your own visit to Washington, the better will be the chances of a favourable response in connection with the important and delicate matters which you yourself will be raising there.[2]

4. In deference to your views, I have refrained from making statements on the subject of Lie's request and have refrained from contacting Washington on the subject. I know you will understand my desire to let you know frankly my views on this matter in time for you to take any action or let me know your reactions before you embark for the United States.

5. You will no doubt realise that the Acting Prime Minister and others here are under constant pressure from the Press on the subject of Lie's request. It would assist us greatly by way of background to have the earliest possible indication of the result of the talks which were to take place in Washington commencing on 19th July - both the course they are taking and the final results.

1 19 July. Menzies had communicated to Spender his view that Australia should do nothing 'which might tend to narrow the field of discussion between the United Kingdom and United States' on the position in the Far East. Menzies had referred to Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's recent approach to the Soviet Union seeking to settle the conflict in Korea by co-operation between the People's Republic of China, the Soviet Union and the United States and by seating the People's Republic of China on the Security Council. Menzies had also mentioned differences between the United States and the United Kingdom over the future status of Formosa held by the Nationalist Chinese Government of Chiang Kai-shek and claimed by the People's Republic of China.

2 Menzies had left Australia on 9 July in order to visit the United Kingdom and the United States. The principle purpose of his visits was to obtain for Australia a loan of US dollars to provide for Australia's development and defence needs.

[NAA : A11537 [1]]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top