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123 Memorandum From Spender to Watt

Memorandum, Washington, 19 November 1951


Security Arrangements for the Pacific Area
I refer to our memorandum No 2074/51[1] of 9th November in which attention was drawn to a public statement by Mr. Dean Rusk, Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, concerning the sympathetic interest of the United States in a wider system of security for the Pacific area. I do not think that Rusk's remarks are at variance with the impression he gave me, and which I reported in my telegram No 1940[2] of 8th November, namely that the time is not yet ripe for a wider security arrangement for the Pacific area. You will recall that such words as 'sympathetic interest' were the stock response of the Department of State when the idea of a Pacific Pact was first put forward.

2. In recent memoranda (nos. 1937/51[3] and 2031/51[4] of 23rd October and 2nd November) I have reported press comment to the effect that the Administration was considering a security arrangement for the Pacific area along the lines of NATO. I also asked the Head of the Australian Joint Service Staff for any information he might be able to obtain through service channels on this matter. His understanding of American service opinion is as follows: Any moves to widen security arrangements for the Pacific area would be premature until the Tripartite Security Treaty and the United States-Philippines and the United States-Japanese Treaties had been ratified. The United States were reluctant to enter into any formal commitments in respect of the mainland of Asia and considered that the military assistance they were providing for Indo China and Thailand was the best they could do at this time. As for Malaya and Burma they regarded the first as Great Britain's responsibility and the second as falling within the defence interests of Great Britain or India. With regard to Indonesia American service opinion was opposed to either a bilateral pact between the United States and Indonesia or her inclusion in the Tripartite Security Treaty.

3. I would also draw your attention to a further statement that has been made about the possibility of a defence alliance between the United States and the non-Communist countries on the mainland of Asia. On 11th November Edgar Ansel Mowrer, a radio commentator, made the following statement:

'The United States Administration is ready to promote a defence alliance of non-Communist Asian states. Such an alliance will be a purely Asian defence link completing the Pacific Pacts recently signed at San Francisco. It will be, in a very literal sense, free Asia's contribution to the containment policy. It is, of course, not enough for the United States Administration merely to want an all-Asian defence bloc. It will have positively to support Philippines leaders in their efforts to convince the still undecided Asian governments that further hesitancy means suicide. In Washington, Secretary Acheson will put the political planning of Asian defence into the capable hands of his new special assistant, Myron Cowen'.

This I should think is mostly speculative based upon what Mowrer has read into Myron Cowen's appointment.

1 It drew the attention of Watt to the texts of two speeches by Rusk on 5 and 6 November on the subjects of Korea and current problems in US Far Eastern policy.

2 Spender reported a conversation with Rusk and Johnson, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, in which Spender urged caution in seeking to associate Indonesia in security arrangements in the Pacific area. Spender 'referred to the uncertainty and instability of the Indonesian Government, the possibility that the Indonesians might use their association in Pacific security arrangements to attain their objective with regard to Dutch New Guinea and reminded Rusk of our strong support of the Dutch in remaining in New Guinea'.

3 It noted an article in The New York Times on 19 October pointing out that the new Government in the United Kingdom led by Winston Churchill would soon advise the United States of its desire to participate in security arrangements in the Pacific and another on 22 October noting that the US Government would need to respond to pressure to widen its Pacific security arrangements.

4 It reported further press speculation about likely moves, when Congress reconvened, to suggest a broader security arrangement in the Pacific.

The United Kingdom Government tried to persuade both the Chifley Government and the Menzies Government to commit Australian forces to the defence of the Middle East in a future global war. Although the Chifley Government had been reluctant to assume such a defence commitment in 1948 and 1949, Australian defence authorities had endorsed the UK view that participation in defence planning in Australia's own ANZAM area was of less immediacy than concentrating on possible Soviet aggression in the Middle East.

In June 1950 UK Field Marshal Sir William Slim, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, visited Australia to try to convince the Menzies Government to assign priority to the defence of the Middle East. As a result of Slim's visit, the Menzies Government approved the development of concurrent plans, based on two different alternatives:[1]

(a) Deployment in the Middle East of the first army contingent and air force task force raised, with the provision of later forces to be allotted to Malaya, should the possible threat develop.

(b) Deployment in Malaya of the first army and air force task force raised, with provision for later forces, not required in Malaya, to be allotted to the Middle East.

The Menzies Government's national security policy and defence preparations in 1950 and 1951 were premised on the need for a large expeditionary force to be sent overseas and on 4 December 1951 Cabinet agreed to advise the UK Government that Australia would deploy the first army and air contingents raised to the Middle East upon the outbreak of global war.[2] This decision was overtaken in 1952 by the Australian Government's increasing concern with instability in South East Asia and by the beginning of 1953 the UK Government agreed to advise Menzies to relinquish the idea of sending an Australian expeditionary force to the Middle East.

1 Minutes of Council of Defence meeting, 21 June 1950, A7535, 15, NAA.

2 Cabinet Decision 251, 4 December 1951, A462, 439/1/17, NAA.

[NAA : A1838, 532/11, v]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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