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51 Cablegram From Spender to Harrison

Cablegram, Canberra, 21 February 1951


Dulles Talks
Following is the reply which has been sent by the Prime Minister to letter[1] of 8th February, 1951, from the United Kingdom High Commissioner, Canberra, setting out United Kingdom objections to American proposals for an 'off-shore' security pact in the Pacific:-


On my return to Australia, your letter of 8th February, 1951, addressed to Mr. Fadden, regarding United States views on regional security arrangements in the Pacific was brought to my notice. I understand that a copy had been forwarded to Mr. Spender earlier and that both you and Sir Esler Dening discussed the subject-matter with Mr. Spender before the talks between Mr. Dulles, Mr. Spender and Mr. Doidge opened in Canberra.

I am asking Mr. Spender to reply to a number of important points raised in your letter, and I shall therefore restrict myself to some general comments.

I need hardly say that the Commonwealth Government constantly bears in mind, in entering into important negotiations with the representatives of any foreign country, not only the interests of Australia but the interests of the British Commonwealth as a whole and, in particular, those of the United Kingdom. The talks with Mr. Dulles were from the first described by Mr. Dulles himself as 'exploratory talks'. We have throughout taken the view that there would be ample time for consultation with the United Kingdom before any decisions were reached on the matters under discussion.

Secondly, the proposal regarding a pact or declaration including 'island chain' countries, that is to say Japan, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and possibly Indonesia, has throughout been a United States proposal and not an Australian proposal. Clearly, a simpler arrangement including as parties only the United States, Australia and New Zealand would be preferable from the point of view of Australia. Before the talks with Mr. Dulles opened, however, we had considerable doubt as to whether the United States would have any real desire to enter into such a limited arrangement, particularly in view of their defence responsibilities in regard to the Philippines and Japan. In the result, as your representatives in Canberra have already been informed orally, a draft treaty[2] was prepared for the consideration of the Governments of Australia, New Zealand and the United States, of which the first paragraph of Article IV is as follows:-

'Each Party recognises that an armed attack in the Pacific area on any of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes'.

A copy of the full text of the draft treaty is attached herewith.

My Government regards the adoption of a Treaty of this kind as of the first importance and takes it for granted that the United Kingdom Government will lend its utmost efforts in achieving this end. It is my firm belief that the treaty in its present form does not conflict with United Kingdom interests: so far as Australia is concerned, its adoption would, of course, be an outstanding contribution to the security of Australia and New Zealand and thus facilitate the carrying out by Australia and New Zealand of responsibilities in the areas outside the Pacific.

I should point out that, in a covering letter[3] dated 18th February, Mr. Dulles stresses the fact that he has no authority to commit his Government to acceptance of the draft treaty and that, in particular, the United States desires clearly to reserve the position of the Philippines Republic as a possible party to any such treaty. I am confident that, after careful consideration, the United Kingdom Government will take the view that, even if the United States insists that the Philippines should be a party to the treaty, such inclusion will not be prejudicial to United Kingdom or allied interests in the Far East.

With reference to paragraph 7 of Mr. Williams' letter, I am in a position to inform you that the arguments contained therein were put to Mr. Dulles several times by Mr. Spender during the discussions. This was scarcely necessary, as the same and other arguments had apparently been put to Mr. Dulles in Tokyo by Sir Alvary Gascoigne with such force that, in his opening remarks, Mr. Dulles made no single reference to the possibility of the United States desiring to conclude a Pacific Pact of any description, whether wide or limited. It was only during subsequent discussions that, at the instance of the representatives of Australia and New Zealand, the arguments in favour of some arrangements, under which Australia and New Zealand could receive the benefit of United States assurance of their security, were raised and exhaustively discussed.


As the Prime Minister has asked me to reply to various points in the above letter, I should be glad if you would express the following views at the highest level in London.

2. As indicated to you by many messages since I have become Minister for External Affairs, we are most anxious to develop between Canberra and London the only kind of consultation which, in our view, counts, namely consultation on matters of vital importance at a time when the views of the respective Governments can have some effect on decisions to be taken. It is because we desire the United Kingdom to consult us on such matters that we are more than ready to reciprocate.

3. The position regarding the Dulles Talks was as follows. We were informed that Dulles was going to Japan to discuss there the terms of a Japanese peace treaty. He indicated that he was prepared to come to Australia and we naturally welcomed this suggestion. Just before he left Washington, we received through one of his advisers a bare outline of a possible security pact in the Pacific which Dulles was ready to discuss in Canberra during exploratory talks.[4] New Zealand received similar information and we understood that the British Ambassador in Washington had also been informed. At that stage we had received no firm proposals, and the authoritativeness of the outline we received was doubtful.

4. On 8th February, 1951, we received in Canberra the formal views of the United Kingdom Government on the Dulles proposals. The tone of this document and the nature of some of the arguments used in opposition to the proposal frankly astounded us. We now know that the same arguments and others were put to Dulles in Tokyo so strongly that he apparently reached the conclusion that, if his proposals were proceeded with, even in exploratory discussions, some serious breach between the United Kingdom and the United States might occur. When he reached Canberra, we found ourselves in the following position. Although Dulles was supposed to be coming to Australia to discuss, inter alia, a Pacific security arrangement to which Australia might be a party, by the time he reached Australia the very proposal had disappeared into thin air. In his opening statement during the discussions, Dulles made no single reference to any kind of security arrangement in the Pacific, broad or limited, and it was necessary for Australia and New Zealand to take the initiative in resurrecting the matter so placing us at a tactical disadvantage. While we do not in any way contest the right of the United Kingdom to put its views in its own way to the representatives of foreign governments, we would have expected the views of Australia and New Zealand to have been canvassed by the United Kingdom representative in Tokyo at least in some degree, just as Australia had been asked to make clear to Mr. Dulles the arguments of the United Kingdom. We would like to be informed whether United Kingdom Government, through any of its representatives in Tokyo, Washington or elsewhere, had indicated to Mr. Dulles before the discussions began in Tokyo its positive desire for the 'simpler solution' referred to in paragraph 7 of Mr. William's letter, namely a security arrangement of some kind between the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

5. It is my considered view that the above mentioned letter of 8th February, 1951, contains a number of inaccuracies and certain phrases which, if they became known publicly could have the most unfortunate consequences. Some of the arguments used are also, in my opinion, unsound.

6. Fundamentally, the United Kingdom objections to the original Dulles proposal are two-fold, namely -
(a) The suggestion that any such pact would cut across Australian and New Zealand ability to reinforce the Middle East; and
(b) The effect upon mainland Asiatic countries of their possible exclusion from the proposed pact.

7. With regard to Australian responsibilities in the Middle East, it is the view of the Commonwealth Government that the conclusion of some Pacific security arrangement with the United States which will 'bolt the back door' is essential to the performance by Australia of obligations in the Middle East or other areas outside the Pacific. So far as the second point is concerned, we admit that an important problem is raised for consideration. We do not agree that there is no way of solving this problem and, in any event, we would insist that the proper approach to the problem is to raise it and then to find ways and means of solving it. As the 'off-shore' arrangement including Japan was not, in fact, put forward by Mr. Dulles in Sydney, it is unnecessary for me to examine in detail the various possible ways of meeting the second main objection of the United Kingdom. By way of illustration, however, I would point out that, from the moment we first heard of the 'off-shore' arrangement, we took it for granted that it would be necessary to take some additional steps to reassure countries not included at the moment in any such 'off-shore' pact. For instance, I have no doubt that the Commonwealth Government would have declared, contemporaneously with the completion of any such pact, its specific interest in Malaya and its intention to continue assistance to Malaya in time of need. Declarations no doubt could and would have been made by the United States as to its continued interest in Indo-China. After all, the conclusion of the Atlantic Pact excluded a number of countries such as Ireland, Turkey and Greece. No one, to my knowledge, drew the inference that the Atlantic Pact was to be interpreted as abandoning Ireland. Special reference was made to continuing interest in Turkey and Greece, which were later given 'associate' membership of N.A.T.O. Nor was this latter action taken as an indication by the Atlantic community that they were prepared to abandon Iran. While I do not suggest that the situation in the Far East is exactly similar, nevertheless, I am confident that means could have been found of reducing to the minimum any effect upon mainland countries of their exclusion from any 'off-shore' arrangement irrespective of the parties to it.

8. With regard to inaccuracies, I desire to draw attention to the following. In paragraph 2 of Mr. Williams' letter, it is stated that Australia and New Zealand should be prepared to accept the need for a 'restricted' measure of Japanese rearmament. This phrase glosses over the fact that, at the London Conference of Prime Ministers, the United Kingdom for the first time adopted, contrary to Australian views, the policy that no restrictions of any kind upon Japanese rearmament should be written into the peace treaty.

9. Secondly, in paragraph 5(a) of Mr. Williams' letter, there is a reference to Australian 'commitments' to the Middle East. It is my understanding that, in the strict sense, there does not exist any Australian 'commitment' to the Middle East. Australia has agreed to plan on the assumption that Australian forces will be made available in this area, but, during the London Conference, the Prime Minister made it clear that he could not make a firm commitment on the destination of Australian forces in war. That would depend upon the wishes of the Australian Government in power at that time. Mr. Menzies added that, although he himself in 1939 had immediately agreed to the despatch of Australian forces to the Middle East, it was impossible for him to guarantee that the planning which was now agreed between the United Kingdom and Australia for the defence of the Middle East would bear practical fruit in the event of war. He felt, however, that Australia as a whole understood well the vital importance of the Middle East. They would understand it better and be more exclusively attached to it if the situation nearer home could be satisfactorily cleared up. After referring to the urgent dangers in Malaya and Dutch New Guinea and Indo-China, Mr. Menzies said that the defence of the Middle East could not be viewed as a separate problem. It had to be fitted into a world-wide strategy, and he felt perhaps that it might be easier for Australia to be even more closely attached to the idea of sending forces to the Middle East if they knew more certainly what American strategic intentions were in the whole Pacific area.

10. Exception is taken to the use in an official document of the highest level of two phrases in Mr. Williams' letter. In paragraph 5(d) it is stated that 'it would be highly dangerous to give the French any impression of a betrayal as regards Indo-China'. We have ascertained that, in the letter sent to the New Zealand Government, the word 'abandonment' appears instead of the word 'betrayal'. You should make it clear that the Australian Government takes the strongest exception to any suggestion, however indirect, that its desire to secure Australia by entering into security arrangements with the United States can in any legitimate sense be described as a 'betrayal' of any other country.

11. Again, the reference in paragraph 5(f) of Mr. Williams' letter to 'a white man's pact', is, in our opinion, both unjustified and dangerous. It is unjustified because the original Dulles proposals contemplated Japan, the Philippines, and possibly Indonesia as parties, so that the pact could scarcely be described as a 'white man's pact'. Secondly, a 'catch phrase' of this kind, if it comes to the ears of any Asiatic country (as it well may) or finds its way into the press, gives a flavour to the proposed security arrangements in the Pacific which could arouse susceptibilities and passions as between East and West. A gratuitous phrase of this kind is not an argument, but rather an attempt to depreciate the significance of and the justification for any security arrangement in the Pacific, and is likely to make it more difficult in practice to achieve Australia's objective of obtaining adequate guarantees for its own security.

12. As indicated in the Prime Minister's reply to Mr. Williams, United Kingdom Government has been given a copy of the draft security treaty between the Governments of Australia and New Zealand and the United States actually drafted in Canberra. This text is being telegraphed to you separately and should be treated as extremely secret. As the Prime Minister has indicated to Mr. Williams, the Commonwealth Government expects the United Kingdom Government to do its utmost to facilitate the formal adoption by the Governments concerned of the treaty actually drafted. You should press this point to the utmost in London and make it clear that, while we welcome consultation and helpful suggestions, we are determined to carry out the first responsibility of the Government of any nation, namely the provision of adequate security for its own people. Australia is a metropolitan Pacific power. We have to live in the Pacific - our headquarters are in the Pacific. This puts us in a different position from any country whose metropolitan territory is in another area of the world.

1 Document 43.

2 See Document 50.

3 Published in full in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1951, vol. VI, part 1, Washington, 1977, pp. 175-6.

4 See Document 37.

On 18 February at the conclusion of the Canberra talks, Spender, Dulles and Doidge issued a joint communique on the Japanese Peace Treaty and Security in the Pacific. The communique stated that the discussions had provided the representatives with the opportunity to 'make a substantial contribution not only to their general understanding of the complicated problems involved, but also to their solution'. New Zealand and Australia had 'stressed' the problem of security arrangements in the Pacific particularly with respect to 'the importance to their countries of other areas outside the Pacific and the nature of responsibilities which might fall upon them in relation to such other areas'. The United States had been sympathetic to these issues.[1]

On 14 March Spender referred to the necessity of a security pact to safeguard against both Japanese and communist aggression, highlighting the need for other countries to recognise the contribution Australia, although a metropolitan Pacific power, made to international peace. Spender stated that his objective at the Canberra talks had been to 'obtain an arrangement which will benefit the whole of the Western Pacific area, guaranteeing friendly aid and protection in the event of a renewed threat of attack on Australia'. Although Spender emphasised the hope that the talks between the three countries 'will lay the foundations upon which will be built a permanent monument to our close association in the preservation of world peace and security', he did not suggest that the events had reached this point, or that a security treaty had already been drafted and discussed in Canberra.[2] In a press statement on 3 April Spender again alluded to active consideration of an effective security guarantee in the Pacific, highlighting also the interrelation of a Pacific security pact and the Japanese Peace Treaty, 'it would be unrealistic to consider the tentative American draft treaty [Japanese] which had just been circulated except within the framework of effective security guarantees in the Pacific'.[3]

Following the announcement by Truman on 19 April about the proposed Pacific Pact, details of the proposed security pact could be discussed publicly and in greater detail. On 21 June Casey presented a comprehensive statement on Foreign Affairs to the House of Representatives. He emphasised the four results a security pact would provide for Australia. The treaty would formalise the close association of Australia and New Zealand with the United States and commit each of the three parties to mutual assistance in the event of an armed attack upon any party. Thirdly, through enhancing the safety of the parties the treaty would 'strengthen our capacity to take our due share in wider tasks of global security'. Fourthly, through the establishment of a Council the parties 'can effectively co-ordinate their policies and dispositions in the Pacific area'. Also of concern at the time was the position of the United Kingdom and Casey assured the House that the United Kingdom had been privy to correspondence between the three parties throughout the process and that the Security Pact had their support.[4]

1 Current Notes, vol. 22, 1951, p. 106.

2 Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) vol. 212, House of Representatives, p. 486.

3 Current Notes, vol. 22, 1951, p. 233. On 12 July with the release of the draft Japanese Peace Treaty, Casey confirmed the strength of this link by stating that 'the draft treaty should also be read in the light of the United States-Australian-New Zealand mutual security pact'. Current Notes, vol. 22, 1951, p. 383.

4 Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) vol. 213, House of Representatives, pp. 280-1.

[NAA : A6768, EATS 77 Annex A]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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