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56 Letter From Spender to Dulles

Letter, Canberra, 8 March 1951


I appreciated very much your personal message, sent through the American Embassy, Canberra, about my appointment to Washington.[1] I feel that our talks in the United States, supplemented by our discussions in Canberra, made a firm basis of friendship and frankness for our further association.

The date of my departure from Canberra is still somewhat uncertain, and there are parliamentary reasons which make it somewhat difficult for me to leave for some weeks. At the same time, I am so seized of the importance of the matters we discussed in Canberra that I feel I should take all necessary steps to follow them up personally at the earliest possible moment.

I have followed with interest reports of your various statements made in the United States after your return, and I hope I interpret them correctly as meaning that favourable consideration is being given in Washington to the question of completing a Pacific security arrangement. I should be indeed grateful for any information you can send to me on this subject.

Immediately after you left Australia, we sent to London the text of the draft agreement[2] completed in Canberra, making it clear, of course, that you had specifically reserved the position of the United States Government on the matter and also the question whether the Philippines should be a party of any such pact. We also answered at length United Kingdom arguments against certain possible forms of a security pact and pressed very strongly for United Kingdom support for an arrangement along the lines we discussed in Canberra.[3] Our High Commissioner in London conveyed our views personally to Mr. Attlee and received a sympathetic hearing. He was informed that the British Chiefs of Staff and the United Kingdom Cabinet would give urgent consideration to the matter.

So far, however, we have received no precise word from London, and I do not know whether there is any variation in the view which Dening conveyed to me in Canberra which was to the effect that he personally could see no objection to the agreement as drafted, except possibly in respect of some variation in verbiage in the preamble.[4] At the same time, having regard to what Gascoigne conveyed to you in Tokyo, I still have a reservation as to whether some people in London will still express opposition to any security arrangement in the Pacific, even though it were on the tripartite basis we discussed. I know you won't mind my saying to you quite directly that we in this country are a metropolitan power in the Pacific and we hope that our view will predominate, even though there were any objection from elsewhere. We live in the Pacific. I could only assume that London has been in close consultation with Washington on the subject, since it is difficult to assume otherwise, and if I am correct in so doing, I should be very grateful to you for any information you can convey to me by whatever channels you think best.

A report which appeared today in the Sydney press, purporting to come from a spokesman of the Commonwealth Relations Office, was to the effect that consideration is being given to a meeting of Defence Ministers of Commonwealth Governments in London in May.[5] The fact is that no formal invitation has been issued, although the possibility of such a meeting at some time in 1951 was envisaged during the Prime Ministers' Conference in London. The announcement by the Commonwealth Relations Office I know came as a surprise to our Minister for Defence. Whatever else takes place at any such meeting, we certainly do not propose to allow to have canvassed the subject matter of Pacific security which we discussed in Sydney.

The reason why I mention this to you is lest it be suggested to you, as I hope it will not, that further consideration of Pacific security should be postponed until after such a meeting. In the view of the Australian Government you may take it as clear and unequivocal that we do not intend so far as we are concerned to be deflected from the policy which has been deliberately arrived at, and of which you are aware.

In all the above circumstances, I feel that my primary task should be to follow up, wherever necessary, the views I expressed on behalf of Australia in Canberra. This could mean that I should leave Australia for the United States as soon as possible to assume my new post as Australian Ambassador in Washington. In the alternative, it could also mean that I should leave Australia as Minister for External Affairs and make a quick trip either to London or Washington or both to expound personally the Australian point of view and to meet any possible objections, which in our considered view are unjustified. It would greatly assist me in making my own plans if you felt able to give me a lead on these subjects.

You will have seen from press reports that the Prime Minister has now met the State Premiers and Parliament and has strongly emphasised the need for Australian defence preparations.[6] The Labor Party Triennial Conference has now agreed to compulsory training along lines of the National Service Bill which will now quickly become law. At least we can get on with the business of training our young men. This should be a substantial step forward. We are, of course, experiencing serious industrial troubles on the waterfront and in the coalmines, and we are endeavouring to deal with these firmly. Our objective is to get into full production, to increase our military forces and to take steps necessary to ensure that defence needs have priority. The lead which the United States has given on these matters is an inspiration.

I look forward to seeing you at an early date, and hope that we can all clean up this 'unfinished business' of the Japanese peace treaty and a security arrangement within a few months.

1 Menzies had announced on 2 March that Spender would succeed Makin, who was to retire in May, as Australian Ambassador to the United States of America. Spender presented his credentials in Washington on 8 June.

2 Document 50.

3 Document 51.

4 See Document 52.

5 The Commonwealth Conference of Defence Ministers would commence in London on 21 June.

6 On 7 March Menzies had made a statement on foreign affairs to the House of Representatives in which he had warned that 'the state of the world is such that we cannot and must not give ourselves more than three years in which to get ready to defend ourselves'. See Current Notes, vol. 22, 1951, pp. 157-66, especially pp. 162-3.

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