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Historical documents

58 Cablegram From Spender to Harrison

Cablegram, Canberra, 9 March 1951


Pacific Security Pact
I am somewhat disturbed that we have still had no official reaction from London regarding the security pact[1] which was drafted in Canberra during the Dulles visit. From your messages I gather that the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff have considered the matter but that the United Kingdom Cabinet has still not dealt with it.[2]

2. It seems to me most probable that the United Kingdom is in close consultation with the United States on this subject. Thus, telegram 331 from Washington repeated to London No. 25 states that Dulles talked to the British Ambassador at Washington on the subject on 1st March.[3] Your telegram 1311[4] refers to the fact that the views of the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff on post-treaty security in the Pacific have also been transmitted to Washington. These facts lead me to fear that the United Kingdom is deliberately delaying its reply to Australia based upon a consideration on its merits of the agreement drafted in Canberra until such time as it has 'lined up' the United States on the subject. When the United Kingdom knows how far it can influence the United States, it will then, and only then, determine the reply which it will send to Australia. If these assumptions are correct, I can only say that the position is most unsatisfactory and that we should press for an immediate answer.

3. In today's Australian press, there is a long A.A.P.[5] report from New York which states categorically that certain alternatives are being considered by the United States Government. One of these is 'a declaration by the United States that an attack on Australia and New Zealand from any quarter would be regarded by the United States as dangerous to her own peace and security'. During the Dulles talks, the emphasis from the American side was throughout on the need for self-help and mutual aid, and provision was made in the draft agreement for the establishment of machinery which would keep us in constant contact with the United States. The latest official advice we have received from London on the question of Pacific security is to the effect that the United Kingdom supports a policy of securing from the United States 'appropriate assurances' regarding Australian security. We have never had the slightest indication from London that London was prepared to consider any mutual obligations or that London would favour the establishment of definite machinery in the Pacific which would keep Australians, Americans and New Zealanders in close and regular contact.

4. I should be glad if you would take up the matter again in London at the highest level and try to ascertain the precise position. You can point out that at London's specific request we were asked to consult on the subject of the Dulles talks. We have done so and supplied the fullest possible information. There has already been substantial delay in receiving a reply in Canberra and we are not prepared to hold up conclusion of a matter of this importance to Australia while the United Kingdom, if this be the fact, does its utmost to bring the United States to its own point of view before sending a frank answer to Australia based upon the merits of the proposition which is under consideration.

5. In this connection, reference is made to your telegram 1311. Please advise by telegram whether the views of the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff on post-treaty security and Japanese re-armament referred to in your paragraph 2 deal with the matters discussed by us with Dulles. If so, we would like an immediate summary by telegram of the more important arguments used and conclusions reached by the Chiefs of Staff.[6]

1 Document 50.

2 In Cablegram 1304 (6 March) Harrison had advised that the UK Cabinet had considered the security pact and would review it again on 8 March and that Harrison had stressed the urgency of the issue for Australia to Gordon Walker.

3 7 March. It advised that Dulles had talked on 1 March to Franks, the UK Ambassador to the United States, about the State Department's apparent preference for including the Philippines in the security pact. It further advised that, according to a confidential report transmitted by Berendsen to Wellington on 5 March, Dulles had said that 'the United States had decided that it was essential to include the Philippines and that Franks had been so informed and asked to ascertain British reaction. On receipt of the United Kingdom reply Dulles intended to raise the question of a pact in a closed session of Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a first step towards definite action with regard to a Pact'.

4 6 March. It advised that the views of the UK Chiefs of Staff on post-Treaty security and Japanese rearmament were being sent for presentation to the State Department.

5 Australian Associated Press.

6 In Cablegram 1394 (9 March), Harrison reported that he had represented to Gordon Walker all the points made in Document 58. Harrison added that Gordon Walker had said that the delay in the UK reply about the security pact was occasioned by concern about the inclusion of the Philippines, and by Bevin's resignation. Gordon Walker had given to Harrison the 'most definite assurance that there had been no talks with the United States nor were they attempting to 'line up'the United States on this matter'. A draft reply approved for dispatch, dated 14 March indicated Spender's view that his impression was nevertheless 'that the United Kingdom Government was specifically considering an American approach on this subject' and requested any background information available from London.


On 9 March Bierwirth wrote to Shedden 'off the record' to provide Shedden with information from the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Foreign Office regarding the proposed Pacific Treaty. A principle concern of the UK Chiefs of Staff Committee was that Australia and New Zealand would not be committed in advance to provide forces in the Pacific theatre. The Committee felt however that the proposed Treaty had been drafted loosely enough to allay this concern, although as Bierwirth points out, 'In practice, Treaty or no Treaty, the Australians and New Zealanders were not legally committed to sending troops to the Middle East. Any Australian or New Zealand Government would experience the greatest political difficulty in sending troops to the Middle East in the face of an unsatisfactory situation in the Pacific'.[2]

Shedden's reply on 28 March reinforced the outcomes of the discussions with Dulles in Canberra when the commitment of Australia and New Zealand to providing forces for the Middle East was made clear to the US Delegation. Shedden felt that this position had been accepted by the Americans who had inserted the following clause into the preamble of the Treaty, 'Recognising that Australia and New Zealand as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations have military obligations outside as well as within the Pacific area'.[3]

Bierwirth then examined the Australia House files on the subject and wrote to Shedden on 6 April confirming that Dulles had been 'so worked on' by the British in Tokyo that 'he was fearful that he might cause a breach in the relations between the United Kingdom and the United States should he mention the Security Agreement'. Bierwirth stated that there were possibly five reasons for British opposition, '(a) Britain does not wish United States effort to be diverted from N.A.T.O. (b) Britain is unable to make any large contribution in the Pacific and her absence from the Agreement might advertise her weakness in this regard to the world to the detriment of her interests in South-East Asia. (c) It might affect Australian and New Zealand ability to reinforce the Middle East. (d) The effect upon Asiatic countries of their exclusion from the Pact There was perhaps also an underlying political motive. The Government had been accused of selling out in the Atlantic to the Americans when an American Admiral was appointed Supreme Commander North Atlantic Forces, and they were fearful that they might be accused of something similar in the Pacific'.[4]

1 Major General R. Bierwirth, CBE, was the Australian Defence Representative at Canberra House in London.

2 DRL 45/1951, A5954/69, 1819/5.

3 147/1951, A5954/69, 1819/5.

4 DRL 59/1951, A5954/69, 1819/5.

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