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71 Cablegram From Spender to the New Zealand Government

Cablegram, Canberra, 21 March 1951[1]


Draft message from Australian Minister for External Affairs to Mr. Gordon Walker.

We were very glad to receive your personal message[2] to Mr. Menzies of the 14th March, 1951, regarding security arrangements in the Pacific. As you know, we have been somewhat anxious to receive the earliest possible indication of the views of the United Kingdom Government because we regard this as a vital matter for Australia, and we were uneasy lest the present unusual opportunity for securing an American guarantee might be lost.

2. We much appreciate the assurance given in paragraph 3 of your message that the United Kingdom Government completely accepts our thesis that it is essential for our back door to be bolted. Our view throughout has been that our capacity to carry out responsibilities in areas other than the Pacific, particularly the Middle East, must be directly related to the degree of our security in the Pacific itself. We are glad to note, therefore, your statement that a guarantee by the United States would make a significant contribution to the strengthening of joint plans for local strategy and for the defence of the Middle East.

3. Both the Prime Minister and I have been in close touch with the New Zealand Prime Minister and the Minister for External Affairs regarding the messages sent by you to Mr. Menzies and to Mr. Holland respectively. The New Zealand Government will, of course, be sending its own reply to London, but I know from the conversations that we have had, that the basic approach of Australia and New Zealand to this subject is the same. So far as Australia is concerned, we are delighted to learn that the United Kingdom Government accepts the proposal for a tripartite pact in the Pacific along the lines discussed in Canberra with Mr. Dulles.[3] Such an arrangement including the United States, Australia and New Zealand, has always been and still is the first objective of the Australian Government. The qualifications which have been expressed on the inclusion of the Philippines are due solely to the fact that the United States has felt bound to propose it. The reasons for this will be referred to in some detail later.

4. In order to understand clearly the Australian attitude towards a Pacific Security Pact, it is necessary, I think, to see it against the following background. Australia still has a profound distrust of Japan based upon its bitter experience during the last World War. While we hope, of course, that Japan will change her ways and while we will do what we can to assist in this process, at the same time we apprehend the distinct danger that Japan will follow in the future an opportunist line in accordance with her own self-interest. Our view, as you are aware, has consistently been that restrictions upon Japanese armament should be written into the Peace Treaty and that the Treaty should also establish control machinery to enforce these restrictions. We appreciate, naturally, the difficulty in securing effective control but our view has nonetheless been that it did not follow that no control should be attempted. We have opposed acceptance of any Peace Treaty which contains no prohibition of any kind on Japanese rearmament. This would seem to us an invitation to Japan, when the proper time comes, to build up her armaments to any degree she chooses. While this process may take some time, it would be gravely accelerated in the not unlikely event of Japan entering into some temporary or longer-term alliance with Communist China and/or Russia. In our opinion, one or both of these two latter countries might well find it to its advantage to make substantial concessions to Japan in order to win her over to the Communist side. We can think of no more serious threat in the Pacific area than active collaboration between Russia, China and Japan.

5. During the Prime Ministers' Conference in London, it became quickly clear to us that our views on what were, to us, the vital clauses of any Japanese Peace Treaty were now shared only by New Zealand. In these circumstances, the question of Australian security in the Pacific became particularly vital, and it became accordingly increasingly urgent to tackle it in the most concrete and practical way. At the same time, we had constantly in mind the very great difficulty, against the background described above, of our carrying out military responsibilities outside the Pacific area. In view of the importance attached by the United Kingdom and indeed by ourselves to the Middle East, we feel that nothing could aid more in making it possible to carry out any such responsibilities than the securing of an acceptable guarantee from the United States. During the Dulles talks both Australia and New Zealand made clear to Dulles this quandary in which they found themselves. I am glad to be able to report that Dulles expressed his understanding of this view immediately, that he at once accepted inclusion of a clause in the preamble, 'recognizing that Australia and New Zealand as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations have military obligations outside, as well as within, the Pacific area', and that he showed his appreciation both of the importance of the British Commonwealth in world affairs and of the need for the closest and most friendly relationships in the future between the British Commonwealth and the United States.

6. In the description which I have given above of the background to the Australian attitude, I have not mentioned other dangers which we see in the Far East, for instance the obvious danger of aggressive Communist imperialism. In view of the Korean incident, this danger need scarcely be elaborated. Nevertheless it is true to say that the very real danger of a resurgence of Japanese militarism has been our special concern in dealing with security arrangements in the Pacific. It is, moreover, essential that Australian public opinion should be given effective assurance on this subject. Otherwise, a Japanese Peace Treaty which contained no limitations whatever upon Japanese rearmament and no reference to control machinery could have, in Australia, far-reaching consequences.

7. We have given close consideration to what you have described in your message to Mr. Menzies as two important questions of principle which cause the United Kingdom Government some anxiety. In particular we note that the United Kingdom Government is greatly concerned about the possibility that the Philippines might be included in the Pacific Pact. I am glad to note in paragraph 5 that the United Kingdom realizes that this is an 'American suggestion'. Australia has always preferred a three-power pact and, during the Dulles talks in Canberra, this was made clear. The reasons for our preference scarcely need elaboration. It would be unwise, however, to misunderstand or under-estimate the strong reasons, from the American point of view, which have prompted them to advance a four-power pact. In the first place, the original American proposal was for an 'island-chain' arrangement including Japan and the Philippines and possibly Indonesia. It is our understanding that the United States dropped this proposal in deference to the very strong views expressed by the United Kingdom Government. Secondly, Dulles informed us that when he passed through the Philippines, President Quirino strongly attacked any suggestion that British Commonwealth countries should be given a 'tighter' guarantee than the Philippines. Apparently he stated that if this occurred it would be an indication of colour prejudice. Thirdly, during the Canberra talks, Dulles (no doubt in the light of his estimate of opinions held in the United States) from the start reserved the attitude of the United States Government regarding the inclusion of the Philippines and before departure sent us a written document setting out this reservation. Fourthly, it is difficult for the United States Government, taking into account Congressional and public opinion, to give to Australia and New Zealand wider and more formal security than to the Philippines which, after all, has been a special American responsibility and, so to speak, part of the American 'Commonwealth'. Fifthly, Dulles pointed out that the kind of Japanese Peace Treaty which the Philippines wanted was very different from that desired by the United States. The United States still has the problem of securing Philippines agreement to a treaty which places no restrictions on Japanese rearmament and imposes practically no reparations upon Japan. Sixthly, during the Canberra talks it was suggested by Australia and New Zealand that the difficulty could be met by the United States giving to the Philippines a separate guarantee of the same kind as that given to Australia and New Zealand. While Mr. Dulles agreed to consider this suggestion, there was no indication then or since that such a suggestion will, in fact, prove acceptable to the United States.

8. In the light of the United Kingdom comments contained in your message of the 14th March, we have re-examined the question whether the United States could be induced to drop its proposal to include the Philippines in a Pacific Security Pact. We can only say that all the evidence in our possession points in the other direction. Our information from Washington is to the effect that President Truman himself has indicated that, in his view, the Philippines must be included. We know also that, after discussions in Washington since his return there, Dulles' considered judgment is that inclusion of the Philippines will be necessary to carry the matter through to completion. Even then, of course, acceptance by the United States of a four-power pact is not certain, because basically the United States would prefer a pact which includes Japan as well.

9. For these reasons, we feel that the matter is very delicate and that there is considerable danger that, if any pressure for exclusion of the Philippines is brought to bear, the possibility of Australia and New Zealand securing the guarantee from the United States we are seeking may be completely lost. This is a situation which we could not seriously contemplate. While, therefore, we would prefer a three-power pact, if we are unable to secure it, then we feel bound to say frankly that we will accept a four-power pact including the Philippines. For Australia to take any other course would, in our view, be not only unrealistic but would sacrifice our vital interest. It is proper to emphasise that our considered judgment is that there is no real foundation for expecting that a three-power pact can be obtained.

10. We understand the desire of the United Kingdom Government to discuss the whole question frankly with the United States and recognise its full right to do so, speaking of course exclusively in its own behalf. We feel sure, however, that you will understand why we are unable, for the reasons referred to above, to accord the 'agreement' asked for in the fourth sentence of paragraph 7 of your message of 14th March. Moreover, we feel bound to call attention to two points. Firstly, as indicated above, we would be greatly concerned if the ultimate result of any such talks in Washington or London between the United Kingdom and the United States were the loss by Australia and New Zealand of what may prove to be an opportunity, which may well never recur, of securing the proposed American guarantee. We feel there is a distinct danger of this. Secondly, we draw attention with some diffidence to the fact that there are at the present moment various points of disagreement between the United Kingdom and the United States on such matters as Korea, the recognition of Communist China, and Far Eastern problems generally. We express the hope that the United Kingdom, before taking any final decision to discuss with the United States the possibility of exclusion of the Philippines from any security arrangement in the Pacific, will take fully into account possible adverse American reactions to such proposal.

11. We have considered carefully the United Kingdom view that inclusion of one country in the South East Asian area and exclusion of others might raise difficulties regarding the position of neighbouring territories such as North Borneo, Malaya, Indo China and Siam. While we fully appreciate that it is important to give consideration to this aspect, it is our firm judgment that the fears of the United Kingdom are unfounded. It is known to the whole world that the Philippines has a special relationship, political, military and economic, with the United States. It is known that, having regard to the special military relationships between the two countries, an attack upon the Philippines would immediately involve the United States. In these circumstances, we fail to see how the inclusion of the Philippines in the proposed Security Pact would prejudice the position of neighbouring countries. Moreover, if the conclusion of any Pacific Pact were to be deferred until such time as it became practicable to create a 'regional defence system extending from the Pacific through South East Asia and South Asia to the Middle East', we fear that the Pacific Pact will be deferred indefinitely or for so long a time that the circumstances which make it now possible would completely disappear. In truth, such a regional defence system is not, in our judgment, a practical possibility in any foreseeable future.

12. The United Kingdom has expressed a 'second anxiety', namely that a Pacific Pact may 'give the impression that the United Kingdom was being unduly subservient to the United States in the Pacific'. We find it somewhat difficult to understand this anxiety. Our view of a Pacific Pact is that it will strengthen and not weaken the position of the British Commonwealth in the Pacific. We have always regarded the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as strengthening the position of the Commonwealth throughout the world and while we have regretted the fact that it is not possible for Australia to participate in some way or another in its decisions, nevertheless we have welcomed it and, in planning on the assumption that we will be able in emergency to send military aid to the Middle East, we have felt that we were, in some degree, contributing towards achieving the objectives of N.A.T.O. Similarly, we would hope that countries in the Atlantic area would regard a Pacific Security Pact in a somewhat similar way and that the United Kingdom in particular would feel that such a Pact, in creating an area of stability in the Pacific, would strengthen British Commonwealth interests in the Pacific, including those of the United Kingdom. It has occurred to us that the argument which has been put forward on this heading would apply a fortiori to the tripartite agreement for which you have indicated your support.

13. Your message to Mr. Menzies raised the question of 'area' covered by the Treaty drafted in Canberra. Our first draft submitted to Dulles in Canberra suggested that the Pact should be limited to an area south of the Equator, corresponding generally with the wartime South and South West Pacific areas. It was pointed out to us in reply that the effect would be to secure an Australian guarantee only of American Samoa, whereas the metropolitan island territories of Australia and New Zealand would be guaranteed by the United States. Such a disparity could scarcely be expected to be acceptable to the Congress of the United States.

14. We are in entire agreement with the point of view expressed in paragraph 9 of your message. It seems to us most desirable that the United Kingdom should publicly approve the treaty and make it clear that there has been full consultation with Australia and New Zealand throughout. We feel that carefully considered and concerted statements could be of great value in dissipating fears and anxieties of the kind referred to in your message. We ourselves would wish to emphasise the contribution which we believe a Pacific Pact would make to the security of vital British Commonwealth interests in the Pacific and to make clear to the world at large the close and continuing ties of Australia and the United Kingdom.[4]

1 In Cablegram 91 (21 March) to Wellington, Spender had communicated a message to Doidge in which he thanked Doidge for showing him the draft New Zealand reply to Gordon Walker's message that had been conveyed to him by Watt (see note 3 to Document 68). Spender had noted with appreciation the agreement between the Australian and New Zealand points of view 'on this vital matter' and had promised to cable to the New Zealand Government the draft Australian reply to Gordon Walker's message before it was transmitted to London. Spender had asked for immediate comments or suggestions on the draft because he wished to send it to London no later than 22 March notwithstanding Menzies's absence in Tasmania.

2 Document 61.

3 See Document 50.

4 Watt noted on 22 March that Shanahan had telephoned him from Wellington on that morning indicating that New Zealand had no amendments to suggest to the Australian draft reply to Gordon Walker and that 'the New Zealand Cabinet had approved the terms of the New Zealand draft reply which I had brought back with me from Wellington'. Watt was instructed by Spender on the same day to send the cablegram to Harrison for transmission to Gordon Walker. The New Zealand reply to Gordon Walker, which was similar to Australia's, was also transmitted on 22 March. See Robin Kay (ed.), The ANZUS Pact and the Treaty of Peace with Japan, Government Printer, Wellington, 1985, pp. 674-9.

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