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Volume 27: Australia and the United Kingdom, 1960–1975


UKNA: PREM 11/3665

London, 6 February 1962

Secret And Personal

I have thought a great deal about your personal letter of January 15,1 and I have read it many times over. You will now have got my reply dated January 23 dealing with the point about immigration policy, and I think that we can kill this without difficulty. Happily there are several members of the Commonwealth who will resist such a discussion partly on the proper grounds that it involves interference with the internal policies of individual members, and partly because they themselves practise these controls.

However, I agree with you that this is an alarming symptom of a situation which may ultimately threaten the whole Commonwealth structure. The last meeting in London was, of course, an absolute tragedy. At first I thought we could have just got through it and I suppose it may have been my fault in handling that led to failure. Looking back, I feel that if Dr Verwoerd2 had made even a small gesture on the lines you pressed upon him–the acceptance of African and Asian High Commissioners–we could have won through. Sometimes, again, I think that the whole thing was plotted against us from the start, and that some of our leading colleagues were not completely straightforward with me about it. However, it is over. What are the lessons?

I know you will let me just ramble on a little as if we were talking in a room together. How I wish we could! As it is, you have to read my letters in the middle of your great difficulties (which by the way you seem to be grappling with remarkable success) and I have to find an interval between Christmas Island tests, the pay pause, trouble in the Party, and a threatened railway strike. Perhaps this is really the main cause of what has gone wrong over the last fifty years. Our instrument of Government was not created for the present day and is being subjected to pressures for which it was not intended. Parliament meets far too long in the year. Ministers have no holidays. Although I have been away for a day or two to shoot or play golf I have not been away from the telegrams, the office, the boxes, for five years. And so we are terribly apt to deal with immediate problems and postpone the longer term ones. But since you have asked me, I am going to take you at your word.

First, about the world.

You and I were born into a very different world which seems, as one now recalls it, almost as long ago as the age of George III or Queen Elizabeth I. Queen Victoria, the Jubilee, Kipling, Universal pride and confidence in the successful transformation of territories won haphazardly (sometimes by trading companies, sometimes by explorers and adventurers, and seldom directly by the Government of the day) into an orderly Empire consisting of two great divisions. Of these the first included the mother country and the countries of British blood and tradition–Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and, with all the problems of the Boers, South Africa. Here there was no difficulty. Arguments of course arose about tariffs (as between Canada and Australia and the British Government in 1906) or about trading arrangements of other kinds. Nevertheless, under the strong loyalty to the Throne and the sense of unity which springs from being members of a single family, there was the Empire of free, independent, advanced, civilised, Christian people that you now correctly call the Crown Commonwealth.

Then there was India. Everyone knew vaguely that some form of self-government must be developed. To begin with it would be local and provincial, moving in due course to some form of central government. But it would be a long process. Most Indians, with the exception of a few agitators, accepted the need for a period of education. The British part of the Indian Civil Service was being steadily reduced in numbers and a great native Civil Service was being created (on which incidentally India still depends). And it was thought then that the conservative elements in Indian life, the caste system among the Hindus, the firm faith of Islam, would allow India to develop while still looking to the Imperial Crown as the force of centralism and cohesion.

Thirdly, the Colonial Empire, spread over Asia and Africa, the Pacific and the Far East. Here the process of evolution to self-government had hardly begun. It was a matter of civilising
savages, making roads and hospitals for them, and so forth; gradually starting the schools
and the mission houses, and nobody quite realised what the end of it all would be. Nobody,
certainly, expected that it would be what it has proved to be.

And now here we are, my dear Bob, two old gentlemen, Prime Ministers of our respective countries, sixty years later, rubbing our eyes and wondering what has happened. What has really happened is this.

By folly and weakness on the one side, and incredible wickedness on the other, Europe has twice pulled itself to pieces in a single generation. I do not think the loss of life, terrible as it has been (especially since it always takes its toll of the best), has been the chief loss. Nor does the squandering of money and materials amount to much: these can be replaced. What has really gone is the prestige of the Europeans–British, French, Germans, call them what you will. Whether in the Old World, or migrated to the New World, or settled in Australasia, or in Africa, Europeans have broadly governed the world for over 2,000 years in a more or less coherent unit. First the Roman Empire and then, as it fell apart, the Goths, the Vandals and the Saxons, were sufficiently like the Old Europeans in race and blood to be absorbed, and in turn to absorb the Roman or European civilisation. This lay civilisation, inspired the enthusiasm of the Christian movement and supported the power and authority of the Church, created a situation where the civilised world meant really Europe and its extensions overseas. Even though England stood a little apart, yet curiously enough she has been forced at least every century and sometimes more often to intervene in order to maintain the balance of Europe.

But, as I say, what the two wars did was to destroy the prestige of the white people. For not only did the yellows and blacks watch them tear each other apart, committing the most frightful crimes and acts of barbarism against each other, but they actually saw them enlisting each their own yellows and blacks to fight other Europeans, other whites. It was bad enough for the white men to fight each other, but it was worse when they brought in their dependents. And what we have really seen since the war is the revolt of the yellows and blacks from the automatic leadership and control of the whites.

We had a good debate in the House of Commons a few days ago on the United Nations. The troublesome way the newly independent nations behave in the United Nations is very similar to the way in which the members of what we call the New Commonwealth tend to behave inside the Commonwealth–especially at the Prime Ministers' Conference. They cannot be made to keep the rules any more than anyone accepts rules in the United Nations. They have an itch to interfere not only with the affairs of the older countries but with each others'. They are very young and very inexperienced.

So that is the first thing I see that has happened.

The end of the White man's accepted predominance.

Now the second. As regards the Commonwealth the decisive step for good or ill was taken in 1948 {I think) when India was allowed to remain in the Commonwealth as a Republic. This made it impossible for Pakistan not to follow. And of course all the others must either follow or will follow in due course. So this is likely to be the pattern. The old Crown nations, now with the loss of South Africa, form one section, with their special loyalty to The Queen which binds them together. Then there are the Republics which accept The Queen (l am bound to say, with a genuine respect) as Head of the Commonwealth. But that was the decision in 1948 and l do not see how we can go back from it. We now have the prospect of the membership being added to all the time; Sierra Leone, Tanganyika, Jamaica, Trinidad, and so forth. And this process, once begun, cannot be arrested. Of course we could say that one of these small countries becoming independent should not be elected to the Commonwealth. But then where is it to go? This brings me to the next point.

While the white men have lost face by their folly there is a new division, similar to a great religious division, which has been brought about strangely enough by types whom one would not have thought to be likely founders of a new faith–Marx, Engels, and the rest of them. This ideological struggle dominates everything. It means that both the Communists and the Free World try to attract the unaligned nations to their side by almost any means, and it puts a tremendous blackmailing weapon into the hands of quite unimportant countries in the Afro-Asian camp who, if it were not. for the tremendous rivalry between Russia and the Free World, would not be able to sell their favours so dear.

I think it is this which really dominates everything. It certainly dominates the United Nations. And it was for this reason that I have tried so hard to bring about at least some kind of detente to make a reality of 'peaceful co-existence' . That policy broke down on the U.2 in Paris in 1960,3 after two years of effort, and I am bound to tell you frankly that although l tried not to show it at the time it very nearly broke my heart. Everything was arranged: there were to be Summit Meetings every four to six months; we had every hope of moving from one point to another. I do not think the U.2 was the real cause, at any rate certainly not the only cause. There may have been too much pressure on Khrushchev and he had to withdraw because of the U.2, using this to cover this retreat. Now we are going to try again, in the field of disarmament. This is what President Kennedy and I have been concerting together in Bermuda.4 We may or may not succeed in making this the beginning of a movement which could lead to settlements in Berlin and in Europe. But while this question is unresolved, and it will take a long time now, we are at great risk. Some day, a generation or two on, we may be able to persuade the Russians that they are Europeans and not Asiatics; and the slow development of a bourgeoisie in Russia may push the Russians gradually into co-operation with us. But it will be a long time. And meanwhile the Communist threat is everywhere. It threatens us in Asia, in Africa, and far more than we realise in Europe, including, alas, our own country. Here it is for the present small and makes little outward show. But all the moderate Trade Union leaders tell me how alarmed they are at the way the Communists are infiltrating into their executives and getting the leading positions. The row in the Electrical Trades Union has done some good; but these scandals are soon forgotten, and the same process begins again. It is an uncertain future.

France is for the moment dependent on General de Gaulle's authority. If he can bring off an Algerian settlement (which means abandoning the French settlers), detach France from this great problem while still preserving much of the economic wealth, especially of the Sahara, for French development, then he will soon have outlived his welcome, and the politicians will get charge again. Alternatively the Army will make a coup, and there will be first an extreme right-wing government followed by an extreme left-wing government.

Of Germany you can never be sure. There are some fine men with good ideas; but owing to the tragic defeat of the two legions of Varus in the first century and the fact that the Romans retired from the Elbe to the Rhine, there is always a streak of barbarism in the German people. It is a kind of smouldering fire which can easily be fanned up into a roaring flame.

It is for this reason, apart from any economic question, that I have very slowly come to the conclusion that we ought, and indeed that we must, try to have a political influence in Europe. I still do not know whether they really want us either economically or politically. Negotiations are going on reasonably well; but we have not anywhere got to the crunch, and I do not want prematurely to excite all the arguments for or against either at home or in the Commonwealth. For we may find that after all the whole thing falls to the ground. But if it does I do not think things will be better. It would be almost impossible for us to continue in NATO or keep large forces at enormous expense to defend a Europe that does not want us economically or politically on reasonable terms, and I would not be surprised to see comparatively soon not this time the Germans on the Channel ports but Communist-controlled countries. And then where are we?

I thought I would give you this sort of picture of what has been so long in my mind as it might help to see what we can best do about the problem that is most in our minds–the future of the Commonwealth.

If the analysis that I have tried to give of the shift of power in the world, a change in fifty years greater than has happened in many past periods in two or three hundred years, then what are we to do about the Commonwealth? Of course it is not the same. How can it be? They who all felt that they belonged to the same intimate family might quarrel, as families do, but they were the family. They had the King or the Queen as the object of their personal loyalty, and the conferences were agreeable as well as valuable. There was no dispute; there was interesting discussion, an opportunity of meeting old friends, the charm of the Royal presence, and all on a scale that was like a small and pleasant house party. Now it is becoming a sort of miniature United Nations, with various groups; the Afro-Asian strength strongly organised, and the older members not knowing quite how to handle it.

So the first question really is, is it worth it? Would we be better to chuck it and regroup round the Crown; Canada, Australia and New Zealand and the United Kingdom? I do not believe we could do this even if we tried. Our Canadian friends would not agree. They are very much given to talking about the New Commonwealth and its responsibilities and its opportunities. It would be bitterly opposed by the Opposition here, and by quite a lot of the younger Conservatives. l do not know how it would be with you. But if we cannot do that, I have often wondered if there is any way in which we could make a closer link between the monarchical nations without destroying the fabric of the whole Commonwealth itself. Of course in the relations between Prime Ministers we have it to some extent. I obviously send quite different messages to you and to the Prime Ministers of Canada and New Zealand than I send to those of the other territories. Or we can have personal relations, as I hope you and I feel we have, on a quite special basis. But that is not a system, that is just a working plan. Could we develop this idea? But if we did I think it is worth considering whether the rest of the Commonwealth would resent special meetings of the monarchical members, separate from or at the same time as other Prime Ministers' Conferences. But if we have to stay in the United Nations it is all the more necessary to keep the New Commonwealth together with all its frustrations and difficulties. I am bound to confess that I now shrink away from any Commonwealth meeting because I know how troublesome it will be, whatever the subjects immediately under discussion. I think it may be possible not to have a meeting until there is one specially related to the European Community question. But I think the real reason for keeping the Commonwealth together is that I believe we can influence it, slowly and gradually, but effectively. Ghana is very dictatorial and almost crazy today; that makes Nigeria a little more moderate. And as the years pass I think it is possible with patience and putting up with a lot of trouble and insults from them that it will be worth doing. I think it is certainly worth doing while the Communist/Free World division really holds the front of the stage. Indeed in this situation we are forced to try.

In all this, of course, the position of the United States is vital. I am happy to feel that l have as good personal relations and better political understanding with Kennedy than with Eisenhower. It is rather amusing how the Americans all start by thinking the Russians, the Germans, the French, the Italians, or anybody will be the best people to talk to, and if you leave them alone it is a very short time before they realise that the only sensible and reliable people to deal with are the poor old British. And so it has been.

I hope you will excuse this long and rather rambling letter, but I felt that it might be the beginning of a conversation which I somehow feel we must try to take up again and as soon as possible. As regards the dates to which you refer in the last paragraph of your letter of January 155 I do not think there is any chance of the European negotiations being at a stage at which we would want a Prime Ministers' Conference in June. And I feel somehow it would be a mistake to have one until this stage has been reached. I do not know how long your Recess lasts or whether there is any chance of your coming to England just for a little holiday. Nor do I know when your Parliament meets again. But perhaps we could think this out later. For it would be fine if we could meet and talk.6

1 Document 161.

2 Hendrik Verwoerd, Prime Minister of South Africa.

3 On 1 May 1960 an American U–2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union, heralding a particularly hostile phase of Cold War relations.

4 Kennedy and Macmillan had met for talks in Bermuda on 21–22 December 1961.

5 Document 161.

6 Lord Carrington expressed satisfaction with Macmillan'ss letter as a means of reassuring Menzies about the future of the Commonwealth: 'My friends from Australia still tell me that Bob is upset and bitter and I think his letter shows this. But the P.M.'s reply is so reasoned, friendly and convincing and he has obviously gone to so much trouble that one must hope that Bob will relent. I wish they could meet. It's very easy to grumble when you are 12,000 miles away and grievances and apprehensions multiply. Face to face it's much more difficult and Bob's a gregarious, friendly person. I hope it will come about' (UKNA: PREM 11/3665, Carrington to Bligh, 9 February 1962). Norman Brook summed up the general feeling in Macmillan's inner circle: 'I am sure that this is the right medicine for [Menzies'] present malaise' (UKNA: PREM 11/3664, Norman Brook to Macmillan, 12 February 1962).

Last Updated: 26 November 2015
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