40 Note by Curtin of Conversation with Johnson

CANBERRA, 3 February 1944

When handing the attached document to me the United States Minister was very cordial.

After glancing through the document I informed Mr. Johnson that I felt certain that Mr. Cordell Hull would be satisfied that we were animated only by the strategic position as it affected the security of New Zealand and the Australian Commonwealth.

I pointed out to Mr. Johnson that the general question as to whether regional agreements should precede a general world agreement, or the other way around, was at present a matter for consideration. I felt free to tell Mr. Johnson that Mr. Cordell Hull need have no disturbance of mind as it did not appear to be reasonable that there could be an early conference arising out of the Australia - New Zealand discussions owing to the problems associated with the sovereign Governments' control of such areas as New Caledonia, Timor and Dutch New Guinea, as well as the British Government's interests in other islands. I stated that we fully recognised that the war had yet to be won and although formalised discussions could not be regarded as leading to a settlement of problems, the truth was that New Zealand and ourselves felt that we should put into an agreement all the matters on which we were in agreement, and this of course without prejudice to the rights of other nations and the duties which each of us owes to them.

J. C.


Johnson to Curtin

Letter CANBERRA, 3 February 1944

Acting under instructions from the Secretary of State, I have the honor to quote herewith the text of a message which I have received by telegraph from him:

'I have read the text of the Australian - New Zealand Agreement of January 21 [1] expressing the views of the two Governments on certain matters of common interest relating particularly to the South and Southwest Pacific region. I am, of course, aware that this Agreement, in so far as it undertakes to deal with matters affecting territories other than those of the two Governments, is wholly without prejudice to the interests of other countries. I am certain that both the Australian and New Zealand Governments are likewise aware of this and that they have no desire to affect the interests of other countries prejudicially.

'It is understandable that Australian and New Zealand Governments should wish to reach agreement between themselves on matters of common concern, and that they should wish to make their views known to other Governments. I am frankly disturbed, however, at the proposal of the two Governments to call an early conference of powers with territorial interests in the South and Southwest Pacific to consider the problem of regional security and related matters. I have discussed this with the President, and while we agree that these matters must be given utmost attention, we have considerable doubts that it is yet time for discussing them at a formal conference of interested powers. our doubts have, I believe, already been communicated informally to the Australian Government. Despite all the progress we have made, the war in the Pacific has still to be won, and in our opinion it has not yet reached the stage which would warrant the type of formalized discussions which appear to be contemplated.

'There is also the question of approach, which should be carefully considered. In our opinion, it is necessary to agree upon arrangements for a general international security system before attempting to deal with problems of regional security. Any attempt to deal with regional security in the Southwest Pacific in advance of agreement on a general security system might well give rise to efforts on the part of other regional groups to make their own exclusive arrangements for security. Thus, such a conference as is proposed might in the end result in a number of independent regional systems and seriously interfere with efforts to achieve a general system of world security.

'We have also to consider the effect of such a conference upon our immediate war effort. The President and I have some fears that a formal conference of the powers for the purpose contemplated would possibly do more harm than good to our united war effort. Such a conference might well arouse suspicions and possibly bring into focus conflicting opinions on matters which do not require decision at this time. We are sure you share our strong feeling that nothing should be done at this time to impair existing harmony among all the United Nations fighting together against our common enemies.

'We hope, therefore, that you will not take any steps toward calling such a conference until we have had an opportunity to discuss these matters fully together personally. I understand that you may be coming to Washington within the next month or two. The President and I look forward with pleasure to seeing you at that time, and believe that your visit will give us an excellent opportunity for a full and frank exchange of views on all these problems.

'I am also communicating with Prime Minister Fraser in this sense.'


1 Document 26.

[AA:A1608, Y41/1/1]