210 Minutes of Meeting of Prime Ministers

PMM(46) 4th Meeting LONDON, 25 April 946, 3.30 p.m.



1. MR. ATTLEE said that he wished to inform visiting Ministers of recent developments in the negotiations in Egypt. The British delegation had reached a position at which they must commit themselves to formal proposals to the Egyptian delegation. They had reported that two courses were open to them. The first alternative was to propose the evacuation of British troops from Cairo and Alexandria and the removal of combatant troops from the rest of Egypt. They were satisfied, however, that the Egyptian delegation would reject these proposals. Insistence on them was, they felt, likely to provoke serious disorder in Egypt. British troops would have to be used in an attempt to restore order, and the resulting situation might be brought before the Security Council. The second alternative was to offer at the outset complete evacuation of all British troops from Egypt. This would take time to complete owing to the extent of the British installations in the country. Evacuation from Cairo and Alexandria would be completed first and evacuation from the Canal zone after.

The delegation thought that the Egyptian Government would recognise that complete evacuation would require a period of perhaps five years.

The delegation had recommended the second alternative. They had been much impressed by the strength and unanimity of feeling in Egypt. They recognised the obvious disadvantages of losing a British base in Egypt, but they felt that the disadvantages of attempting to hold it against the hostility of a whole people were even greater. The offer of complete evacuation would in itself help to create an atmosphere in which it would be possible to arrange for British troops to return at a time of emergency or actual war. Before evacuation was complete, the attitude of the Egyptian Government and people might become more favourable. They might come to have a better appreciation of the realities of foreign policy and of the cost of maintaining full defence installations on their own.

The United Kingdom Cabinet had discussed the matter on the previous evening and had decided that in all the circumstances the path of wisdom was to offer at the outset complete evacuation. The decision had been a difficult one to take. Mr. Attlee added that the British objective was to build up a partnership for defence throughout the area under the United Nations Organisation. The Egyptians would, he hoped, now be ready to consider such a proposition.

The visiting Ministers thanked Mr. Attlee for his statement. They appreciated the difficulty of the situation.

DR. EVATT said that he hoped that the negotiations would in the result allow elasticity for the building up of a new basis of defence in the region. There could not be a more unfortunate time for a weakening of Commonwealth defence arrangements there.

Organisation for Commonwealth Defence 2. The Meeting had before them a memorandum by the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (P.M.M.(46)4) embodying recommendations by the Chiefs of Staff as to the organisation for Commonwealth defence.

LORD ALANBROOKE said that the Chiefs of Staff in drawing up their recommendations had taken as a basis the war-time system which had been worked out with the United States of a Combined Chiefs of Staff. He explained the manner in which the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff organisation worked. it made recommendations on major matters of policy to the Defence Committee, which, if need be, could refer them to the full Cabinet. Once the policy had been approved, the Chiefs of Staff had machinery for putting it into execution. In the preparation of their recommendations as to policy, they had the closest links with other Departments of the United Kingdom Government.

When the United States entered the war it had been decided to send a mission to represent the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff in Washington, and as a result the Combined Chiefs of Staff organisation had been formed. This had enabled military plans to be thrashed out in detail on the Chiefs of Staff level with constant reference by both the United Kingdom and the American Chiefs of Staff for their Governments for guidance. Matters of the first importance had, of course, been dealt with at the highest level in communications between the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the President of the United States.

The Chiefs of Staff now suggested that a comparable Organisation throughout the Commonwealth, with representatives of the Dominion Chiefs of Staff in London and representatives of the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff in the various Dominions, would provide an organisation which could study strategical problems in peace and also function effectively in war. They hoped that it would also be sufficiently elastic to allow the central direction of effort in war to be shifted from the United Kingdom to one of the Dominions in case of need.

Lord Alanbrooke emphasised that the system they proposed of an interchange of Service Missions would not involve any encroachment on the sovereignty of the different Governments of the Commonwealth which it was, of course, necessary to respect to the full. Each Dominion Government would retain, as at present, full authority over their own Chiefs of Staff and would, he hoped, take the lead in defence plans for that area.

The despatch of representatives of the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff to Australia to cover the activities of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan had been in the nature of an experiment in the system they proposed. In sending this mission, which might perhaps appear rather overweighted for its single task, the Chiefs of Staff had had in mind that its duties- might eventually be enlarged if the system they now proposed was agreed.

The Chiefs of Staff had hoped that a system, which had worked efficiently with the United States in the war, would function even more efficiently amongst the Commonwealth members. It would be necessary, however, for the efficient running of the system, that the defence organisation in each Dominion should run on parallel lines throughout the Commonwealth. He understood there was some divergence of practice at present. One essential of the system was that the Chiefs of Staff in each country would be in close personal contact with the members of their Government. In Australia there might be difficulty about this as the Chiefs of Staff had their headquarters in Melbourne whilst the seat of Government was in Canberra.

LORD ADDISON drew attention to two factors which he thought of particular relevance in paragraphs 2 and 8 of the memorandum.

First, it was important that any Commonwealth defence organisation set up must allow for machinery of co-operation with the United States of America. Secondly, whilst the machinery of government might differ in each Dominion, he hoped that it would in each case be founded on the same principles.

MR. CHIFLEY, referring to paragraphs 1-4 of the memorandum, agreed that in a future major war the Commonwealth must rely on the active assistance of the United States. This had been proved by the experience of Australia in the recent war when the United Kingdom was heavily committed in other theatres. He agreed, therefore that a Commonwealth defence organisation must include machinery for cooperation with potential allies. This principle was also contemplated in paragraph 2 of the paper which he had circulated (P.M.M.(46)6) [1] relating to regional security in the Pacific, including the use of bases by the United States.

He had also circulated to the meeting a paper on Australian Defence Policy (P.M.M.(46)7). [2] He wished to call attention to three principles set out therein. First, the Governments concerned must have an effective voice at an early stage in the formulation of defence policy and in the higher control of planning. Secondly, responsibility for the development of the defence aspect of matters relating to regional security in the Pacific should be assigned to the Australian Government machinery. Thirdly, there should be Dominion representation in the United Kingdom machinery corresponding to any United Kingdom representation in the Australian machinery.

Australia had had considerable experience of working with the United States Forces in the South-West Pacific area. Though operational control had been vested in the Commander-in-Chief, a close link had been established between General MacArthur and the Australian Government. The Americans had worked through the machinery of the Australian Government and their machine had been integrated with it. This was particularly the case in regard to their extensive supply requirements, for which Australia had been the source. The same course was followed for the requirements of the British Pacific Fleet.

The United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff had expressed the hope in paragraph 3(d) of their paper that the system of defence organisation now to be set up should be framed so as to allow the central direction of effort in any further war to be carried out from an alternative location to the United Kingdom. As mentioned earlier, Australia would expect to have an effective voice in that central direction. If it should hap-pen that the central direction should be transferred to Australia it would, of course, have to use the machinery of the Australian Government, broadened to an Empire basis. Mr. Chifley assumed that, under the Chiefs of Staff plan, the final co-ordination and effective decisions of policy would be achieved, in the absence of a meeting between Prime Ministers, by discussion between Governments, each having received recommendations from the defence organisation in its part of the Empire.

The United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff had proposed in paragraph 5 of their paper that each member of the Commonwealth should be asked to maintain Service Missions in London, who would represent the views of their own Chiefs of Staff to the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff. Similarly, the United Kingdom would maintain a similar mission in each Dominion. This would enable military views on Commonwealth defence matters to be co-ordinated before being referred to Defence Committees. Mr. Chifley said that Australia contemplated the strengthening of her Joint Staff Mission in London, but there were one or two points regarding this particular proposal to which he would call attention.

In the first place, he assumed that in referring to Defence Committees the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff had had in mind committees of Ministers. In Australia the corresponding body would be the Council of Defence: the Australian Defence Committee comprised the three Chiefs of Staff and a representative of the Minister for Defence. It was important that there should be no confusion owing to the difference in terminology. The Australian Government contemplated that representatives from other parts of the Empire should be co-opted to the Council of Defence when it was dealing with Empire matters coming within its scope and jurisdiction. The proposals as drafted appeared to involve centralised control of defence policy. This he was sure would be politically impracticable.

MR. ATTLEE said that the system proposed provided for consultation on a staff level only, and it was not intended that military consultation before reference to Defence Committees should detract from the responsibilities of Dominion Governments for the final decisions.

DR. EVATT explained that their chief apprehension was that consultation between Empire countries on a military level would mean that a certain measure of agreement had been reached and opinion would have so crystallised that it would be difficult to change when the plan was presented to Ministers.

MR. MORRISON said that experience in the United Kingdom showed that if military problems threw up political considerations, inevitably guidance was obtained by the Chiefs of Staff either from the departments concerned or from the Defence Committee or Cabinet.

MR. CHIFLEY said that that had not always been the experience in Australia. Members of the Services did not always realise the political implications of their plans or decisions. He was thus anxious that there should be political consultation at all levels in the preparation of military plans.

LORD ALANBROOKE said the danger foreseen by the Australian Prime Minister was emphasised by the separation of the Chiefs of Staff Committee in Australia from the seat of Government. He thought that if they could be brought together (and he understood the intention was that this should be done) the danger of decisions being taken by the Chiefs of Staff Committee without political consultation would to a certain extent be obviated.

He illustrated the manner in which he hoped that a Combined Chiefs of Staff would work in Australia. He thought it should be possible to introduce adequate safeguards to ensure that military thought did not become crystallised before reference was made to Governments at each end.

MR. NASH said that the memorandum before the meeting gave in places the impression that the centre of control would be in London. As he understood it, the intention had been that there should eventually be an exactly parallel organisation in each part of the Empire. In that event, and provided that there was an assurance of adequate political consultation at all stages of military planning, he was quite ready to accept the proposals in principle. He recognised that they could not come fully into operation immediately. He feared, however, that it would not prove easy to secure as effective co-ordination between five different Governments as had been secured between the United Kingdom and United States Governments during the war.

LORD ALANBROOKE said that, while it was the ultimate intention that the United Kingdom and each of the various Dominions should be represented in each other country, the conception was that to begin with only those countries primarily concerned with an area should have a full Mission of three members in it. Other countries might maintain a Mission of one member representing all three Services or no Mission at all. For example, in the Pacific zone where the Government of Australia would be the controlling authority, the only countries which at first had anything like full Missions might perhaps be the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

The Meeting then discussed the proposals in paragraph 6 of the memorandum and the following comments were made:

Sub-paragraph (a) MR. CHIFLEY said that the Australian Joint Service Staff would be responsible to the Australian Defence Committee (which was the equivalent of the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff Committee), the channel of communication being through the permanent head of the Defence Department.

It was agreed that this was a matter of form rather than a difference of principle. If the memorandum was to be revised, it could take account of this point.

Sub-paragraph (b) MR. CHIFLEY said that in Australia Service Missions would have to maintain touch not only with the Service Departments but with the Defence Department, which included the joint services and interdepartmental machinery and its organisation. There were also the related Departments of Munitions, Aircraft Production, and Supply and Shipping.

Sub-paragraph (c) MR. CHIFLEY said that the Australian Joint Services Staff in London was being strengthened to provide an agency for advice to the Resident Minister in London on defence matters.

Sub-paragraph (d) MR. CHIFLEY said that the strengthening of Australia's Joint Service Staff in Washington had been related to the work of the Military Staff Committee of the Security Council. Australia would expect to be associated with the work of that Committee in accordance with Article 47 of the United Nations Charter when it was considering questions of regional security in the Pacific.

In further discussion, MR. CHIFLEY called attention to the proposal in paragraph 9 of the memorandum that each member of the British Commonwealth should assume the main responsibility for joint planning within its own regional area. He said in this regard that it would be necessary to reach agreement on the definition of the area. The extent of the military commitments which any country could accept in that area would have to be decided by the Government concerned.

MR. CHIFLEY suggested that there was need for more accurate definition of some of the proposals in paragraph 10. [3] This was agreed. Mr. Chifley pointed out that the power to take decisions as mentioned in sub-paragraph (a) would have to be determined by each Government concerned. The authority to implement decisions as proposed in subparagraph (c) would, in relation to matters within the Australian Government's area of responsibility, require to be taken through the Australian Government machinery. The necessity for this had been proved by experience during and since the war.

In conclusion MR. CHIFLEY said that it was not desired that the memo. under consideration (P.M.M.(46)4) should go on record without these preliminary and provisional observations. It would be necessary to refer the proposals for detailed examination to the Australian Government's advisers`, after which they would be considered by the Government. The proposals could then be reviewed and a memorandum based on the conclusions could be prepared in relation to the Australian machinery for further consideration on the Inter-Governmental level.

MR. ATTLEE summing up the discussions said there appeared to be a considerable measure of agreement with the main theme of the memorandum that it was necessary to provide for the maximum degree of co-ordination on defence matters between the different members of the Commonwealth, having regard at the same time to their independent sovereign status. There were, however, certain reservations to be made on the form of the machinery and the duties of the proposed Service Missions in order to meet the differing defence organisations. He suggested that every effort should be made before visiting Ministers left this country to reach precise agreement on the principles of the organisation required and for this purpose he suggested that officials of the three Governments should meet together to amend the memorandum by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff so as to take account of the points made in the discussion.

There was general agreement with this view.

MR. CHIFLEY made it clear, however, that he would not be able to commit his Government to these proposals until there had been an opportunity for him to discuss them with his advisers and fellow Ministers in Australia.

Responsibilities for Commonwealth Defence 3. The Meeting had before them a memorandum by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff (P.M.M.(46)5) on the Responsibilities for Commonwealth Defence. In an earlier memorandum (P.M.M.(46)1), the Chiefs of Staff had argued that in any future war the war effort of the Commonwealth would depend on four main support areas-the United Kingdom: the American Continent: Southern Africa: and Australia and New Zealand-and on the communications between them.

The memorandum now before the Meeting set out the requirements of a main support area and the steps which they suggested that the members of the Commonwealth should take to render their territory capable of acting as such an area.

Dealing with paragraphs 1 and 2, MR. CHIFLFY referred to the discussion at an earlier meeting on the fundamental basis from which the Chiefs of Staff made their approach. (P.M.M.(46)1.) As had been stated by him, the Australian Government could not, at this stage, accept the premise of the Chiefs of Staff as a basis from which to proceed to mutual defence plans and arrangements.

The Australian Government's views on this aspect were expressed in the paper circulated as P.M.M.(46)8 containing extracts from a statement to Parliament by Dr. Evatt on the place of the United Nations in Australian external affairs policy and the future of international co-operation. [4]

In the paper circulated as P.M.M.(46)6 he had expressed views on regional security in the Pacific and in P.M.M.(46)7 he had referred to the method of approach and to planning for a regional arrangement and for co-operation in Empire defence in respect of the South-West Pacific area in particular, and also for co- operation generally.

MR. CHIFLEY said that it was recognised that, in the future, Australia must make a larger contribution towards British Commonwealth defence than before the war, and he believed that it was in the Pacific that this contribution could best be made. The main factor governing the extent of the contribution was the appropriate percentage of the national income which should be devoted to defence.

He emphasised that the approach of the Australian Government to this question must be governed by the fundamental principles outlined in the papers relating to external affairs and defence policy and as expressed verbally by Dr. Evatt and himself.

In paragraphs 3 to 8 of the memorandum the Chiefs of Staff suggested the extension of industrial activities, an increase in man-power, the accumulation of materials and supplies, the provision of facilities for training, the extension of research and development trials and the formation of an intelligence organisation.

MR. CHIFLFY and DR. EVATT suggested that the expression 'region of strategic responsibility' should be used instead of 'main support area'. This would be more in harmony with the suggestions made in the memorandum by Mr. Chifley, circulated as P.M.M.(46)7. They also said that in considering the memorandum it should not be assumed that war was inevitable against any particular enemy. Such an attitude would lead to the resolution of outstanding questions by reference to strategic considerations instead of the principles of justice and freedom.

MR. CHIFLEY said that Australia had long been pursuing the development of her industrial potential for war purposes and she was prepared to co-operate in this to the greatest extent possible. The proposal for a more even spread of man-power throughout the Empire was in harmony with Australia's immigration policy. Equally, the proposal that materials and supplies should be accumulated in the Dominions was in keeping with her general views on the dispersion of resources. Arrangements for the production and storage of stocks would be a matter for examination in regard to the details of specific proposals. The extent to which training facilities could be established or maintained for expansion and use for Empire purposes was a matter for consideration in relation to other defence requirements and for examination in regard to the basis on which any such arrangements would be made. The question of research and development had been referred to in his memorandum circulated as P.M.M.(46)7. As regards intelligence, Australia was at present considering the establishment of a Joint Intelligence Bureau for the Pacific area.

In paragraphs 9 to 11 of their memorandum the Chiefs of Staff argued that the primary responsibility for the security of each main support area and for the maintenance in peace of the forces necessary for it fell naturally upon the member of the Commonwealth concerned. They suggested that the responsibility should include responsibility for the strategic co-ordination of any Commonwealth defence measures throughout the strategic zone of which each main support area was the heart. They also argued that the security of the communications linking the main support areas should be accepted as the joint responsibility of the members immediately concerned. To this end they proposed discussions on a number of matters on a staff level.

In paragraphs 12 to 15 of their memorandum the Chiefs of Staff dealt with areas of strategic importance outside the main support areas. These areas were: Western Europe, the Iberian Peninsula and North-West Africa, the Middle East, India, and South-East Asia.

Each member of the Commonwealth should, they suggested, agree to take all steps, political and military, in those areas for which they were directly concerned so as to maintain conditions favourable to the Commonwealth in peace and should also accept joint responsibility for their defence in war.

Commenting on these parts of the memorandum MR. CHIFLEY said that, in regard to the defence of the main support areas, Australia naturally accepted primary responsibility for her own security and was very willing to make a greater contribution to the common defence of the British Commonwealth than she did before the war.

But the extent to which she could go would require close examination. For instance, the proposal to extend her responsibility to include co-ordination of defence measures throughout the strategic zone of which she was the centre would require a careful examination. She might well find that it was beyond her capacity in men and financial resources. Mr. Chifley said that he must also make the fullest reservations in regard to proposals which implied that Australia should accept special responsibilities in South-East Asia.

The proposal that the security of the main Commonwealth communications linking the main support areas should be accepted as the joint responsibility of the members immediately concerned in each case was again governed by the approach from the aspect of regional responsibility, but the extent to which Australia could go was a matter for closer examination and precise determination.

It was considered that the proposed discussion on the staff level would be premature until the Australian Government had obtained a better over-all view of the extent of its commitments on the basis of approach which he had outlined.

MR. CHIFLEY stated that the implications of the following statements in paragraph 14 were so wide and far-reaching that he must make the fullest reservations in regard to them:-

'Each member of the Commonwealth therefore should agree to take all steps, political and military in those areas in which they are directly concerned, so as to maintain conditions favourable to the Commonwealth in peace and to accept joint responsibility for their defence in war.'

He pointed out that this passage absolutely impinged on the sovereign control of policy by Governments.

The same observation applied to the statement in paragraph 15:

'It seems reasonable that, as this principle develops, besides the United Kingdom, other members directly concerned should contribute to the effort required to maintain our position in these areas.'

In his opinion this was a political matter for determination by the Governments concerned.

In conclusion, MR. CHIFLEY stated that, as in the case of P.M.M.(46)4, it was not desired that P.M.M.(46)5 should go on record without these preliminary and provisional observations. He was agreeable to the proposals being referred to the Australian Government's advisers for examination in the light of and subject to the views which he had expressed. The proposals could then be reviewed and a memorandum on the Australian viewpoint could be prepared for further consideration on the inter-Governmental level.

MR. ATTLEE said that he had been much struck by Mr. Chifley's comment that strategic requirements must be considered in relation to man-power and financial resources. That certainly was the case with the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom had very heavy overseas commitments at present, which were a great strain on her resources.

THE CHIEFS OF STAFF then gave statistical details of United Kingdom armed forces overseas deployed to meet their international obligations and for clearing up the after effects of the war. The United Kingdom Government hoped to reduce these armed forces to 1 million by the end of 1946, but they could only reach this target if they were able to withdraw from occupational commitments in Italy, Greece and Venezia Giulia. Their problems were aggravated by the possibility of serious troubles in the Middle East and India, and further complicated by technical developments demanding increased complements of men to fight and supply the weapons of war.

MR. ATTLEE said that even when the armed forces were reduced to 1 million they would be much larger than before the war. The comparable figure before the war was only 450,000. The maintenance of these forces, a very large proportion of whom were overseas, was a very considerable burden on the United Kingdom. It increased her great manpower difficulties and strained her financial resources. The removal of so large a number of able-bodied men, moreover, seriously reduced her capacity to earn the foreign exchange which was now more than ever necessary for her. Mr.

Attlee hoped that the establishment of a system of security under the United Nations Organisation might in due course enable her to reduce this heavy burden.

MR. NASH said that the New Zealand Government considered that the cost of provision for security must in future be shared between British Commonwealth Governments in such a way as to provide relief for the United Kingdom Government, who, before 1939, had borne more of the burden than was her due. Unfortunately, it was still too early to be sure that the security arrangements of the United Nations Organisation would be an adequate substitute for defence measures taken by the British Commonwealth itself. In the view of the New Zealand Government the responsibility for such measures ought to be shared between the members of the British Commonwealth in respect of both financial expenditure and contributions of man-power and resources. He suggested that an investigation should be made to ascertain the requirements.

Mr. Nash observed that the proposals made by the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff for transfer of industrial facilities implied drastic changes in the economies of the British Commonwealth countries concerned and raised far-reaching questions outside the sphere of defence. Similarly, the proposed transfers of population carried wide and fundamental implications. While New Zealand would welcome a great increase in her population in the next fifty years drawn from the best elements of the United Kingdom population, he questioned whether the United Kingdom could contemplate with equanimity the corresponding reduction of her population, especially if a proportionate transfer was made to other Dominions. Careful examination of the proposals was, therefore, required.

LORD ADDISON, summing up the discussion, said that he felt that it had been most useful and encouraging. He appreciated very highly the spirit of the remarks by the visiting Ministers. He suggested that the proposals made by the Chiefs of Staff should be further considered by officials in the light of the discussion.

There was general agreement with this view.

MR. CHIFLEY said that, as in the case of the memorandum on Organisation for Defence (P.M.M.(46)4), it would not be possible for Australian Ministers to commit themselves finally regarding any proposals without discussion with their advisers and fellow Ministers in Australia. Nevertheless, he agreed that further discussions would be of value in clearing the ground.

1 Document 207.

2 Document 200.

3 Paragraph 10 read: 'In effect any Defence Committee, whether in the United Kingdom or in the Dominions, by co-opting other members of the Commonwealth concerned could act as agents for the other interested Governments and would be able- (a) to take decisions on certain defence matters;

(b) to prepare major problems for consideration by the Governments, whether at special Conferences or otherwise;

(c) to implement the decisions of the Governments.' 4 On 13 March. See Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, vol. 186.