235 Minutes of Meeting of Prime Ministers

PMM(46) 12th Meeting (extract) LONDON, 6 May 1946, 3.30 p.m.


Military Bases in the Pacific (Previous References: P.M.M.(46) 5th Meeting, Minute 1 [1], and P.M.M.(46) 11th Meeting, Minute 1. [2]) 1. The Meeting had before them a note by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (P.M.M.(46)22) [3] covering a telegram from the Foreign Secretary (No- 53 of the 2nd May from the United Kingdom Delegation in Paris).

MR. ATTLEE said that Mr. Byrnes had not reacted favourably to the approach made to him by Mr. Bevin on the basis of the statement of the views of the Governments of the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand appended to the Minutes of the 5th Meeting. There appeared, in fact, to be no prospect of the United States Government agreeing to enter into discussions linking the grant of rights in Pacific islands with the establishment of regional security arrangements in the South and South-West Pacific. But to break off discussions altogether seemed undesirable. The result might be the withdrawal of the United States from all defence commitments in the islands concerned, whereas it was the agreed view of British Commonwealth Governments that it was desirable for the United States to be associated with the defence of the area.

Moreover, the United States' claim to sovereignty over certain islands in dispute would be likely to be renewed. And British Commonwealth Governments would have to assume responsibility for the upkeep of the military installations at present maintained by the United States in British islands. Finally, the breaking off of discussions would have a bad effect on our general relations with the United States. it seemed, therefore, that a basis should be found for continuation of negotiations and he suggested that it would be necessary to some extent to meet Mr. Byrnes's desire to limit the scope of the discussions.

DR. EVATT said that he agreed that Mr. Byrnes's reaction should not be allowed to lead to a complete breaking off of the discussions. He thought this could be avoided as he had apparently said that he would be happy to discuss the subject with Mr. Nash and himself in Washington.

Mr. Byrnes was reported to have said that he was 'not interested in establishing any system of regional defence in the South-West Pacific and that their own defence interests lay further North'.

Dr. Evatt said that he found this difficult to understand. If Mr.

Byrnes admitted that he had no defence interests in the area, why did the United States want rights there? If they were to be given valuable rights they must assume certain obligations. The Australian people would not agree to the grant of rights on any other basis. The subject was one of considerable political importance in Australia.

When this matter had been discussed at an earlier meeting, it had been the unanimous view that we should resist a piece-meal approach. Mr. Byrnes had brushed aside this view. He was prepared to undertake no obligations. Dr. Evatt said that the British Commonwealth could not justify acceptance of such an attitude. He had discussed the matter with Mr. Chifley and Australia's view was we should hold to the general principle that rights should be granted only on the basis of reciprocal obligations.

He doubted whether Mr. Byrnes's views were his last word. He appreciated that Mr. Byrnes might be afraid of difficulties with the Senate over any tight formal regional agreement. But Australia was not wedded to forms or words. There were informal means of reaching a satisfactory understanding which would not require reference to the Senate-witness the informal but, he believed, satisfactory arrangements for mutual defence between Canada and the United States. Some similar understanding might be worked out for the South-West Pacific.

Dr. Evatt said that he adhered to his earlier view that it was most important that the Commonwealth Governments concerned should act together and that they should not give any rights to the United States unless they assumed some degree of obligation. We should not give away any rights separately, and should not give any away, even if we acted together, until some obligations were accepted. Mr. Byrnes wanted complete rights over the Japanese Mandated Territories. If he were more reasonable with us, we could help him to get them, but we could not allow him to pick up bases from an ally merely to add something to the bag. We could not justify such an attitude.

For the moment, Dr. Evatt suggested that we should not close the door. We should take advantage of the offer of discussions in Washington. As regards Tarawa, he was glad that the United Kingdom Government had not accepted the suggestion that it should be ceded to the United States. [4] We should keep to our view. He would think it proper to set aside some area on the island for the United States to use as a memorial to the men of the United States Marines who had fallen there, but he could not agree to the surrender of the whole island to them.

MR. NASH said that some of the islands over which the United States had asked for rights were important to New Zealand for other reasons besides defence. The three islands, for instance, over which she asked for exclusive rights, namely, Funafuti, Canton and Christmas Island, were three major stepping-stones across the Pacific between New Zealand and the United States-or Canada. New Zealand would be very reluctant to see the United States given exclusive rights in these islands. Her own commercial aviation should not be dependent on other people's consents. But she would be quite ready to see the United States have rights there which would be equally available to the United Kingdom as well as to New Zealand herself. She would willingly adopt this course in the case of the islands in Western Samoa, for which New Zealand herself was responsible. He agreed with Dr. Evatt's view of Mr. Byrnes's statement that the United States were not interested in establishing any system of regional defence in the South-West Pacific. He did not doubt that the United States had in fact a defence interest in some of the islands. it had been very useful for her in the last war to be able to cross the Pacific by way of these islands and the Marshall and Caroline Islands, and it might be so again.

He called attention to the fact that Mr. Byrnes had modified very considerably the rights for which he now appeared to be asking in Manus. Now he said that 'the United States Navy only wanted to call in at Manus for minor repairs'. This confirmed him in his view that Mr. Byrnes had not said his last word on other points.

He agreed with the course of action which Dr. Evatt had suggested.

He thought there might well be advantage in discussing the matter with Mr. Byrnes on their way through Washington.

With regard to Tarawa, he also agreed with Dr. Evatt. He pointed out that before the United States ever came to the island, New Zealand had suffered considerable casualties there and a number of her subjects had been murdered by the Japanese. New Zealand had raised a memorial to them, and if part of the island was to be dedicated to the United States for a memorial he would like another part to be dedicated to New Zealand.

FIELD-MARSHAL SMUTS said that, while he had no special knowledge of the area, he would urge the importance of taking a long view.

It was surely very much to the interests of New Zealand and Australia to maintain and ensure the interest of the United States in the area. Should we not throw out a bait to catch the fish? it might be true that at the moment she was only asking for rights and was reluctant to assume obligations, but the rights given to- day would involve obligations to-morrow. Australia and New Zealand were, he suggested, very exposed to the North. The Australian Continent, largely uninhabited, was uncomfortably near a part of the world with a colossal population. To-day, perhaps, this need not disturb us; we had just won a great victory. But the situation might change. He suggested that it was very much to the interests of Australia and New Zealand to build up a protective wall to the North. That protective wall could not be provided without the help of the United States. To give her bases in the area might mean very little now, but it might mean everything over the next hundred years.

As regards Tarawa, it might be relevant that Tarawa was on the flank of the Marshall Islands and Caroline Islands, which were likely to be allocated to United States administration.

LORD TEDDER said that the views of the Chiefs of Staff remained as previously expressed (P.M.M.(46)3, Annex III). On the one hand, it would be a great advantage to involve the United States in defensive arrangements in the South and South-West Pacific; on the other hand, the British Commonwealth rights in the islands should not lightly be surrendered. He could not help suspecting that in the case of Funafuti, Canton island and Christmas Island, the fundamental objective of the United States was to obtain facilities for civil aviation. As regards Tarawa, while the island might be of some military use, it was open to question whether it was of much strategic importance to the British Commonwealth.

Replying to a question by Mr. Attlee, MR. MASON said that he had attended Mr. Bevin's talk with Mr. Byrnes on this subject. Mr.

Byrnes had been placed on the defensive by press reports suggesting that British Commonwealth Governments designed to take advantage of the United States Government's approach in regard to use of bases to 'entice' her into a regional security arrangement.

Mr. Byrnes had intimated that he was not prepared to undertake any such commitment. The Foreign Secretary considered that the latest United States proposals represented a considerable advance, beyond which it might be impossible to secure further United States concessions. In particular, Mr. Bevin considered that Mr. Byrnes's readiness to agree to grant to British Commonwealth Governments civil aviation rights in Funafuti, Canton island and Christmas Island constituted an important modification of previous proposals. Mr. Bevin considered that it was the intention of Mr.

Byrnes that the civil aviation rights in question should be available at all times, both in peace and in war, even if the United States were neutral.

DR. EVATT said that no answer should be sent to Mr. Byrnes which by implication suggested that we were prepared to alter our views.

Any suggestion of giving bases without any consideration in return would be met by deep resentment by the Australian people. It was true that Canton and some of the other islands were a long way off, but they were part of a vital link between Australia and the United States. We could not go back on the formula agreed upon, and he was sorry if Mr. Byrnes had been given the impression that we would do so. The suggestion of ceding Tarawa should not be pursued. The proposal had been made by Lord Halifax two or three years ago, and Australia and New Zealand had then objected to it.

Dr. Evatt thought that the procedure which the United States were adopting was objectionable. They had insisted on negotiating with the members of the Commonwealth bilaterally, and we knew they had done the same with the French and the Dutch. We should stand together. This was not Mr. Byrnes's last word, and he suggested that the case for our proposals should be put more forcefully to him.

In further discussion, it was agreed that the reply to be sent to Mr. Byrnes should be of a friendly nature. It was agreed that Mr.

Bevin should be informed that his telegram No. 53 had been considered by the Dominion Ministers, that they had noted Mr.

Byrnes's view as expressed in paragraph 13 of that telegram, and that Dr. Evatt and Mr. Nash would be glad to discuss these matters with Mr. Byrnes on their way back. Mr. Bevin should be told that the view reached at the meeting was that the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, while desirous of agreeing to arrangements which would be satisfactory to the United States as well as to themselves, must have regard to their common interest in the South Pacific area.

Mr. Bevin might be asked whether he thought that it would be useful to Mr. Byrnes for a statement on the above lines to be issued in London. If so, a separate paragraph could be included in it about Tarawa, to the effect that it had been among the subjects considered by the Dominion Ministers and that special provision might well be made in that island to commemorate its capture by the United States Marines in 1943.

DR. EVATT said that he must reserve his position as to the issue of a statement on the lines indicated.

Procedure in the Peace Settlement 2. DR. EVATT expressed concern at developments in regard to the preparation of the draft peace treaties with Italy, Roumania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Finland. He recalled that the Report of the Potsdam Conference establishing the Council of Foreign Ministers provided that the Council should draw up treaties with a view to their submission to the United Nations. It was the view of the Australian Government and also, he thought, of the other Dominion Governments, that either the Council of Foreign Ministers should have been broadened to include the active belligerents who had made a substantial contribution in the prosecution of the war, or the proceedings of the Council should be regarded as only the prelude to a wider Conference. Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand had all issued public statements to this effect in September last. The United Kingdom Government had concurred in the view that the Council should only be the prelude to a wider Conference. It had subsequently been accepted by the United States and Soviet Governments; and at the Moscow Conference of December 1945 it had been agreed that, when the preparation of the draft treaties had been completed by the Council of Foreign Ministers, the Council would convoke a Conference of the twenty-one belligerent countries, on the clear understanding that it would be within the competence of this Conference to put forward proposals for amendment of the draft treaties submitted to it. The essence of the agreement was that the Conference had to be called before the 1st May, but that had not been done.

Dr. Evatt said that he would be glad to know what arrangements were contemplated for the convening of the Conference, and, in particular, by whom and at what date it would be convoked. It was most difficult and embarrassing to Dominion representatives who had come long distances to attend the Conference, to remain in complete uncertainty whether or not the Council intended to call an early meeting. He added that, if the Council of Foreign Ministers should be unable to reach agreement on draft treaties, it was the view of the Australian Government that the convening of the Conference should not for this reason be postponed; for it was fundamental to the Moscow Agreement that the Conference of twenty- one countries should be held. The provision of the agreement that a Conference should be convoked when the preparation of the drafts had been completed, should not be construed in the sense that, if it proved that the Council of Foreign Ministers could not complete the drafts, there could not be a Conference. It should surely be possible to circulate to the Conference alternative texts of certain parts of the drafts. On a related point, he said that the Australian Government were opposed to the revision of armistice terms, since this might be used as a pretext for delaying the conclusion of the peace treaties.

MR. NOEL-BAKER said that the Moscow Agreement provided that the Conference would be convoked by the Council of Foreign Ministers.

The invitations would presumably be sent out by the French Government. As regards the action to be taken if the Council of Foreign Ministers failed to reach agreement on the draft treaties, he understood that the action to be taken in this contingency had not yet been considered.

MR. NASH expressed his general concurrence with the views of Dr.

Evatt. It was essential that all the active belligerents should participate in the peace settlement. As, regards the suggested revision of the Italian armistice, while the New Zealand Government agreed with the United Kingdom Government that this might be done and in the terms of the draft proposal, he expressed concern that this might give opportunity for further delay in the peace settlement.

FIELD-MARSHAL SMUTS suggested that the views of Dominion Ministers should be conveyed to Mr. Bevin in Paris.

In the course of discussion it was pointed out that the Russians had taken the view that the Conference should not take place until the Council of Foreign Ministers had themselves agreed on the draft treaties. It was agreed that the United Kingdom must not allow the Russians to manoeuvre her into a position whereby, in order that the Conference might take place, she had to agree to their draft of contentious parts of the treaties.

MR. ATTLEE said that there was general agreement at the meeting that all countries who had made a substantial contribution to victory should participate in the peace settlement. He said that the Foreign Secretary would be informed of the views expressed in the discussion and requested to supply information on the prospects of convening the Conference in the near future.

[matter omitted]

1 See Document 213.

2 See Document 229.

3 Document 231.

4 See Documents 229 and 231.

5 See Volume VIII, Document 469.

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