265 Minutes of Meeting of Prime Ministers

PMM(46) 18th Meeting (extracts) LONDON, 22 May 1946, 3.45 p.m.


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United Kingdom Defence Obligations 2. The meeting had before them a memorandum by Lord Addison (P.M.M.(46)31) summarising the present military and financial commitments of the United Kingdom. The memorandum showed that, in order to carry out the military commitments essential to an effective foreign policy, the United Kingdom would need to maintain in 1947 forces varying between 1,194,000 in strength at the beginning of the year and 1,077,000 at the end. There would be no alternative to the maintenance of lengthy compulsory military service over the next five years. Total military expenditure in the current year was 1,200 million plus additional charges arising from the termination of the war of 576 million which would be largely non-recurrent. Of the figure of 1,200 million some 250 million would be incurred overseas. Particulars were also given of other inescapable overseas expenditure to a total of 195 million to indicate the strain imposed on the United Kingdom's balance of payments.

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DR. EVATT said that he found the memorandum a most impressive document. The figures it contained were to him most significant and he could quite understand the great anxiety which Mr. Attlee and his colleagues had on account of them. As in the case of the United Kingdom and Canada, Australia's expenditure on defence was already greatly increased, but Mr. Chifley had indicated at their earlier discussions that, in future, Australia must accept a permanent obligation greater than any that she had had before the war. It was worth taking out an insurance in peacetime against finding ourselves in the future as embarrassed as we had been in 1939. It had been the general view at the previous discussion that the problem could not be solved by the old method of a direct contribution by Dominion Governments to the cost of the United Kingdom services. Such a contribution to the Royal Navy had been suggested before the war. But this would be out of harmony with the temper of opinion in the Dominions. It seemed to him that each Dominion should rather assume obligations to provide forces under its own control for the defence of its territory and region. This was, in effect, a pooling of reserves. That was, indeed, the way that matters were developing in the Pacific. He added that greater decentralisation of control necessitated improved methods of military liaison. That matter had been discussed at an earlier meeting and he regarded it as very important. It was virtually true to say that there had been no Commonwealth plan for defence in 1939. We had had to improvise and in the result very effective arrangements had been worked out. He thought it would be most unfortunate if the foundations of this organisation were not kept in being. For instance, the Air Training Scheme had been a very important factor leading to victory. He would like a framework to be retained, which could be quickly revived if need be.

Dr. Evatt thought it worth mentioning that it had seemed to him more difficult in this war than in the previous war for officers from Dominion forces to rise to the most senior commands in the Empire, as General Monash had done. This might be due only to a difference in personal qualifications but it might also indicate some deficiency in the machinery for co-ordination of effort.

He noticed in the United Kingdom memorandum a reference to the fulfilment of commitments in the Netherlands East Indies. He hoped that British soldiers would not be kept there to maintain the Dutch position against the Indonesians. Quite apart from considerations of finance, he thought that politically this would be most unfortunate.

Finally, Dr. Evatt said that he would show this impressive document to Mr. Chifley who would study it most sympathetically with the desire to help in every way possible. Whatever could be done to lighten the burden on the United Kingdom should be done.

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