54 Eggleston to Evatt

Dispatch 9/46 WASHINGTON, 25 January 1946

In various telegrams during the third quarter of 1945 I had the honour to report to you trends of opinion in the United States on the subject of the future control of islands in the Pacific which might have value as military, naval and air bases. You will recall that at the time of the San Francisco Conference, and in the months following, there was evidence of conflict within the United States Administration and Congress, and confusion in the minds of the public, regarding the relative importance to the United States of these island bases, and the lengths to which the United States might appropriately go to ensure their future employment for the defence of the American continent. Recent public statements and comment here serve to indicate that much disagreement and uncertainty still exists, and that there is considerable substance in your impression that United States policy on the question of bases, at least as regards the Pacific, has not yet crystallised.

There have been rumours to the effect that the United States Delegation to the United Nations Assembly in London has a draft plan prepared in the State Department, but there is no hint of its specific provisions and no indication whether it has the blessing of the Army and Navy. To judge from your telegram No. 69 [1], it seems possible that you may have received from London some inkling of definite United States proposals. I am endeavouring to obtain copies of Dominions Office telegrams Nos. D-2214 [2], D-2215 [3] and D-2230 [4], which so far have not been repeated here from London.

The Administration is now under heavy pressure to state explicitly its policy and intentions on the question of Pacific bases. Press despatches from London telling of lack of co-ordination on Pacific Islands policy among the United States delegates have moved the President and the Acting Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, to issue statements apparently aimed at clarifying the position of the United States, but it is doubtful whether these have done much more than revive public speculation and renew Congressional criticism.

Until its recent resuscitation, the topic of bases had lain in the background since August, 1945, when President Truman, on his return from Berlin, had hastened to correct publicly any impression that his earlier statement that 'there is not one piece of territory that we want out of this war' precluded the acquisition of bases in the Pacific. Within the Administration, however, it was evident that a struggle between the more assertive government departments continued behind the scenes. In this connection, Drew Pearson's column published on 15th October, the text of which is enclosed, is not without interest, even though its accuracy in every detail may be doubted.

It was not until the appearance on 15th January of this year of a press despatch from London to the 'New York Times' expressing misgivings at the alleged lack of agreement among the American delegation on trusteeship policy that the issue again became a live one to the public. The despatch in question contrasted the willingness of the United Kingdom Government to accept the principle of placing mandated territories under the supervision of the Trusteeship Council with the lack of any statement of intention from the United States regarding the future of Pacific islands wrested from the Japanese. The United States Delegation was represented as not only failing to agree on the matter but as having widely different views on it. It was stated that the State Department advisers in London were divided, and that in the absence of a clear lead from Mr. Byrnes, General George Kenney, the War Department's adviser to the Delegation, was talking about the need to annex all the islands which the United States might want, a recommendation which was at variance with that of Admiral Turner, Navy adviser.

It is being said that President Truman's statement of policy at his press conference on the following day was made at the behest of Mr. Byrnes with the object of rebutting the impressions gathered by American press correspondents in London. Whatever its object, it cannot be said to have made the Administration's policy appreciably clearer. It is riot possible to obtain a verbatim record of what the President actually did say, and the press are precluded from quoting the President directly on such occasions without his consent. However, it appears that the President began by saying that the United States intended to keep all the islands it needed, and to hand over the remainder to U.N.O. trusteeship.

Under further questioning, he developed the idea of a permanent sole United States trusteeship of bases essential to American defence. He appears at least to have made it clear that however exclusively and possessively the vital bases might in fact be controlled by the United States, it was the intention that these areas should be held in the name of the U.N.O. and under the authority of the Security Council. Annexation was not being considered. No islands were identified by name, and the President said that no decision had been made as to which islands might be considered vital to America's defence.

Press commentators hastened to look up the terms of the trusteeship provisions of the United Nations Charter and sought to reconcile the maintenance of unobstructed United States control with the exercise of the veto in the Security Council by one of the great powers. The conclusion was reached that when once the United States had agreed to place a strategic base under the authority of the Security Council, its own control over that area would be circumscribed by the veto power in the Council; but that the United States could name the terms on which it was prepared to submit such an area to the authority of the Council, and that until such terms were accepted the United States was within its rights in remaining in sole control. In other words, the United States was protected by the terms of the Charter from having to surrender unlimited possession of former Japanese islands on other than its own conditions.

But even this conclusion has not mollified a number of Congressmen who reacted strongly against the President's statement. The most vocal of these have been Senators Byrd and Eastland, Democrats, and Tobey and Capehart, Republicans, who have reaffirmed their opposition to any relinquishment of undivided American control of essential bases. These Senators claim that they received verbal assurances at San Francisco from Mr. Stettinius, Senators Connally and Vandenberg and Mr. Stassen [5] that the right of the United States to do whatever it might wish in the islands concerned would not be limited under the Charter. Senator Capehart has once again declared that Pacific bases essential to the United States should be retained 'as sovereign soil' and should not be subject to any outside control, and both he and Senator Eastland have hinted that any trusteeship agreement limiting such freedom from control would have no chance of obtaining Senate approval. To the argument that the United States retains the power to determine the conditions under which it will offer bases for trusteeship, Senator Byrd has replied: 'I think it would be incongruous for this nation to say to the Security Council that "we propose a trusteeship only on certain conditions and if you disagree we'll do as we please anyway". I don't want us to be in a position where we may have arbitrarily to keep possession of these islands in defiance of U.N.O. disapproval. I think it would be better if we did not submit the question.' The rest of his statement retraces familiar ground: the islands should be America's exclusive property; they were 'won by the blood of American boys', they are essential to American security, and their retention is the only thing America is asking out of this war.

On the other hand, Senator J. W. Fulbright has issued a warning that the United States cannot expect to cooperate with the rest of the world on the one hand and act unilaterally in the Pacific on the other, and Mr. Stassen has urged that the Pacific bases be placed under trusteeship, pointing out that essential American security requirements could be safeguarded from the veto in the Security Council by the exercise of care in the drafting of the original trusteeship agreement. Even Senator Tobey has declared that because of his 'deep yearning for world peace' he would not oppose any treaty because of island control.

Whether or not the State Department was taken by surprise, as some suggest, by the President's statement, it apparently felt that some further official clarification of the United States position was necessary. After declining to comment for several days on the ground of unfamiliarity with the subject, Dean Acheson, Acting Secretary of State in Mr. Byrnes absence, gave a press conference at which he refused to answer specific questions but gave what has been interpreted as confirmation that if the United States proposed a trusteeship agreement, and the Security Council refused to ratify it on United States terms, continued United States possession and occupation of the area concerned would remain unaffected. He was silent, however, when he was asked how other nations might react to American insistence on unilateral control of an island if the Security Council refused to accept its terms.

On the question of possible retention by the United States of bases in the category of Manus, Acheson said that such matters would be discussed with the British Dominions and the United Nations Organisation if and when they arose.

A number of liberal commentators have during the past few days deplored this tendency of the Administration, under pressure from nationalist quarters, to have the best of both worlds by paying lip-service to the United Nations Charter while undertaking not to allow United States control to be limited in the Pacific. The 'New York Herald, Tribune', in recommending trust provisions of the United Nations Charter as a simple and convenient machinery, poses the question, 'Are we going to use them to impart some reality into the idea of an international order in the world, or only as a lot of handsome window dressing covering our own relapse into as pure nationalistic power politics as any empire ever played?' Other voices emphasise the weakening moral position of the United States, and point again to the inconsistency of demanding a voice in the control of Europe while seeking to exclude other nations from sharing control in the Pacific.

Reports of the progress of the Soviet occupation of the Kuril Islands, which correspondents describe as having all the signs of intended permanency, have further stimulated discussion and spurred demands that the Administration disclose its intentions.

There is some speculation as to the exact nature and extent of an understanding reputed to have been reached with the Russians at Yalta whereby, it is suggested, the Russians were to have control of the Kuriles in return for an assurance regarding United States rights to the conquered Pacific islands. It is feared that the Russians may seek to use their consent to sole United States trusteeships in the Pacific as a lever to obtain sole trusteeship in Tripolitania.

It is noteworthy that throughout all the recent debate there has been scarcely a reference to the existence, let alone the welfare, of native peoples on the islands at issue. Those who do occasionally remember them tend to seek refuge in the comforting reflection that there are, after all, not many of them.

Meanwhile, a sub-committee of the House of Representatives Naval Affairs Committee is at present touring all United States naval establishments in the Pacific. Among its duties, according to its Chairman, Representative Rivers of South Carolina, is that of reviewing the findings of the earlier Naval Affairs Sub-Committee which reported last August and whose report was later sent to the Department. The investigations of this sub-committee are expected to have an important effect on the ultimate selection by the United States Government of the bases in which it wishes to remain in sole charge.

1 Document 25 was repeated to Washington as cablegram 69.

2 Volume VIII, Document 445.

3 see ibid., Document 445, note 2.

4 See ibid., Document 460, note 3.

5 Commander Harold E. Stassen, member of the U.S. Delegation to the San Francisco Conference in 1945.

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