162 Notes of Meeting of Ministers [1] on Council of Defence

CANBERRA, 6 March 1947


1. INTRODUCTORY OBSERVATIONS BY PRIME MINISTER (1) Purpose of the Meeting My letter notifying Ministers of the intention to hold this meeting stated that its purpose is to have a general discussion on the background of Post-War Defence Policy.

(2) Statement by Minister for Defence To focus attention on the main problems, I asked the Minister for Defence to circulate a summarised statement.

(3) Not Intended to take Decisions As the purpose of the meeting is a discussion as to courses of action, it is not intended to take decisions. These can only be taken by Cabinet, and the usual procedure, before Cabinet considers matters of Defence Policy, is to have a meeting of the Council of Defence, of which the Chiefs of Staff are also members.

As there have been changes in the Ministers of two of the Services and the Department of Munitions, I thought it would be useful to have a preliminary meeting of Ministers so that we could clear our minds by an exchange of views before making a more detailed approach to the specific problems of Post-War Policy, as, for example, the strength and organisation of the Forces.

We can, if necessary, have a further discussion before these come before the Council of Defence, so that the Ministers will be clear in their minds as to the broad outlines of recommendations which should be made by the Council of Defence, having regard to considerations of Government policy.

Another advantage of this meeting is that it will provide a brief view of what is entailed in the whole field of Defence Policy which embraces the Services, their material requirements as covered by the Munitions and Supply Departments, and the functions of the Defence Department relating to matters of policy.

(4) Procedure I would ask the Minister for Defence to traverse the main points of his statement. I would suggest that the best and most expeditious course would be for him to read the brief summary of each Part. If he will pause after each one, we can have a discussion on that Part before proceeding to the next one.


The Minister for Defence read the summary of Part I of the statement as follows:-

'The security of Australia rests on a blending of the collective security provided by the United Nations and the British Commonwealth, and of the Forces to be maintained for the inherent right of individual self-defence.

Since world collective security will be of slow growth, reliance must primarily be placed on co-operation in Empire Defence and the development of regional security in the Pacific with the United States. The crux of the latter is a military plan for the reciprocal use of bases in the Pacific. Progress may be slow because of American political susceptibilities to commitments.

The provision of adequate machinery for Co-operation in Empire Defence and the determination of principles relating to regions of strategic responsibility and for the implementing of measures of co-operation, are fundamental to progress. It should later be possible to link up the regional systems by a coordinated plan.' He then proceeded as follows:-

'As we shall deal in a later Part with measures and machinery for Co-operation in Empire Defence, the most important consideration in this Part is the question of collective security under the Charter and, in particular, the possibility of a regional arrangement in the Pacific with the United States.

External Affairs Policy and Defence Policy are inseparably linked in this, and the Minister for External Affairs will no doubt give us an outline of his views. The Prime Minister will recall that the relation to an overall military plan of the use of Manus and other bases by the United States was discussed in Washington by Dr. Evatt after the Prime Minister's Conference in London.

Now that our Trusteeship Agreement has been approved and the United States has submitted its own relating to the islands formerly held by the Japanese under Mandate, I would suggest that the Minister for External Affairs might give us his views as to the prospects of resuming negotiations with the United States for a plan for the reciprocal use of base facilities.'

3. COLLECTIVE SECURITY AND REGIONAL SECURITY IN THE PACIFIC- OBSERVATIONS OF MINISTER FOR EXTERNAL AFFAIRS The following is a summary of the main points of the statement by the Minister for External Affairs:-

(i) In the early stages of the negotiations for the use by the United States of bases in the Pacific, the inclination of the United Kingdom Government was to yield to the United States request and allow them the use of bases and facilities in British territories in the Pacific, e.g. Guadalcanal, Solomons, Manus, Western Fiji, Western Samoa, Phoenix Group, Christmas Is. This was to be unconditional and without obligation by the United States to give reciprocal rights to the use of United States bases in the Pacific;

(ii) At the Prime Ministers' Conference in London in May 1946, Australia and New Zealand took the view that this was not the correct approach to the problem. Whilst we wished the United States to have base facilities in the Pacific, it was considered that the aim should be to agree upon joint use of all these bases in accordance with a common plan for the defence of the area as a whole. This basis of approach was agreed to at the Conference;

(iii) In his initial discussions with the United States Secretary of State (Mr. Byrnes) and Admiral Nimitz [2], both were doubtful about the possibility of acceding to this request. They believed that the assumption of any defence obligation in a new area would be difficult to justify to Congress and the American people.

Following further discussions in July, 1946, he had proposed an alternative plan providing for the use by Australia of United States base facilities (to be specified) as well as the use by the United States of base facilities (to be specified and to include Manus). Admiral Nimitz seemed receptive to this plan.

(Note: The Australian Government (at a meeting of Cabinet on 8th April 1946) prior to the Prime Minister's departure for the London Conference, had laid it down that the principle of reciprocity was fundamental to the granting of facilities for the use of bases by the United States.) (iv) A few weeks ago, the American Ambassador in Australia raised the question again on the basis that United States should give Australia reciprocal rights to the use of United States bases and facilities in Pango Pango (Eastern Samoa) and Canton Is. in return for the use of bases and facilities at Manus. The United States would not accept any financial responsibility for Manus. The Ambassador was still in touch with his Government and he proposed to visit the United States next month to see if the matter could be developed further on these lines.

(v) Whilst the Minister for External Affairs recognised that the proposed arrangement did not go as far as we would have liked, and was, perhaps, of doubtful practical value for Australian defence, nevertheless it was a recognition of United States willingness to make an arrangement on the principle of reciprocity and it represented an initial step in the direction of co-operation with the United States in the Pacific, which it was Australia's aim to foster. The United States were reluctant to give Australia any rights in American basis north of the Equator, and they did not wish to get entangled with us in any regional agreement for security in the South West Pacific. The existence of a United States screen in the islands north of the Equator was, of course, an important factor in our security. He hoped that arrangements could be made for Admiral Nimitz to visit Australia to discuss the proposals on a Service level, to be followed by conversations on financial and technical aspects. Whether these conversations could be extended to cover wider problems of regional security was problematical, but could be considered at the time. The trend of United States opinion was against participation in regional arrangements in the Pacific, until the peace settlement had been negotiated and the most that could be obtained from the United States in present circumstances, was a symbolical gesture of this kind. The Minister was inclined to favour the proposal and when a firm proposition had been made, he would bring the matter before the Council of Defence and Cabinet;

(vi) In regard to collective security, although the functioning of the Security Council is subject to the operation of the veto by any one of the five Great Powers, the Minister for External Affairs did not think that the world system of collective security would break down. He believed that the United Nations and Security Council will be a factor of the very greatest importance in the prevention of future war. The very magnitude of scientific developments might very well tend to consolidate and preserve a world system of collective security.

[matter omitted]

1 That is: Chifley, Evatt, Dedman, W.J.F. Riordan (Navy), C.

Chambers (Army), A.S. Drakeford (Air), Senator J.I. Armstrong (Munitions), Senator W.P. Ashley (Government Leader in the Senate).

2 Chester W. Nimitz, US Chief of Naval Operations.

[AA : A9787/1, 111]