106 Attlee to Chifley

Letter LONDON, 29 December 1948


You sent me with your letter of the 24th May about defence co- operation [1], copies of two memoranda produced by the Australian Council of Defence. [2] We have studied these memoranda with great interest; but I deferred sending any comments on them as the subject of defence was included in the agenda for the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.

2. I now enclose two copies of a paper [3] giving the views of the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff, which are endorsed by the United Kingdom Government, on the memoranda. We hope that the way is now clear for the military staffs of our two countries and of New Zealand to embark on strategic planning; the United Kingdom comments on the extent of the Australian 'Zone of strategic responsibility' to be covered in the planning are included in the Chiefs of Staff paper enclosed with this letter. The United Kingdom Service Liaison Staff are ready to begin discussions in Australia whenever your Chiefs of Staff wish.

3. We interpret the 'Australian zone of strategic responsibility' in peacetime to be the region in which Australia would assume the initiative for defence planning in peacetime. I should like to emphasise that such planning does not involve any executive control in peacetime and that we do not contemplate removing the present United Kingdom command in the Far East either in peace or war. Our treaty commitments with the Malay rulers entail very special responsibilities in that area for the United Kingdom and we feel it necessary to reserve the right to make it clear to the local population, if necessary, that we have no intention of transferring to other countries, either in peace or war, the responsibilities for and in Malaya which now rest with us.

4. We have noted that you have authorised strategic planning to proceed strictly on the official level and that it does not involve any commitment by your Government. This applies also to the United Kingdom Government and you will see that the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff have recognised this in their paper. But with this understanding I hope that military planning between Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom will progress satisfactorily and lead to eventual agreement between the Governments concerned on their exact responsibilities in order to put the defences of the Commonwealth on a sound basis.

5. In view of New Zealand's close interest in this question, may I suggest that you send a copy of your letter to me of the 24th May and of this reply to Mr. Fraser? 6. I had this letter before me ready to sign when I received your letter of the 10th December. [4] The further points which you raise will require careful consideration here. I will, however, try to let you have a full reply as soon as possible.

1 Document,98.

2 See Document 98, paragraph 6 (i) and (ii), and footnotes thereto.

3 Not published.

4 Document 105.

[AA: A816/52, 14/301/1353]