73 Minutes of Meeting of Prime Ministers

P.M.M. (49) 6th Meeting LONDON, 27 April 1949


[matter omitted]

2. Commonwealth Objectives MR. FRASER said that it would be appropriate if, before the Meeting concluded, the representatives of Commonwealth Governments could re-affirm their unity of purpose in pursuit of the positive aims of the Commonwealth association.

The Commonwealth might now be starting upon a new phase of development, as an association of independent democratic nations;

and he hoped that the bonds uniting them would be sufficient to give the Commonwealth, not only moral and spiritual strength, but material strength also. The Commonwealth connection was not merely a matter of constitutional forms: even more important were its methods of practical co-operation in the conduct of international relations. It was an essential feature of the Commonwealth connection that all Commonwealth countries should keep one another fully informed of their views and policies so that they might be able to help one another in matters of foreign policy, trade and defence. Not being foreign countries, they had no need to define those relations in Pacts or Treaties or to enter into formal commitments for mutual assistance; but it was of the essence of the Commonwealth that its members should desire to help one another, whether in peace or in war. Could they be confident in the future, as they had been confident in the past, that Commonwealth countries would all stand together in an emergency in support of a just cause.

MR. ATTLEE said that Mr. Fraser had expressed the spirit of the Commonwealth connection, which lost nothing in strength because its obligations were not reduced to formal commitments. The conference recently convened by Pandit Nehru to consider how assistance could be given to Burma [1] was an example of the method by which a group of Commonwealth countries could usefully co-operate in matters of common concern. Similar opportunities for mutual assistance would doubtless arise in the future, and he was confident that all Commonwealth countries would continue to be willing to take advantage of them. Practical co-operation between Commonwealth countries was more than ever necessary to-day, when the free democracies of the world were threatened by communism.

MR. LIAQUAT ALI KHAN said that Pakistan, while not asking for any formal commitments, would like to be assured that she could rely on the help of other Commonwealth countries in time of trouble.

Each Commonwealth country, in framing its policy, should be able to rely upon the assumption that all the countries of the Commonwealth would stand together in support of a just cause.

PANDIT NEHRU agreed that it must be of the essence of an association like the Commonwealth that its members should consult one another on all matters of common concern and co-operate with one another to the fullest possible extent. Their co-operation would be determined, not by any formal commitments accepted in advance, but by their friendly and understanding approach to common problems. The situation now confronting the free nations of the world was, however, a very complex one; and it would be a mistake if Commonwealth Governments approached it primarily on the basis of mutual assistance in defence against aggression. He could best illustrate his point by reference to Asia. The present upheaval in China was due to deep-seated causes going back at least as far as the revolution of 1911; and although it was being influenced and exploited by Communists, it was due fundamentally to a widespread sense of dissatisfaction with the existing regime.

It must be seen in this wider context. And policy must be so directed as to appeal to the great masses of people throughout Asia who were not committed to any particular ideology but were in a state of unrest due to dissatisfaction with their conditions of life. The problem was to capture the minds and imagination of these peoples. It was not in essence a military problem. If war were imminent, Commonwealth countries would have to prepare to defend themselves. But the first object of policy should be to prevent war; for, as experience after the two world wars of this century had shown, war could only intensify the very conditions which created that social dissatisfaction and unrest on which communism flourished. The problem for Commonwealth countries was how to combine a policy for preventing war with preparations adequate to ensure that, if war came, they were ready to meet it.

It would be disastrous if, by concentrating on the second object, they frustrated the first. It was for this reason that he deprecated the discussion of world problems in terms of Power blocs. Such language encouraged the formation of Power blocs by others and caused people to think in terms of war. It was true that the Commonwealth could exercise a powerful influence in the world, in peace and in war; but the Commonwealth could no longer dominate the world by military strength alone. It must therefore develop, and pursue, a positive policy for preventing war. And, in Asia, that must take the form of removing the conditions which encouraged the growth of communism.

India was watching very closely the political developments in neighbouring countries, and was anxious to influence them in directions which would be helpful to the stabilisation of conditions in Asia generally. The handling of the Indonesian situation by the Dutch had produced a bad effect on public opinion throughout Asia. Similarly, French policy in Indo-China was calculated to encourage those forces which aimed at the violent overthrow of Colonial domination in Asia. The removal of these irritants to public opinion in Asia would make a much greater contribution to the cause of international security than any military precautions which could be taken. Political developments in Asia over the next few years would have an important influence throughout the world. And those developments would turn very largely on the attitude of the masses who were not already committed to any particular ideology. It was vitally important that the democratic countries should do nothing at this stage which might cause those people to look elsewhere for inspiration and assistance.

MR. CHIFLEY said that he was in agreement with much that Pandit Nehru had said. The policy of the Dutch Government in Indonesia was, in his opinion, a serious threat to the peace of the Pacific.

MR. FRASER asked whether it was possible, in the conditions of the world to-day, to avoid the creation of Power blocs. Was it not the policy of the Soviet Government which had forced the peace-loving democracies of the West to come together in the Atlantic Pact? Was it not clear that the countries which had subscribed to that Pact were making a stand for the survival of democracy in the western world? And was it not likely that, if they had not been ready to show this united and determined from, a tyrannical regime would have been established throughout Europe? PANDIT NEHRU said that free democracy, as it obtained in the United Kingdom, was a form of government worthy of imitation. All the peoples of the world should be able to see that it was infinitely preferable to the regime established by the Soviet Government. India, certainly, was greatly attracted by these democratic ideals; and its political institutions were largely modelled on those of the United Kingdom. Democracy was, however, threatened at the present time from two directions-first by a direct onslaught by communism; and, secondly, by an internal weakening, largely due to unfavourable economic conditions. In his view policy should be directed against this second danger, for it was this which would create the conditions in which Communism would flourish.

It must not be forgotten that throughout Asia, and even in India, there was still suspicion of Colonial domination-though in India there had been a remarkable change during the past two years in the attitude of public opinion towards the United Kingdom. It was against this background of suspicion that Commonwealth policy would be judged in India. Unless these susceptibilities were kept constantly in mind, the influence of the Commonwealth in Asia could not be strengthened.

The expansionist policy of the Soviet Government had undoubtedly been the cause of much of the troubles now confronting the peace- loving peoples of the world. Pandit Nehru agreed that Commonwealth countries must be prepared to resist military and political aggression by the Soviet Government. He believed, however, that the more important object of policy was to prevent the political encroachment of communism; and this could only be done by persuading peoples who were exposed to Communist encroachment that the democratic way of life had better things to offer. It was never right to yield to evil influences. But the better course was to take positive action to create the conditions in which evil influences could not flourish.

MR. CHIFLEY agreed with Pandit Nehru that the primary object of Commonwealth policy should be to create, in countries exposed to Communist influence, social conditions in which it would be impossible for communism to flourish. It was by these methods that the advance of communism must be checked.

In Asia certainly, and possibly in other countries also, military strength was not an effective weapon against Communist encroachment.

3. Conclusion of Proceedings MR. FRASER, on behalf of the representatives of all the other Commonwealth Governments, expressed appreciation for the hospitality accorded to them by the United Kingdom Government, and thanked Mr. Attlee for the skill and patience with which he had presided over the meetings.

MR. ATTLEE thanked Mr. Fraser and expressed the appreciation of all the Ministers present for the assistance which had been given by officials of all Delegations and by the Secretariat.

1 For a report of the conference Burma see Document 221.

[AA: 1838/283, TS99/6/1, 1]