97 Conclusions of the Council of Defence

CANBERRA, 20 April 1948

TOP SECRET THE STRATEGIC POSITION OF AUSTRALIA-REVIEW BY THE CHIEFS OF STAFF COMMITTEE

Conclusions of the Council of Defence 20th April 1948

Consideration was given to the appreciation of the Strategical Position of Australia by the Chiefs of Staff Committee. [1] The observations and conclusions of the Council of Defence were as follows:

INTRODUCTION In the appreciation of the Strategical Position of Australia by the Chiefs of Staff Committee, which was circulated under Agendum No. 1/1948, the Chiefs of Staff 'recommend its acceptance as the basic document on measures necessary for the Defence of Australia.' In view of this, it was necessary for the Minister for Defence to point out in regard to several matters, some of which extend beyond the scope of a strategic appreciation into the political and administrative spheres, that the information is not complete and, in the absence of any reference to action that has been taken or views expressed by the Government, the impression may be conveyed that nothing has been done on these subjects, or that they are now raised for the first time. Accordingly, Supplement No. 1 to this Agendum [2] had been circulated for the completeness of the Council's records.

There are three major questions of substance in the Chiefs of Staff Appreciation from the aspect of Government Policy:

(1) The Foreign and Defence Policy basis of the Appreciation.

(2) The relation and possibility of an Overall Plan for British Commonwealth Defence.

(3) Australia's zone of strategic responsibility.

The Council considered each of these in turn.

(1) THE FOREIGN AND DEFENCE POLICY BASIS OF THE APPRECIATION The purpose of a Strategical Appreciation is to establish a basis on which Defence Policy may be based and on which Defence Measures and Planning may proceed.

The starting point of such an Appreciation is the assessment of the risks of the International situation, and this, in the last analysis, is a matter of the Government's Foreign Policy.

The fundamental basis of the Foreign Policy of Australia and the other members of the British Commonwealth is enthusiastic and sustained support of the United Nations.

The relation of Foreign Policy to Defence Policy is stated as follows in the Government's statement of June, 1947, on Post-War Defence Policy:-

'The growth of a scheme of collective security under the United Nations will necessarily be slow... In the meantime, reliance must primarily be placed on cooperation in British Commonwealth Defence and, in the last resort, on the forces that can be raised in an emergency to provide for the inherent right of individual self- defence under the Charter.'

The basis on which co-operation in British Commonwealth Defence should proceed has been outlined as follows by the Prime Minister:-

'It was recognised that Australia must in future make a larger contribution towards the defence of the British Commonwealth, that this could best be done in the Pacific, and that the approach to a common scheme of defence for this area should be by agreement between the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, and thereafter with the United States, and later with other nations with possessions in this area.'

Following the Prime Ministers' Conference in 1946, machinery has been established for co-operation in British Commonwealth Defence between the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, and is capable of expansion to provide for co-operation with the United States. Article 52 of the Charter [3] provides that regional arrangements for security may be made, provided they are consistent with the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Also Article 51 of the Charter recognises the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence, if an armed attack occurs against a Member State.

Conclusions The fundamental conclusions recorded by the Council at this point, therefore, were:

(i) At the level of Governmental Policy, Foreign and Defence Policy must be in harmony with each other.

(ii) The Government's Foreign Policy is based on unwavering support of the United Nations.

(iii) Co-operation between members of the British Commonwealth and others in regional defence is consistent with the purposes and principles of the Charter, and collective defence against aggression is authorised by the Charter.

(iv) The Government's Post-War Defence Policy is as outlined in the Minister's statement of June, 1947.

(v) At the level of Government Policy, the designation of a potential enemy at this stage is not consistent with the foregoing.

(vi) This does not preclude Defence Planning in accordance with established principles relating to precautionary measures and preparedness, but such planning does not involve any commitment in regard to Government Policy, except where approval is specifically sought and obtained.

(2) THE RELATION AND POSSIBILITY OF AN OVER-ALL PLAN FOR BRITISH COMMONWEALTH DEFENCE In paragraph 95 of their Appreciation, the Chiefs of Staff state:-

'Provided an enemy can be prevented from establishing himself in the Australian zone of strategic responsibility-and this can be prevented only by the successful implementation of an agreed overall plan-there is no danger to Australian territory except from raids.'

In paragraph 83 the Chiefs of Staff correctly add:-

'An overall strategic plan cannot be developed, however, until political arrangements between the nations concerned have been made and effective machinery for the co-ordination of British Commonwealth defence measures has been introduced.'

As indicated in paragraph (5) (B) of the attachment to the Supplementary Agendum, political agreement between members of the British Commonwealth on joint strategic plans is impossible of attainment at the present time. This likelihood is even more remote in the case of participation by the United States.

Conclusion

The conclusion of the Council in regard to an overall plan was that, until one can be consummated, the position of necessity must be as stated in paragraph 86 of the Chiefs of Staff Appreciation:-

'However, should hostilities occur before agreed overall plans have been formulated, then each nation of the British Commonwealth would be primarily concerned with the defence of its own zone of strategic responsibility and its vital communications. Plans made for this purpose would have to form the basis for the subsequent preparation of hastily improvised overall plans with other nations of the British Commonwealth and the United States of America.'

(3) AUSTRALIA'S ZONE OF STRATEGIC RESPONSIBILITY

In their Appreciation, the Chiefs of Staff state:-

Paragraph 87 'Economy of force, and the great distances between the components of the British Commonwealth, require that the initial responsibility for defence of its vital interests, should be borne, as far as practicable, by the nation nearest to, or most immediately affected by, events in any particular area. This factor, coupled with the knowledge that Australia must make a greater contribution to the security of the British Commonwealth than in the past, establishes the need for defining the zone in which Australia should formulate and control strategic policy, and accept the responsibilities involved in the formulation and control of such policy. This strategic policy should conform, in general, with overall British Commonwealth policy, but it will be difficult to define Australian Policy unless agreement is reached as to the zone with which Australian planning should primarily be concerned.'

Paragraph 92

'It is essential that the areas containing Singapore, North Borneo and Manus, should be included in Australia's zone of Strategic Responsibility. Since attacks could be launched on the vital area of South East Australia from bases in the Malay Peninsula and the Philippines, hostile penetration South of a line including these areas, would be dangerous. The Australian Zone of Strategic Responsibility should, therefore, extend at least, as far as this line.'

Appendix 'A' to the Chiefs of Staff Appreciation shows the suggested Northern limit of the Australian Zone of Strategic Responsibility.

It is important to note the recommendation of the Chiefs of Staff that Australia should accept responsibility for Strategic Policy for the defence of this zone. This involves the question of commitments and resources to meet them. In his letter of 16th September to Mr. Attlee on Co-operation in British Commonwealth Defence [4], the Prime Minister said:-

'Each Government must retain the right of deciding its own Policy and the commitments which it is prepared to accept... It would be quite misleading to accept responsibilities and make promises which could not be carried out... As you are aware, there may also be legislative enactments which relate to such matters.'

However, Mr. Attlee has informed the Prime Minister in regard to the position in the Pacific that, though the United Kingdom intend to maintain forces in those parts in peace to secure their strategic and economic interests, they would not, if also engaged elsewhere, be able to make any large contribution to the remainder of the area.

The vital question is whether Australia has the resources to accept the responsibilities which the Chiefs of Staff say would be involved in undertaking the formulation and control of strategic policy in the zone recommended by them. For example, the Government has decided that the 250,000,000 Programme is the maximum provision which can be made for Defence in the next five years. This Programme includes substantial commitments of a British Commonwealth nature, such as the Guided Weapons Project.

The ceiling for additional peace-time commitments is thus established. Until manpower and supply resources are examined and plans prepared, it cannot be determined what will be the size and strength of the Forces that could be raised by Australia for the defence of this zone in war, and to what degree reliance could be placed on Australia as a source of supply. The United Kingdom and New Zealand also have vital interests in the defence of this zone and the plans of the three would need to be correlated. Finally, under a regional arrangement, these plans would need to be linked with those of the United States.

The Chiefs of Staff state in paragraph 86 of their Appreciation:-

'A plan will be required to deal with each of the varying situations which might occur on the outbreak of war. This should provide both for action by the British Commonwealth alone, and for action in conjunction with United States Forces. Essential pre- requisites to the formulation of any plans are the knowledge of the forces which each nation might be prepared to provide, and the alternative tasks each nation might be prepared to undertake. It is evident, however, that in the event of war with U.S.S.R., Australia should be prepared to make a contribution in either the Far East or the Middle East. Her dependence on co-operation with other nations, for her security, will compel her to accept the fact that the strategic employment of her forces will be governed by considereations wider than those of a purely regional nature.'

Conclusions The following conclusions were reached by the Council in regard to the proposed zone of strategic responsibility:

(i) The defence of Australia is best effected by preventing an enemy from establishing bases within range of Australia. In view of the range of aircraft and the development of modem weapons, Australia's security is closely related to the defence of the zone recommeneded by the Chiefs of Staff as the Australian zone of strategic responsibility and its vital communications.

(ii) Also, as mentioned earlier, the Prime Minister has stated that Australia must in future make a larger contribution towards the defence of the British Commonwealth, that this can best be done in the Pacific, and that the approach to a common scheme of defence in this area should be by agreement between the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, and thereafter with the United States, and later with other nations with possessions in this area.

(iii) Accordingly, strategic planning may be developed within the limits of the zone recommended by the Chiefs of Staff, subject to the following considerations:

(a) The authority for planning does not imply any commitment for the despatch of Forces for service outside Australia without the specific approval of the Government, and conformity to legislative provisions for service abroad.

(b) The plans may be coordinated with those of the United Kingdom and New Zealand at the official level through the machinery established for co-operation in British Commonwealth Defence.

(c) Should it be possible to open discussions with the United States on the Naval level, the plans may be coordinated with them at that level, though, should Joint Service and Supply aspects arise, the co-ordination should be brought within the scope of the Defence Machinery.

(d) The relation of the Eastern limit of the Strategic Zone to the New Zealand Government's zone of responsibility should be raised through the machinery established for Co-operation in British Commonwealth Defence.

(e) Planning should provide for a situation in which the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand are co-operating in the defence of the zone either alone or in conjunction with United States Forces, and bearing in mind the advice of the United Kingdom Government that they would not if engaged elsewhere, be able to make any large contribution to the remainder of the Pacific area in which forces are not maintained by them in peace.

(4) GENERAL CONCLUSION In addition to the foregoing conclusions, the following was also approved by the Council:-

(i) That the Chiefs of Staff should keep the strategical aspect of the international situation under review and submit another appreciation at the end of six months, or earlier if they consider the position requires it.

(ii) That, prior to its preparation, the Department of External Affairs should furnish a review of the international situation for the information of the Council, and as an authoritative background to the Chiefs of Staff Strategical Appreciation. [5]

1 See Volume 12, Document 161, Attachment thereto.

2 Document 96.

3 That is, the United Nations Charter.

4 Volume 12, Document 184.

5 For the External Affairs review see Document l21, Attachment thereto.

[AA:A816, 14/301/321]