354 Department of External Affairs to External Affairs Office, London

Cablegram 2782, CANBERRA, 26 July 1948, 5.45 p.m.


Understand C.R.O.[1] intend to discuss Italian Colonies with Minister on 27th July. Please see that Minister knows more recent developments of which you are aware.

2. The issue is one in which strategic interests of United Kingdom and possibly ourselves may have to be weighed in relation to the principles maintained by us at Paris and in U.N., namely that first consideration should have been given to the interests, wishes and welfare of the inhabitants themselves.

3. The reports of the Commission of Inquiry, which we have just seen, appear to have strictly limited value. It is clear from the reports that Eritrea and Italian Somaliland are in a different category from Libya. The former have little or no prospect of independence politically or economically. If Trusteeship plan under U.N. adopted it should be made clear that unlike other Trusteeship arrangements this could be permanent in nature and not aimed at handing over to native peoples. Also there is sufficient evidence of anti-Italian sentiment for it to be taken into account as a factor weighing against any proposal of Italian trusteeship. Another more drastic proposal is return of major part of Eritrea to Ethiopia (with Moslem north western area of Sudan) and adoption of original Greater Somalia idea. But in these circumstances the part of Eritrea returned to Ethiopia should be under trusteeship initially, so that United Nations can ensure that terms of any agreement are in fact observed. Question of which nation will be trustee of any Greater Somalia is, of course, difficult, but United Nations itself is possibility which in this instance should be seriously considered. Libya is different proposition, and since the ingredients of independence are there, we feel that trusteeship is clear answer. On question of trustee, there is strong case for United Kingdom, particularly in view of her colonial record in past few years, her past experience, and the part played by her forces in the war. There is no case for Italian trusteeship. Of other alternatives, U.N. trusteeship exercised by U.N. itself is preferable to e.g. four-power trusteeship which would be quite unworkable.

4. Above represents outline of present departmental thinking. However, since it appears inevitable that matter will be referred to U.N., it appears desirable that we should not commit ourselves to any detailed proposal at this stage. We have strong case in that we are not formally in possession of such essential facts as the claims of other Nations, and particularly the detailed information which would enable us to consider on their merits the more drastic proposals such as incorporation of part of Eritrea in Ethiopia or the Greater Somaliland proposal. In addition, the value of the present hearings has been reduced by the fact that some countries, notably U.S.S.R. and satellites, are already committed to Italian Trusteeship. It is therefore suggested that we should submit a written statement to the Deputies in general terms only, safeguarding our position.

5. The Minister should also know that the Defence view, expressed in relation to Cable D.82[2], was - (a) The obtaining by the United Kingdom Government, of an ordinary Trusteeship over Libya is the best practical way to meet the requirements for adequate strategic facilities in the Middle East and Mediterranean area in time of war, and (b) From a strategic point of view it is desirable that no territories south of the Suez canal should remain in Italian hands, and this requirement should be modified only if necessary to obtain the essential strategic facilities in North Africa.

[1] Commonwealth Relations Office.

[2] Document 350.

[AA : A1838, 85/4/2/6, I]