357 Beasley to Deputies of Council of Foreign Ministers

Letter, [LONDON], 6 August 1948

With reference to your letter of 17th July 1948 regarding the presentation of views to the Deputies of the Council of Foreign Ministers on the disposal of the former Italian Colonies, I have been instructed by the Australian Minister for External Affairs to express the views of the Australian Government.

At the outset it must be stated that the method of ascertaining the views of the interested governments in this matter has always appeared unsatisfactory to us for it takes no account of the outstanding contribution made by Australia, and other countries, to the victory in North Africa. Indeed, experience has shown that the full participation of all interested governments is indispensable if positive results are to be secured in the negotiation of Peace Settlements. The reports of the Commission of Investigation show the lack of this positive element. The Australian Government is therefore in a position at present to offer only certain general and provisional comments.

It is our view that future arrangements for the former Italian Colonies of Somaliland, Eritrea and Libya should be made in general accordance with the principles of Article 73 of the United Nations Charter, regarding non-self-governing territories and that the disposal of the territories should be considered in the light of the International Trusteeship System established by Chapter XII of that Charter. It must be decided how far each of the Colonies is capable of development towards independence as a basis for the decision as to the type of trusteeship which should be adopted for each. It should be remembered that the United Nations itself might undertake trusteeship, in the case of any territory and especially where the development of a territory for independence and self-government is likely to be a long-term process.

Weight should be given to findings of the Commission which indicate firmly trends of opinion among inhabitants, particularly those which are based on their previous experience.

In the case of Italian Somaliland, the report of the Commission of Investigation suggested that a Four Power trusteeship might be established. The Australian Government is opposed to this suggestion and thinks rather that serious consideration should be given to a trusteeship administered directly by the United Nations, or to the selection of a suitable single power. The whole question of the union of Somali tribes and the effect of their union from an economic point of view merits careful examination as it appears to be basic to the welfare of the territory.

Eritrea is generally recognised as an artificial administrative unit and the possibility therefore arises of either parts or the whole of Eritrea being combined with neighbouring territories. The Australian Government believes that, in addition to considering whether any proposed combination would be in the interests of the inhabitants, it is important to place any part of Eritrea so transferred under trusteeship to ensure observance of the relevant provisions of the United Nations Charter. Ethiopia should clearly be considered as a possible trustee power for such territory.

In Libya there is evidence of the possibility of independence at an earlier stage. It is clear that a decision will have to be taken whether Libya should, in the meantime, be treated as one or more territories, with emphasis on the question whether union would be to the economic and social advantage of the inhabitants and is actually desired by them.

If it is established that union is desirable, the possibility of trusteeship under a single power for a limited period should be considered, in view of the relatively developed state of Libya. The wishes of the majority of the inhabitants on present evidence seem to be contrary to the selection of Italy as trustee. On the other hand, it would appear that the United Kingdom Government, which has administered the territories in North Africa successfully since the war, might well be chosen as trustee, for as administering authority it has shown, by its relations with the inhabitants of the Libyan territories, that its administrative principles are in harmony with the provisions of the United Nations Charter.

If it were decided to divide Libya, it would be important to ensure that the separate territories were, as far as possible, under similar systems of trusteeship so as to facilitate eventual union, if this should prove necessary.

In conclusion, I would remind the Deputies that the Australian Government will, at all times, maintain its right to present its views on these questions, directly and orally, to the Council of Foreign Ministers.

It is specially requested that the Australian Government be notified of any consideration to be given to this question by the Council of Foreign Ministers so that these views may be elaborated either by the Minister for External Affairs or by an authorised Australian representative as necessary. At the same time, it is requested that any recommendations or reports by the Deputies to the Council of Foreign Ministers should be communicated to other interested governments in good time.

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