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101 Bruce to Churchill

Letter [LONDON], 13 January 1943


I enclose herewith a Note which I had proposed to discuss with you personally when I heard of your departure. [1] I would ask you to devote two minutes to read the enclosure marked 'A'. The one marked 'B' [2] merely summarises the arguments on which the conclusions in 'A' are based.

Economic well-being and social security are the only material rewards we can give our people for their courage, resolution and suffering.

Our capacity to provide these rewards depends on International economic co-operation which requires security if it is to be successful.

Security to be permanent must be based on an International Authority supported by adequate force, starting with an International Air Force.

This is only the League of Nations concept for which you have always stood, but with teeth in it.

My every good wish is with you in the further great adventure on which you are now engaged. [3]

1 See Document 100, note 2.

2 On file AA:M100, January 1943.

3 On 21 January Bruce advised Curtin that the question of post-war policy would be raised at the Casablanca Conference and that as 'the Prime Minister's mind is very fluid and up to date he has resolutely declined to crystallize it' he had sent Churchill the Note 'setting out the issues involved in the hope that this might turn his mind towards their consideration'. Bruce also sent Curtin a copy of the summary of his arguments (Enclosure B in his letter to Churchill). See cablegrams 16A and 18A of 21 January on the file cited in note 2.


[LONDON], 5 January 1943


The future of Colonial possessions is now on the door step and discussions on this question are about to be opened with the United States of America.

All the indications are also that shortly the questions of post- war International co-operation both in the political and economic spheres will become a very live issue. We are therefore faced with the necessity of formulating the broad policy we should pursue.

The line we should follow appears to me to be what will best serve our national interests. As individuals our actions can, and no doubt should, be governed by higher motives than serving our own individual interests and we should be prepared to make sacrifices for the common good.

It is difficult, if not impossible, however, to frame national policies save on the basis of material national self-interest, owing to the power to sway public opinion which can be exercised by the Press, sectional interests and other forces, with consequent repercussions in the political arena.

It is therefore necessary before determining what policy we should pursue and how far we should give a lead in promoting International cooperation to consider what would best serve the interests of our own peoples and what are the objectives we desire to obtain for them after the war is over.

I suggest these objectives might be stated as:-

(a) The preservation of the integrity of the British Empire.

(b) The highest obtainable standard of economic and social well- being for our peoples.

The question we have to decide is whether these objectives can best be obtained by our own individual efforts or by International co-operation.

In approaching this problem we naturally have in mind the part that the Empire has played in the present struggle, and that when victory is achieved we will be able to claim that we were the principal architects of it. Had it not been for our resolute and united refusal to accept defeat when we stood alone, after the fall of France, Russia would have been overwhelmed and America would have been faced with a prolonged struggle in which she might well have gone down and from which, at best, she would only have emerged facing a most difficult future instead of the easy path that now appears to lie before her.

In these circumstances it is galling to contemplate that after victory is achieved we may have to accept, if the post-war world is to be based on International co-operation, much that may seem repugnant to our pre-war conceptions of the relations of the British Empire to other nations. We cannot, however, allow these feelings to sway our judgment but must, with unprejudiced minds, determine what policy would best serve our national interests.

In the past the integrity of the British Empire has been maintained by our own strength and particularly by the pre- eminence of the British Navy.

Can we preserve that integrity in the future by the same means? To answer this question it is necessary to consider what armed strength the Empire would require and whether we should be in a position to maintain it.

In examining this question we can, for the immediate post-war period, eliminate Germany, Italy and Japan from our calculations.

Whatever else is uncertain after the war the complete disarmament of these powers is assured. There will be, however, United Nations fully armed and strong, e.g. ourselves, the United States of America, the U.S.S.R. and China.

The vital interests of the British Empire can be considered in three geographical areas, namely, the Far East and Pacific; the Middle East; and Europe.

In the Far East and Pacific, apart from the great Dominions, the Empire's integrity and vital interests have to be safeguarded in Burma and Malaya, while Siam, Indo-China and the Dutch East Indies are of paramount importance to us.

We have therefore to consider what forces we should require to safeguard these vital and paramount interests. In assessing these needs China must be our primary consideration. It is true that in this war China is our Ally and that in the past China has been weak and disorganised. Can we rely upon these conditions prevailing in the future? Have we not rather to visualise a strong and united China with high ambitions to dominate Eastern Asia? Does not prudence at least demand that we should contemplate such a possibility? If it does we have to consider what armed forces we would require, if acting in isolation, to meet such a contingency.

In view of our experiences at the hands of Japan in the present war clearly the magnitude of such forces would be staggering. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether we would be in a position to provide such forces remembering that in the circumstances leading up to the eventualities I am suggesting we would not have American sympathy.

In the Middle East, while we have little territory, we have vital interests, particularly in regard to communications, e.g. The Suez Canal, and in respect to oil in Iran and Iraq.

After the war Russia will be tremendously strong. Given the failure of International co-operation, it is possible that she may take the line that the war was mainly won by her exertions and sacrifices and she might then claim that she required an exit into the Persian Gulf. If she did, this would mean complete dominance by Russia over Iran and Iraq and their oil supplies, even if she did not appropriate vital portions of their territories. Such action by Russia would be so contrary to our interests that it would be essential we should resist it.

What forces would be required effectively to do so and is there the slightest possibility that we should be in a position to provide them? Difficult as the position would be in the Far East and Pacific, and in the Middle East, our position in Europe, if in isolation from the United States of America, would be even more precarious.

Competition between the United Kingdom and the U.S.S.R. for leadership among the nations of Europe conjures up pictures of competing ideologies, of the growth of communist parties in France, Spain and even in the United Kingdom, and hence of the need to maintain in these Islands far greater armed forces than ever before in our history.

To maintain the integrity and vital interests of the British Empire therefore by our own strength, as we have in the past, would appear, in view of the considerations set out above, to require vast forces to meet our commitments in the Far East and Pacific; the Middle East and in Europe. It would, of course, be a question for the Chiefs of Staff to determine what the strength of those forces would have to be. It is clear, however, that their magnitude would be such as to be beyond the Empire's capacity to provide them. Even if we were able to do so their maintenance would involve conscription on a large scale and a financial burden which would be so great as to destroy the possibility of providing for our peoples those economic and social standards which are our second objective.

If consideration of the points I have outlined above leads to the conclusion that it will be impossible in the post-war world by our own efforts to ensure our vital objective of maintaining the integrity of the British Empire and promoting the economic and social well-being of out people, we have to examine how best these objectives can be achieved by International co-operation.

In doing so it is necessary to consider the problems of security and economic and social well-being as a whole because they are so closely interlocked.

It is an aim common to all political parties in this country progressively to improve the economic conditions and social security of the people. Much progress has been made in the planning for the attainment of these ends, an outstanding example being the Beveridge Report. [1] It is, however, generally realised that it will only be possible for these plans to come to fruition if, after the war, we have an expanding world economy.

While there are some who would maintain that an expansive world economy would not be prevented even if the United Kingdom utilised her undoubtedly strong bargaining position to enter into bilateral arrangements to secure markets for British trade, the now generally accepted view is that such action by the United Kingdom would bring about an economic position similar to that prevailing from 1930-1938 and only by a large measure of International co- operation can the necessary expansive world economy be achieved.

It seems therefore clear that the attainment of our aim of better economic conditions and greater social security for our people is dependent upon International economic co-operation. Just, however, as this is so, so is it true that the realisation of our aim of an expansive world economy by International co-operation is dependent upon International security and the removal of the fear of aggression.

Unless this is achieved the world burden of armaments cannot be reduced and national economic policies throughout the world would continue to be based upon the necessity of nations providing for their own defensive requirements rather than upon economic considerations. The above considerations show that internal economic and social problems, International economic problems, and security problems must be considered as a whole.

As the solution of the first two is dependent upon finding an answer to the third, it is necessary to consider the question of national security first.

There are two possible ways this can be provided apart from individual nations having to ensure their own security. These two methods are-

(a) By a group of Nations, eg. the four Great Powers, undertaking to police the world by their national forces When the present war ends the four Great Powers, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, the U.S.S.R., and China, will be very closely linked by their common sacrifices and efforts. Can anyone, however, predict with confidence that this close unity will continue? Can anyone ensure that all these four nations will continue to play their part in relation to world affairs, e.g. America, or that antagonisms and differences might not grow up between them, e.g. the U.S.S.R. and ourselves. Unless these things could be ensured we would surely be building upon a foundation of sand.

Quite apart from these considerations, we have to recognise that by undertaking to maintain the forces necessary to police the world the nations undertaking such obligation would be handicapping themselves economically against those nations which were subjected to no such burden.

(b) By the establishment of an International Authority supported by adequate force This presents many obvious difficulties but in view of the inevitability of the world drifting into another war after a generation if they are not overcome, they have to be faced.

Given time I believe they can be and fortunately there is every prospect that that time will be forthcoming. The necessary time would be provided, as I see it, by the fact that at the end of the present war the Powers will be available having the necessary forces who could undertake this task. Those Powers would be the four Great Powers-the United Kingdom, the United States of America, the U.S.S.R., and China, and I believe it would be possible to obtain their consent to assume this obligation. I feel, however, that they should do so on the definite basis of a time limit during which the plans would be perfected for the handing over of this burden of policing the world to an International Authority maintained by the nations as a whole.

My conclusion, therefore, is that the provision of security and freedom from the fear of aggression can best be assured by accepting the principle that the eventual policing of the world must be placed in the hands of an International Authority, the breathing space necessary for the maturing of the plans to this end being provided by the four Great Powers undertaking the task in the interim.

While security must be dealt with by a World Council of some kind which would have final authority in regard to all questions likely to endanger the peace of the world and which would also deal with other questions of world wide importance, it is undesirable that such a Council should be burdened with the innumerable local questions that will arise.

It is therefore desirable that machinery should be set up at the earliest possible date to handle such questions. As these will, in the great majority of cases, primarily be of importance to particular areas, the idea of Regional Councils to handle them would appear desirable. The three main areas into which the world might be divided and for which Regional Councils should be established would be Europe; America; and the Far East.

While the basis of representation on Regional Councils would be geographical there should, in addition, be representation of countries with special interests in the area. In particular it is most desirable that the three Great Powers-the British Empire, the United States of America and the U.S.S.R.-should all be members of the three Regional Councils I have suggested above.

While the areas of Europe, America and the Far East embrace the greater part of the globe, consideration would have to be given as to how Africa, the Middle East and India could be fitted into the picture. Consideration would also have to be given to a suggestion that has been put forward that the British Empire and the Soviet Union should also constitute Regional Groups.

The problems associated with the establishment of Regional Councils for Europe, America and the Far East vary in complexity.

In regard to America the position is relatively simple. There is already in existence the Pan-American Union, and this could be used as the basis for a Regional Council. In the Far East there would be a greater problem, but provided that some understanding has been reached as to post-war colonial policy, no great difficulty or delay should be experienced in the setting up of a Regional Council for this area.

Europe will present the most difficult problem and it has to be recognised that it will take longer to bring the Regional idea into operation in this area than in other parts of the world.

After the war there will clearly have to be a joint occupation of Germany for a considerable time by the three major Allies.

This military occupation, combined with the work of the relief and reconstruction organisations which will be operating in Europe, will constitute a large scale experiment in European International Administration. This experiment, particularly if the present trend among the smaller Powers towards greater co-operation up to the point of Confederations continues, may well lead to political and economic co-operation in Europe on a scale never previously seen.

Such co-operation would pave the way for the establishment and successful operation of a Regional Council of Europe.

While security and political questions are of prime importance it is equally essential to provide machinery to deal with economic and social problems. After some hesitations here-and a careful weighing of the alternatives it is now generally accepted that only by International co-operation can the expansion of world trade necessary for the realisation of our economic and social hopes be brought about. This conviction has led to the formulation of the schemes for an 'International Clearing Union' and 'Buffer Stocks'.

Many other problems are under consideration, the most outstanding of which deal with Food, Agriculture, Transport and Communications. All these activities, however, require coordinating. I suggest the best method of achieving this would be the creation of a Reconstruction Authority with a constitution similar to that contemplated for the Relief Authority. Such Authority could utilise existing Organisations such as the International Labour Office and the Social and Economic Sections of the League of Nations to supplement the machinery it would itself create.

Action down the lines I suggest would prepare the way for that full International co-operation on economic and social questions which will be essential after the war.

It is necessary that we should determine our policy with regard to all the matters dealt with above at the earliest possible date.

Having decided upon our policy we should then approach the United States and discuss it with them in the fullest and frankest manner. [2]

[AA:M100, JANUARY 1943]

1 Published in November 1942, this report by Sir William Beveridge laid the foundations for social and economic welfare programs.

2 On 9 March Churchill sent the following reply to Bruce's letter:

'I am sorry not to have answered your letter of January 13 before.

It reached me while I was abroad and I have only now had time to go through it carefully.

I agree generally with much of what you say in your paper, and, as you know, all these suggestions are being considered already by those charged with the important task of post war organisation.

Every effort is being made to face the difficulties involved, but a final solution of them must of course stand over until our primary task of winning the war is completed, and until we see clearly the state of the world at that time.' The original is on file AA:M100, March 1943.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History