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121 Bruce to Curtin

Cablegram 37[A] LONDON, 16 February 1943, 8.10 p.m.


In my telegram 199 of 30th November [1], and my telegram 305 of 3rd December [2], and my telegram No. 18 of 21st January [3], I have touched on Post War Policy and given you some indications as to the trend of thought here.

The time has now arrived when it is necessary that I should be more specific and should seek an indication of your Government's attitude and your guidance as to the line you desire me to follow.

Probably the best course will be for me to give you my thoughts on the subject.

The approach to a consideration of post war problems I suggest should be- (1) How important are they.

(2) How urgent is it to formulate a definite policy in regard to them.

(3) What should that policy be.

With regard to (1) victory when it comes will have been achieved by the efforts, sacrifices, and sufferings of the ordinary people.

They are entitled to their reward.

This reward is best expressed in Roosevelt's Four Freedoms. [4] If these are realised it means to the ordinary men and women an opportunity to live under decent economic conditions with a reasonable measure of social security.

If this war is followed by a period of disillusionment and frustration such as followed the 1914/18 War, unrest and social upheaval will be rampant culminating in another world war which will destroy civilisation.

My answer to the first question therefore is that post war problems are of transcending importance.

With regard to (2) if the conditions we desire to achieve are to be brought about there are two essentials- (a) World security must be ensured and nations freed from the paralysing burden of armaments and from [basing] [5] national economics on considerations of defence.

(b) Drastic alterations must be effected in international financial and economic structure which as it functioned before the war could not support the needed expansion of world trade and economic activity.

For the accomplishment of (a) and (b) international co-operation on a scale never previously contemplated will be required.

To obtain this co-operation must of necessity take time as will the working out of detailed arrangements to give effect to any broad principles upon which agreement has been reached.

To delay until victory before commencing these tasks would, to my mind, be fatal and would defeat the possibility of achieving our objectives. This view is strongly supported by Sumner Welles (my telegram 199 of 30th November, 1942).

Apart from the fact that to leave issues of such moment to eleventh hour improvisation would be criminal, the atmosphere once victory is achieved would be far less favourable to success.

With the end of the war nations will again assess everything in terms of their own individual interests, privileged and vested interests will resume their fight for their own selfish ends both openly and underground.

Only by getting agreement between the United Nations before the war is over to broad principles and setting machinery in motion for carrying out the detailed planning is there, in my view, hope of ensuring the necessary far reaching and imaginative action.

My answer to the second question is that there is the utmost urgency.

With regard to (3) the objectives of our policy would be- (a) To ensure the security of, and to remove fear of aggression from, all nations.

(b) To provide the means for dealing with political questions between nations and for just settlement of differences when they arise.

(c) To promote co-operation between nations in regard to economic and social questions.

A short note on each of these objectives is contained in paragraphs 12, 13, and 14 of my telegram No. 18 of 21st January, 1943.

The immediate issue that has to be determined before any approach to the United States or to the U.S.S.R. can be made is how do we visualise security being provided.

There are two possible ways this can be provided for apart from individual nations having to ensure their own security. These two methods are- (a) By a group of nations, e.g. the United Nations, undertaking to police the world by their own national forces.

When the present war ends the United Nations will be very closely linked by their common sacrifices and efforts. The United Kingdom, the United States, and the U.S.S.R. will have great national forces which must maintain world peace during the immediate post war periods. Can anyone, however, predict with confidence that this close unity will continue. Can anyone ensure that the three great powers 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 the United Kingdom.

Further, under this method we would be faced with the problem that proved insoluble at the Disarmament Conference of determining the relative strengths between the armed forces of different nations.

(b) By the establishment of an international authority supported by adequate force. This presents many obvious difficulties. Taking as an axiom that some plan has to be devised which will have as its objective the maintenance of peace in the world, I do not believe that these difficulties are any greater or in fact as great as those we would have to overcome in organising a system of co-operation between the armed forces of individual nations.

The predominant position the air has now achieved renders the task less difficult. A start could be made by an international air force which, incidentally, would have the advantage of paving the way for solution of civil air problems which, it seems probable, can only be done by internationalisation.

Having started with the air, the general system of security could be built round it, but this would take a little time. This could be afforded by the United Kingdom, the United States and the U.S.S.R. undertaking to maintain the peace of the world for a definite period after the war. These three powers would, I believe, be prepared to undertake this obligation and their doing so would be acceptable to the rest of the world provided that it was for a limited period with a definite objective.

In my view the provision of security and freedom from fear of aggression can best be assured by accepting the principles of an international authority supported by adequate force.

If this view is not accepted the alternative method contemplated must be laid down with precision as progress cannot be made with regard to international economic co-operation until the policy with regard to security is defined.

With agreement on a clear cut scheme as to how security problem is to be dealt with, the way would be open for consideration of post war economic policy and the means whereby maximum international cooperation can be assured. A great deal of first class thinking is going on, both here and in the United States, e.g. the International Clearing Union and Buffer Stocks [schemes] and work in regard to communications and transport. All of this thinking and work, however, wants drawing together and co-ordinating. This cannot be left until after the war when, in default of agreed plans, shortsighted nationalistic policies will tend to strain the cohesion of the United Nations. I feel that an authority should be created at the earliest possible date to deal with all economic reconstruction problems; possible model of the proposed relief administration might be taken.

Subject to decisions on (1) post war security, (2) the early creation of an authority to deal with economic questions, the broad outline of the post war organisation as I see it would be- 1. Relief authority. You have already been advised with regard to this. [6]

2. Economic authority. This would have to be on a world wide basis as economic and social questions cannot be localised.

3. Regional Councils. These would be organised on a regional basis and would deal with political and other questions of particular interest to the area concerned.

These councils, I suggest, might be (a) Europe, (b) Far East, (c) Middle East, (d) Pan-America. On further consideration I do not favour the idea of British Empire or U.S.S.R. being constituted as Regional Councils.

4. World Council. This, I suggest, should be composed of representatives of the United Kingdom, the United States, the U.S.S.R. and China plus three representatives of each of the Regional Councils. This World Council would probably have to have a special executive dealing with security.

5. The above may appear somewhat far reaching. In my view, however, our best chance with the Americans is to take a bold course. I believe that they will be more receptive to an imaginative and clear cut proposal, however ambitious, than to suggestions for co-operation in progressively working towards a solution. This line of approach would also, I feel, have more chance of success with the Russians. In any case won't we be forced by world opinion as soon as the war ends, if not before, to produce a bold plan? After the war of 1914-18 the world was so sick of war that it demanded that measures should be taken to ensure that it would not recur. This demand produced the League of Nations plan. Whatever else that plan may have lacked it was not deficient in boldness.

It provided for outlawry of war, progressive disarmament and peaceful settlement of disputes between nations. After the tragedy and suffering of this war I do not believe that the world will accept any lesser objective.

Your so called hard headed practical man will of course take the line that failure of the League of Nations has shown the futility of these over-ambitious projects. This argument I will not accept.

The machinery we created in the League of Nations failed. The necessity of realising the objective for which the League of Nations was established is stronger than ever. The task of statesmanship is to point out the way by which it can be achieved and to enlist the support of the peoples of the world in giving effect to it.


1 See Document 86, note 1.

2 This is an incorrect reference to cablegram 205, which is published as Document 86.

3 See Document 101, note 3.

4 See Document 42, note 6.

5 Material in square brackets has been corrected from Bruce's copy on file AA:M100, February 1943.

6 See Interdepartmental Committee on External Relations papers D5 (undated) and D6 (dated 3 March) on file AA:A989, 43/735/29.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History