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128 Evatt to Curtin

Letter CANBERRA, 24 February 1943

You will have seen from Dominions Office telegram D.78 [1] that the United Kingdom Government has set up under the Foreign Office a committee to examine certain major political and strategic questions connected with the peace settlement. These questions include armistice terms on the cessation of hostilities in Europe, Atlantic security, the treatment of Germany and the territorial disposition in Eastern Europe.

Taken in conjunction with Dominions Office telegrams D.74 and D.75 [2], which set out important instructions to the British Ambassador to Moscow, and Dominions Office telegram, Saving No. 1, of 4th December [3], which referred to the appointment of a Military Sub-Committee to study the military issues likely to arise at the armistice, this step is evidence that the United Kingdom Government is now engaging in intensive preparations for handling the practical questions which will arise immediately on the defeat of the European Axis Powers.

It is indicated in the telegrams under reference that in due course the views of Dominion Governments will be sought on these and related questions. [4]

Most of these questions, particularly those affecting the future of Germany and the relations between the principal members of the United Nations, are of vital interest to the Commonwealth of Australia. Already we have demonstrated our concern with them by the effective representations we made to the United Kingdom Government concerning the declaration of war on Finland, Hungary and Rumania [5] and by expressing our views on more than one occasion regarding Anglo-Russian relations, especially in regard to post-war collaboration. It goes without saying that a sound settlement in Europe is essential to general security and to general improvement in economic standards.

For some time my own department has been working on the international side of post-war reconstruction, and is in a position to proceed still further with this work. It is evident, however, that most of the questions listed above call for knowledge of strategic, as well as political matters, and that the examination of armistice terms or other instruments will call for legal expertness. For this reason I consider that the time has now come to provide means of collaboration in the study of the questions listed in telegram D.78. At the same time, the fact that these topics are all most secret requires that the collaboration be restricted to as small a circle as possible, while the fact that they will eventually involve decisions on matters of high policy requires that the results of the study shall be directly available to War Cabinet.

My suggestion is that senior officers be appointed from the Department of Defence, the Defence Committee (as comprising the Chiefs of Staff), the Department of External Affairs and the Attorney-General's Department to collaborate in an examination of political and strategic matters connected with the peace settlement. These officers would work in their own departments but in consultation with one another and their work would be coordinated by the Department of External Affairs, which would also attend to any necessary secretarial duties. It is suggested that this body would, in the first instance, be concerned chiefly with the topics likely to come before the United Kingdom Political and Strategic Committee mentioned in telegram D.78, for these are questions on which we may have to find an early answer. As and when required, however, they would turn to examine corresponding problems in other spheres of Australian interest, and changes or additions of personnel could be made to maintain the necessary expertness.

The fact that European questions are referred to them initially is due only to the circumstance that these questions have already arisen. For some time, however, an inquiry has been proceeding in the Department of External Affairs on the broad lines of Australian interests in South-East Asia and doubtless considerable work has also been done by the services regarding our strategic needs in this area. At the appropriate time, the results of this work will be available for a joint study of specific questions relating to the armistice terms or the peace settlements in the Far East.

It may be mentioned that, on the economic side of our external relations, my department has already established liaison with the Director-General of Post-War Reconstruction while, on matters of external economic reconstruction, such as trade reorganisation and food relief, which involve the interests of more than one department, the machinery for consultation has been provided in the form of an interdepartmental committee, with joint secretaries in the Department of External Affairs and the Department of Post- War Reconstruction. This committee covers a different field from the body now under consideration and its work will not be duplicated by the joint studies suggested above. A link between the two phases of our preparations for the international settlement-the examination of our economic needs and the study of political and strategic factors-will be provided in the Department of External Affairs.

If you concur in the suggestion which I have made, I propose to direct the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs to request the Secretary of the Department of Defence, the Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department and the Chiefs of Staff to nominate the senior officer who will actually engage in this work and to arrange the method of their collaboration with a view to starting the work immediately.


1 Dispatched 13 February. On file AA:A989, 43-44/735/1009.

2 Cablegrams D74-5 were dispatched on 12 February and are on the file cited in note 1.

3 Not found on Commonwealth Govt files.

4 The Commonwealth Govt advised the U.K. Govt on 27 February of the importance it placed on preparations for a peace settlement and emphasised the need for full consultation and exchange of views. See cablegram 50 on the file cited in note 1.

5 This issue is covered in vol. V of Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49.

[AA:A989, 43-44/735/1009]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History