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282 Bruce to Curtin

Cablegram 168[A] LONDON, 25 September 1943, 8.40 p.m.


Your telegram 244 of 16th September [1] is of paramount importance in that it raises the great issue of the international status of the Dominions and the reconciliation of that status with the Dominions' membership of the Commonwealth of British Nations.

Your telegram has forced the facing of this issue here and before a reply is sent to you its terms will have to be approved by the Prime Minister and possibly the matter may be taken to the War Cabinet. This will involve some delay and, in the meantime, it would perhaps be useful that I should send you some thoughts.

It appears to me that there are two issues involved. The first is to find a way of dealing with the immediate problem of securing the proposed British-American-Soviet Security Declaration without doing violence to the principles, which may be involved in the second issue which has to be determined, namely the reconciliation of the Dominions' international status with their membership of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

With regard to the former of these issues it is clearly desirable, if practicable, that the British Party to the Security Declaration should be the British Commonwealth of Nations and not the United Kingdom alone. The British counterpart to the U.S.S.R. and United States of America with their immense, concentrated resources and their respective populations of about 200 and 130 million people is not the United Kingdom plus its dependent Empire, but the association of British Nations known as the Commonwealth of British Nations.

In paragraph 6 of your telegram you suggest that Australia should be definitely included as one of the parties to act on behalf of the community of Nations 'either separately or as part of the British Commonwealth of Nations'.

I am sure that you will have realised the serious practical difficulties of 'separate' adherence to the Declaration. It may, however, be helpful if I briefly set them out with particular reference to how they would be seen here.

(a) The intention is that the Declaration should be by the great powers which have the armed strength necessary to implement the undertakings they are entering into.

In paragraph 2 of your telegram you suggest that in view of the fact that 'the terms of obligation are of such a nature that it is extremely doubtful whether China could be regarded as capable of fulfilling them' it is undesirable that China should be a party to the Declaration.

The same argument could be employed with regard to any one of the Dominions- (b) The other United Nations e.g. Netherlands would never accept the inclusion of individual Dominions and their own exclusion. The only grounds upon which we could draw a distinction would be that we are continuing active participants in the war in control of substantial armed forces, but I cannot see their opposition being overcome by this argument.

(c) The United States of America and U.S.S.R. would not agree to multiple British representation in the discussions for the purpose of implementing the objectives of the Declaration.

(d) I do not think there is any prospect that the other Dominions would unanimously desire 'separate' representation. If they did not, the objective of showing that the British party to the Declaration is the Commonwealth of British Nations and not the United Kingdom would be defeated and an impression of division in the British Empire would be given.

By your phrase 'as part of the British Commonwealth of Nations' (paragraph 6 of your telegram) you clearly mean that the British Commonwealth of Nations should be the third party to the Declaration, but presumably with a definition which would include the individual Dominions, i.e. the United Kingdom would sign the Declaration for and on behalf of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations who would be specifically named. This would involve fewer difficulties than 'separate' adherence.

The doubt is whether agreement between the constituent members of the British Commonwealth could be obtained to this course. The reason which I see that might make it unacceptable to the Dominions is that the matter is not limited to signature but the signatories will subsequently have to consult and co-operate in securing the objectives of the Declaration.

In such consultation we should only be able to secure one British representative and in face of the facts it is difficult to see that representation being other than the person for the time being acting for the United Kingdom. Whether you would be prepared to accept that position I do not know, but I am very doubtful whether either Canada or South A[frica] [2] would be willing to do so. It might, however, be possible to get acceptance of the proposed method of signature, leaving the difficult question of representation to be settled later.

If, however, this is found impossible, it is essential in view of the great importance 'that the United States of America and Soviet Russia should definitely commit themselves to post-war collaboration and to policing the peace settlement' (paragraph 1 of your telegram) to find some other way out of the difficulty.

The only way I can see is for us to agree to the United Kingdom being the party to the Declaration and concurrently for a public statement to be made making clear that the Dominions had been consulted with regard to and concurred in the terms of the Declaration and that the United Kingdom will consult and co- operate with the Dominions in giving effect to it.

I appreciate of course that such a line brings us back to the fundamental problem that you have recently publicly raised of ways and means whereby effective consultation and co-operation can be assured between the constituent members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. [3] Notwithstanding this I attach such importance to getting the United States of America and U.S.S.R. in the bag I would adopt some such course as I have suggested above rather than wreck the possibility on the rock of inter-imperial constitutional relations.

The lead which you have given on this constitutional question must, however, in my view be followed up and there are healthy signs that this necessity is being increasingly recognised here.

I shall be obliged if you will let me have your views so that I will know what line you would wish me to [follow] in my personal contacts here.

I have not referred in detail to the question of China. While I agree entirely with your views I am afraid there is no possibility of moving the Americans.


1 Document 280.

2 Words in square brackets have been corrected/inserted from Bruce's copy on file AA:M100, September 1943.

3 See Document 272.

[AA:A989, 43/1/1]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History