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90 Attlee to Curtin

Circular cablegram D538 LONDON, 11 December 1942, 10.20 p.m.


We have for some time past had under consideration the question how to deal with the considerable volume of criticism which is heard from time to time regarding British Colonial Policy. Recent events in America-for example, Mr. Luce's article in Life and Mr.

Wendell Willkie's recent speeches [1]-have raised the question in an acute form. It is clear that there is a widespread and rooted feeling in the United States which regards the British Colonial Empire as equivalent to the private estate of a landlord preserved for his own benefit. Clearly, this view is unreasonable, but it is no use ignoring its existence. Moreover, we must, if we can, endeavour to get the United States to express their willingness to enter some general defence scheme, which would include the defence of Colonial areas. Their assistance, however, will not be forthcoming unless we can secure their general goodwill. With this in view, it is essential that we should act now to convince United States opinion that our Colonial Policy is not a danger and an anachronism as certain quarters in that country are inclined to regard it.

Some time ago His Majesty's Ambassador at Washington had a discussion with the United States Secretary of State on this matter. [2] Mr. Hull referred to the question how the statements of the Atlantic Charter could best be utilised to guide opinion wisely in relation to backward peoples of differing grades and capacities and said that his idea was to get some general statement in which we might all assert broad purposes, making plain that attainment of freedom involved mutual responsibility of what he called 'parent states' and of those who aspired to it. He was prepared to include a very clear expression against officious intervention from outside with affairs which were responsibility of 'parent states' and said that wide variety of the problem could be appropriately stressed.

It appears to us that Mr. Hull's suggestion affords a valuable basis for further action, and we have been considering, in consultation with General Smuts during his visit to London, what would be most convenient course.

It seems to us that, as a first step, it would be desirable that we should endeavour to remove the misconceptions about British Colonial Policy which are prevalent in the United States and elsewhere. We should explain the principles on which our Colonial Policy has been founded; how, within our resources, we have consistently applied liberal ideas in social, economic and political sphere for the benefit of the peoples concerned and how our administration of backward territories has never meant that others have been deprived of free access to their resources. Lord Cranborne's recent speech in the House of Lords was, therefore, designed with this object in view.

It is clearly important that we should encourage the United States to look outwards, rather than inwards, and to be a world power rather than a hemispheric power. For this purpose we should do well not to resent, but rather to welcome, American interest in the British Colonial Empire and there would be advantages in so arranging our affairs that the United States joins in public acceptance of a line of policy towards Colonial peoples and their development.

As a next step, therefore, we should propose to follow up the suggestion thrown out by Mr. Hull and propose a joint declaration (to which other Colonial Powers might possibly subscribe) on the general Colonial question. Such a document if participated in by the United States Government should do much to damp down the restless, irresponsible and ignorant criticism which has been prevalent in America and help to dispel the illusion that this is an Anglo-American question, whereas it is, of course, of equal concern to all powers with oversea possessions. It would not, of course, constitute a formal commitment on the part of the United States to join in a general defence scheme for Colonial areas, but it would certainly be a step towards the acceptance of obligations for defence.

We are greatly attracted by Mr. Hull's [conception] [3] of 'parent states' and something on the lines of his remarks on that point would be an essential basis of the declaration. With this in mind as a basis, the line which we should like to see such a declaration take would be as follows:

(1) First aim of United Nations is to defeat present aggression and render future aggression impossible.

(2) This aim requires for its successful achievement the establishment of conditions under which security and prosperity can be assured to all nations. Since it is evident that there are certain peoples whose social equipment and resources are not yet such as to enable them to achieve these ends by themselves, it will be a clear responsibility of all 'parent states' to enter into general defence schemes designed to ensure freedom from fear for all peoples.

(3) The 'parent states' must aim to promote the social, economic and political well-being of people[s] who are unable, without danger to themselves and to others, to assume full responsibility for their affairs. Defence having been assured, the 'parent states', with their special qualifications for the task, must accept the duty of guiding and developing the social and political institutions of the territories with which they are concerned, that their peoples may in due course be able to discharge the other responsibilities of government.

(4) By this combination of defence and orderly development the 'parent states' will fulfil their responsibilities to those peoples and enable them to enjoy rising standards of life and to continue their advance along the path of progress. In pursuance of this policy the natural resources of Colonial territories will be organised and marketed, not for the promotion merely of commercial ends, but in the best interests of the people concerned and of the world as a whole.

We should propose that His Majesty's Ambassador [should] in the first place sound Mr. Hull on the above list of points as the basis for a declaration. If Mr. Hull agrees that a declaration on these lines would be in accordance with his view[s] His Majesty's Ambassador would then explain to him that we think that practical application of these principles would need to be discussed and agreed as soon as the declaration had been published and inform him that our present line of thought is:

(a) That necessary practical measures would take the form of machinery for consultation and collaboration between 'parent states' with the aim of ensuring a common policy in those regions of the world in which they have interests as 'parent states'. For this purpose Regional Commissions composed of representatives of such states should be constituted. Provision should also be made for the representation of nations which have a major defence or economic interest in the regions concerned. Such regions might be:

First: Far East;

Second: Africa; and Third: The West Atlantic, and any others which at a later stage may seem appropriate.

(b) That within this framework and subject to the principles laid down in paragraphs (2) and (3) of the joint declaration responsibility for administration of its own territories would rest with the individual 'parent state' concerned.

Should be glad to learn as soon as possible whether you have any comments or suggestions to make regarding the above proposals.

You will appreciate that we are very anxious to proceed with the matter with the least possible delay.

1 See Document 56, note 1.

2 See Document 56, note 2.

3 Words in square brackets have been corrected/inserted from the London copy in PRO:DO 114/119.

[AA:A989, 43/735/1021]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History