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94 Commonwealth Government to Attlee

Cablegram 2 [1] CANBERRA, 2 January 1943


Your telegram D. 538. [2]

We have given consideration to the contents of your telegram and to your and Hull's views on question of colonies. At the moment we do not propose to offer any exhaustive comment, but we think it important that you should be acquainted with preliminary observations on the matter.

[The text of a statement on colonial policy made by Evatt to the House of Representatives on 3 September 1942 has been omitted.]

3. As colonial policy will be one of the main questions affecting post-war relations of United Nations, as well as one of the chief tests by which the readiness of the United Nations to apply the principles of the Atlantic Charter will be judged, we feel that the initial approach to the matter should be on the widest possible basis. An approach arising mainly from a desire to meet current criticism in the United States is in our view far too narrow. Because it would be essentially defensive it could hardly provide a satisfactory basis for reaching a genuine accord of view with United States Administration. The question should be presented to the United States, and in due course to other principal Powers interested, as an integral and highly important part of the whole range of questions affecting the post-war international order in which it is essential that the British Commonwealth should work in accord with the principal United Nations.

4. For these reasons a condition precedent to the initiation of the matter with the United States Administration would appear to be a most careful preliminary examination, and if possible prior agreement among the members of the British Commonwealth on broad fundamental principles. In this connection the degree and extent to which parent States are prepared to relinquish sovereignty in favour of principle of international trusteeship seems most important. If, in the meantime, it is necessary to deal with criticism in United States public opinion this is surely better done through existing information and propaganda channels.

5. An agreed declaration on colonial policy containing specific assurances must be an essential part of the declared war aims of the United Nations. Such a declaration would, apart from its intrinsic merit as a charter of colonial policy, be of cardinal importance for the proper conduct of political warfare in South- east Asia and Pacific region.

So far our propaganda is necessarily of a negative character. We have little to offer as an alternative of the Japanese co- prosperity sphere until such time as the Allied Nations reach definite understanding on the fundamental principles which shall guide their future colonial policy and administration.

We think that a full and frank exploration of the question with the United States Administration is a necessary preliminary to such a declaration, though we recognise a risk that such bilateral conversations may create suspicion and give rise to misunderstanding with other colonial Powers.

6. In our view the decision as to whether the declaration should be a joint Anglo-American declaration or whether the Netherlands and other colonial Powers should be associated with it could safely be left to the conclusion of the exploratory stage. It would be well to have in mind however the fact that the colonial

settlement will have an important bearing on general peace settlement and that for that reason all leading members of the United Nations, and in fact all Powers having overseas possessions, will be interested in the general lines of the contemplated declaration.

7. As for the actual content of post-war colonial policy we confine ourselves at this point to the following brief observations:-

(a) There should be recognition that the administration of territories which have not yet attained self-government is a trust to be exercised in the first place in the interests of (and to the fullest possible degree in association with) the native inhabitants, and in the second place in the promotion of the common welfare of the particular regional group as a whole, and in the third place in the interests of the other nations.

(b) Parent states (a better term would be mandatory, guardian or trustee states) should accept the principle of accountability for their trust to some International Colonial Commission, operating through machinery analogous to the Permanent Mandates Commission, which on the whole was regarded as successful.

(c) There should be explicit acceptance of the principle that the colonial peoples should take part, to the fullest degree compatible with their social and political development, in the government both of their own territories and of the region in which they live; trustee states to take immediate and practical steps to promote the social, economic and political progress of such peoples, looking to the time when they will, each at the appropriate stage, undertake the full responsibilities of self- government.

(d) Exclusive economic rights in colonial territories to be abandoned and ready access to their markets and raw materials to be open to all countries.

(e) Regional Colonial Commissions, consisting of representatives of trustee states, of other primarily interested states, including the Dominions in their respective areas and of native peoples who have reached or are approaching the stage of self-government, to be established.

This body might be (i) regarded as the agent of the International Colonial Commission in matters pertaining to the implementation of agreed international policy; (ii) co-operative and consultative for dealing with questions of mutual concern to all the adjacent colonies, and for promoting regional educational, social and economic standards.

(f) Within this framework, and subject to the principles laid down in (a), (b), (c) and (d) above, responsibility for the administration of colonial territories to continue to be that of the trustee state with which in each case the territory has been associated in the past, subject to Peace Treaty adjustments involving alterations of sovereignty in the interests of general security.

8. These observations are necessarily of the briefest character and take no account at this stage either of the profound influence on colonial development which would follow from application of the economic principles set out in Article 7 of our respective Mutual Aid Agreements with the United States or of the degree to which colonial development will be subject to arrangements for general international security. On this latter point we have not found it easy to follow the reasons for the special emphasis laid on colonial defence in the suggestions conveyed in your D.538.

Colonial security would inevitably be a corollary of a general security system and it would in our view be a mistake at this stage to anticipate one aspect of this system by seeking what would be tantamount to a guarantee of American participation in colonial defence.

9. We should appreciate being informed of the views of the other

Dominion Governments in reply to your telegram D.538. [3]

1 Repeated to the Canadian, N.Z. and South African Govts. On 11 January a copy was dispatched to the Legation in Washington with an instruction that Hull and Halifax should be informed of the Commonwealth Govt's views (see cablegrams 41-2 on file AA:A989, 43/735/1021).

2 Document 90.

3 See Smuts's cablegram 1 of 5 January and Bruce's cablegrams 3[A] and 4[A] of 7 January (repeating the views of the Canadian and N.Z. Govts) on the file cited in note 1.

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

Category: International relations

Topic: History