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151 Curtin to Forde

Cablegram 23 LONDON, 16 May 1944, 9.51 p.m.


Addressed to the Acting Prime Minister, Mr. Forde.

Improvements in machinery for Empire co-operation.

1. I submitted to Conference yesterday my suggestions for improvements in machinery for Empire co-operation as outlined in the next following cablegram. [1]

2. Unfortunately, Churchill and Smuts were not present but I was not enamoured of prospect of getting far with the matter after Mr.

MacKenzie King's address to Parliament in which he said-

'From time to time it is suggested that we should seek new methods of communication and consultation. I believe very strongly in close consultation, close co-operation and effective co-ordination of policies. What more effective means of co-operation could have been found than those which, in spite of all the handicaps of war, have worked with such complete success! It is true that we have no sitting in London continuously of a visible Imperial War Cabinet or Council. But we have what is much more important, though invisible, a continuing conference of the cabinets of the Commonwealth. It is a conference of cabinets which deal from day to day, and not infrequently from hour to hour, with policies of common concern. When decisions are taken they are not the decisions of the Prime Ministers or other individual ministers meeting apart from their own colleagues and away from their own countries. They are decisions reached after mature consideration by all members of the cabinets of each country with a full consciousness of their immediate responsibilities to their respective parliaments.

Let us by all means seek to improve where we can. But in considering new methods of organisation we cannot be too careful to see that to our own people the new method will not appear as an attempt to limit their freedom of decisions, or to peoples outside the Commonwealth as an attempt to establish separate bloc.' It will be evident from foregoing and from views expressed by United Kingdom ministers that an Imperial War Cabinet is not an attainable objective.

3. As you will see from my statement I do not agree with Mr.

MacKenzie King's view that means of co-operation have worked with complete success during war. I point out in part three of my statement that Australia, which was not consulted on major decision of global strategy affecting its security, had a narrow escape. My statement proceeds to indicate that by our own efforts in local defence by cooperation with other parts of the Empire concerned and by co-operation with other nations with interest in South West Pacific we are resolved to do everything possible to prevent recurrence of similar danger.

4. In the discussion the Dominions Secretary threw in some miscellaneous suggestions for consideration of Governments. Canada said that the question would have to be considered by their Government. New Zealand agreed with my statement. The following conclusions were recorded- (a) There was general agreement with the proposal put forward by the Prime Minister of Australia that there should be monthly meetings at which the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom would meet the High Commissioners of the Dominions and the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to give an opportunity for the Prime Minister to give review of current situation and problems and for Dominion High Commissioners to raise any questions which they consider should be subject consultation with Dominions.

(b) The Dominion Prime Ministers undertook to consult their Governments and to subsequently communicate with United Kingdom Government on various proposals put forward in discussion for improvement defence co-operation within the Commonwealth and as to whether a small technical committee representative of the United Kingdom and of the Dominions should be set up to examine further any of these proposals.

5. If we cannot ultimately obtain general agreement I propose that we should develop our ideas with the United Kingdom Government and also with the New Zealand Government in matters where it may be concerned along lines indicated in my statement. The question can await my return, but I would like to let you know that my observations in part one relative to Australian representation in the United Kingdom War Cabinet need to be supplemented by a report which I shall convey verbally to the Government.


1 Document 152.

[AA:A5954, BOX 1153]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History