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152 Curtin to Forde

Cablegram 24 LONDON, 16 May 1944, 9.55 p.m.


Following for the Acting Prime Minister, Mr. Forde.

Improvements in the Machinery for Empire Co-operation.

The following statement was submitted by me to the Conference.' Begins.

1. THE ASSOCIATION OF THE DOMINIONS IN THE HIGHER DIRECTION OF THE WAR If one might draw a general conclusion on the consensus of opinion of these meetings it is the unanimity of view that there is no question of greater importance than the development of co- operation and consultation between the members of the British Commonwealth. There may be a variety of views as to ways of doing it but there is unanimity as to objective that we seek to attain.

Methods of consultation and co-operation have been progressively evolved since the world war of 1914/18. In addition, the Imperial Conferences of 1923, 1926 and 1937 were marked by the enunciation of important guiding principles of Imperial defence.

Notwithstanding satisfactory progress it was recognised that should another war unhappily come these methods would require strengthening.

At the Imperial Conference of 1937, the Australian Government raised with the United Kingdom Government the question of Australian representation in any Imperial machinery that might be devised for higher direction in war. [2] The matter was noted as one for consideration on the outbreak of war.

After the commencement of the present war, though steps were taken to keep the Dominions fully informed, notably by cables from Prime Minister to Prime Minister, by increase in flow of Dominion Office cables and by daily meetings of the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs with the High Commissioners, there was no implementation of the suggestion for the association of Dominion representatives with higher direction of the war.

Upon the outbreak of war with Japan the Australian Government felt that it was imperative that they should play a greater part in the formulation of policy and accordingly asked that the Australian Government:-

(1) Should have full knowledge of all essential facts, developments and trends of policy;

(2) Should obtain this knowledge in time to express its view before decisions are taken and (3) Should have the opportunity, through its accredited representative, of presenting to and discussing with the War Cabinet important committees (such as the Defence Committee) and the Prime Minister or other senior ministers any suggestions as to new policy or views on policy under consideration that Australia might from time to time desire to submit. [3]

In January, 1942, the Advisory War Council in Australia upon which are representatives not only of the Government but also of the Opposition, when considering proposals for the establishment of Far Eastern Council in London with which it did not agree recommended:-

'That the accredited representative of the Australian Government shall have the right to be heard in War Cabinet in formulation and direction of policy.' [4]

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom replied to Australia's request indicating acceptance and stating that:-

'The fullest opportunity for knowing all essential facts and putting forward suggestions and views will be afforded to Sir Earle Page' [5]

who had been nominated by Australia as their accredited representative.

Early in 1942 Mr. Bruce, the Australian High Commissioner in London, succeeded Sir Earle Page as the accredited representative, and has continued to act in this capacity ever since. This system of an accredited representative has worked reasonably well but this in considerable measure has been due to advantages which Mr.

Bruce enjoyed. He was Prime Minister of Australia for nearly seven years and at the outbreak of war had been resident in London as High Commissioner for some six years. The personal relations which he had been able to establish with British Ministers and with the United Kingdom Departments has enabled him to carry out his duties as accredited representative in a way that would not have been possible to anyone who had not close contacts here which Mr. Bruce enjoyed.

The system, however, is not an ideal one, because the War Cabinet is not an Imperial War Cabinet but the United Kingdom War Cabinet responsible to the United Kingdom Parliament.

In carrying out its duties the Cabinet has to discuss and determine the United Kingdom attitude upon all questions of policy. Anyone with experience of Cabinet work knows that at times differences between Ministers arise and it is certainly not desirable and at times extremely embarrassing to sort these differences out in the presence of an outsider, however discreet and understanding he might be.

In addition to these practical difficulties there is the fact that it is somewhat anomalous that there should be an Australian representative in War Cabinet when none of the other Dominions have taken advantage of the invitation of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to appoint an accredited representative in the same way that Australia has done.

While I am loath to propose anything which would add to the tremendous burden which Mr. Churchill is bearing at the present time I would like to make this suggestion for consideration.

It would be invaluable if the Prime Minister could find the time, notwithstanding his heavy and onerous responsibilities, to meet the High Commissioners and the Secretary of State once a month.

The object of these meetings would be for the Prime Minister to give a review of the current situation and problems and to enable the Dominion representatives to raise any questions which they consider should be the subject of special consultation with Dominions.

In addition to these advantages such a meeting would give the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom a regular personal contact with spokesmen from the Dominions and provide an opportunity of hearing at first hand of the problems of those countries.

The adoption of this suggestion which would give to the accredited representative of the Australian Government a contact with the Prime Minister in association with his Dominion colleagues has such advantages that I would prefer it to the present practice of the accredited representative of Australia sitting in isolation in the United Kingdom War Cabinet. In short, the Australian representative would be the accredited representative to the War Cabinet and not the accredited representative in the War Cabinet but he would continue to function in the same way as he has done in the past in regard to his detailed activities. Should the circumstances surrounding the consideration of any matter indicate the desirability of the Australian accredited representative attending a meeting of the United Kingdom War Cabinet he would, of course, be able to do so in accordance with the principle already agreed to by the United Kingdom Government.

I feel that the monthly meeting of the Prime Minister with the Dominion representatives would be another and valuable link in the chain of Imperial consultation and co-operation.

2. IMPROVED MACHINERY FOR EMPIRE CO-OPERATION I would now refer to certain proposals in a speech made by me last December [6] in which I outlined some ideas for improved machinery for Empire consultation and co-operation:-

(i) Meetings of Prime Ministers The aim of all machinery must be to provide for full and continuous consultation. This consultation must be consistent with the sovereign control of its policy by each Government.

No machinery which may be established can be superior to or more satisfactory than the periodical conferences of Prime Ministers of various parts of the Empire, provided they are held frequently.

The Prime Ministers are the heads of their respective Governments and no one else can speak with the same authority. There can be no substitute for conferences of Prime Ministers on questions of major Empire policy.

Difficulties of course will arise in arranging such meetings owing to local circumstances in each part of the Empire but in normal times conferences should be possible at fairly frequent intervals.

The place of meeting should not necessarily always be in London.

Opportunity should be taken to meet in other parts of the Empire.

Such a procedure would emphasise to the various parts of the Empire the reality of the inter-relation of the Governments and people of the Empire in the same way that the King's representative in each Dominion and Colony typifies their loyalty to a common sovereign.

(ii) Meetings of Ministers and Officials The meetings of the Prime Ministers should be supplemented and reinforced by meetings of other Ministers of the British Commonwealth as the occasion may require to deal with important questions of mutual interest such as trade and communications.

Again such conferences need not necessarily be held always in the one place.

There should also be meetings at the official level between officers from the various parts of the Empire to deal with technical matters or to carry out exploratory discussions with a view to their subsequent consideration by Governments. The meetings of Ministers and officials should be summoned as the occasion may require and at most appropriate or convenient place of meeting.

(iii) Procedure Between Conferences of Prime Ministers The procedure to be followed in London between Conferences of Prime Ministers would therefore be:-

(a) The monthly meetings of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Dominion representatives as suggested earlier.

(b) The regular daily meeting of the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and all the High Commissioners.

There is also the ordinary day to day machinery for dealing with the three major groups of important questions comprising foreign affairs, defence and financial, economic and social questions.

(1) Foreign Affairs The External Affairs staffs in the respective High Commissioners' offices are in close contact with the Foreign Office. Each Dominion will create such machinery and employ such methods as appear desirable in the light of his own circumstances.

(2) Defence All the Dominions have their service representatives in the United Kingdom. The position of the individual Dominions varies so greatly that it would seem desirable to avoid attempting to establish a uniform system of co-operation. The essential thing is that there should be agreement to co-operate not only between the United Kingdom and the Dominions but between the individual Dominions.

(3) Financial, Economic and Social Questions During the War there has been a great expansion of co-operation in regard to financial, economic and social questions. It is desirable that this co-operation should be maintained and increased. This will happen as a result of the contacts established during the War, provided the Empire Governments accept the principle and so instruct their officials.

(iv) Examination of Desirability of Centralisation of Efforts It is suggested that so much individual co-operation has now been established that it would seem that the time is approaching when a start might be made in bringing it under a central direction.

As the term 'Empire Secretariat' appears to arouse a certain anxiety and is liable to create misunderstandings, I do not employ it.

I would suggest, however, that the question should be examined as to whether some centralisation of effort would be desirable. Such an examination could be carried out by a small committee to which the United Kingdom and each of the Dominions would appoint representatives.

3. THE IMPORTANCE OF POST-WAR CO-OPERATION IN EMPIRE DEFENCE The preservation of peace is vital to re-building of the post-war world which is held out to mankind as the recompense for the sacrifices it is being called upon to make.

We hope to be able to maintain peace by the system of world security which it is our aim to build. Our own experience within the British Commonwealth has shown that the growth of co-operation has been slow, notwithstanding that we have so much in common. It remains to be seen how quickly and effectively we can develop and maintain a system of world security but we dare not fail our own people in providing the security for which they so greatly yearn.

In doing so by co-operation amongst ourselves we also contribute to world security at large. The one is complementary to the other.

I would refer to three points which I mentioned at an earlier session of the Conference. [7] I said that security of any part of the British Empire in future will rest on three safeguards each wider in its scope than the other:-

(i) Firstly, there is national defence, [the] [8] policy for which is purely responsibility of the Government concerned. The extent and nature of Government's defence policy will be influenced by the degree of reliance that can be placed on second and third safeguards.

(ii) The second safeguard is the degree of Empire co-operation which can be established. This is a matter of bilateral or multilateral planning and arrangement according to the strategical position of the particular part of the Empire concerned, the views of its Government and those of the other Governments that may be concerned.

(iii) Third safeguard is the system of collective security which can be organised on world and regional basis.

These safeguards are also complementary to each other and none is exclusive of the others.

The need for the co-ordination of defence policies for the exchange of information and for the preparation of plans to ensure the effectiveness of the first two of these safeguards-national defence and Empire co-operation-was fully demonstrated by the experience of Australia in this War.

In December, 1941, an important decision was taken on global strategy which provided for the defeat of Germany first.

Information of this was not learnt by the Australian Government until May, 1942 [9], notwithstanding that Singapore had fallen in the previous February, that the Malay - Netherlands East Indies barrier had crumbled and that the Japanese had advanced to our very doorstep in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

On the assumption of the validity of a scheme of Empire defence on which Australia's defence policy had been based the Government of the day had concentrated on the maximum contribution it could make to the fighting fronts overseas. Three Divisions, with a strength of 101,000 men and over 10,000 air personnel were overseas on the outbreak of the War with Japan. It, therefore, became a matter of critical importance to marshal the maximum strength of which we were capable in order to meet an entirely transformed position in the Pacific Ocean. Part of the A.I.F. returned just in the nick of time. [These) troops were almost immediately sent to New Guinea without being retrained in jungle warfare and the threat of invasion was removed by the first New Guinea campaign.

The defence of the south west Pacific must be made stronger than in the past. I stated the summarised problem of the regional defence of the south west Pacific as follows at the Australian - New Zealand Conference in January last and my views were fully endorsed by the Prime Minister of New Zealand. (Then follows a repetition of part of my speech made on that occasion.) While Australia is quite ready to play its part in a world organization along the lines mentioned, it is nevertheless a fact of current experience that when the peace of the Pacific is broken Australia's war effort must be concentrated in that area. In the opinion of the Australian Government it is essential that the plans should exist between the parts of the Empire concerned and also between the other nations concerned for their co-operation for mutual defence in the strategical area which I have outlined.

The Australian people have recently faced the stark realism of a perilous situation. They are determined that everything possible shall be done to prevent a recurrence of a similar danger.


1 Dated 15 May. In AA:A6712,1944, Top Secret, PMM(44) 14th Meeting, annexe 1.

2 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. 1, editorial note, pp. 6-10.

3 See ibid., vol. V, Documents 175 and 248, note 4. 4 ibid., Document 319.

5 ibid., Document 248, note 4.

6 See Document 57, note 2.

7 See Curtin's speech of 9 May in AA:A6712, 1944, Top Secret, PMM(44) 9th Meeting.

8 Words in square brackets have been inserted/corrected from the London copy on file AA:A5954, box 656.

9 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 19937-49, vol. V, Document 497.

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

Category: International relations

Topic: History