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56 Evatt to Johnson

Letter CANBERRA, 24 February 1944

I have the honour to inform you that careful consideration has been given to the recent message of the Secretary of State to the Prime Minister dated 3rd February [1], and relating in the main to the time of calling the conference contemplated in Clause 34 of the Australian New Zealand Agreement 1944. [2]

I note the important suggestion of the Secretary of State that the Australian Prime Minister should discuss the matter at Washington while en route to the forthcoming talks in London between Prime Ministers of the British Commonwealth of Nations. It was agreed between Australia and New Zealand during the recent Canberra Conference that the proposed international conference should not take place before the London talks and we readily accept the suggestion of an informal discussion at Washington.

While this answers the main suggestion of the Secretary of State, there are other observations in his message which require comment, so that there shall be no misunderstanding of Australia's general policy.

The general tenor of the message is that the holding of a 'formalized' or 'formal' conference may not be desirable at the present time. However, the degree of form or formality which might attach to the proposed conference is a matter on which prior agreement should easily be obtained. Of course we are more interested in the substance than in the form of the 'frank exchange of views' envisaged in Article 34 of the Australian - New Zealand Agreement.

It is the opinion of the Australian Government that the prosecution of the war, especially in the Pacific, would be aided by such a frank and friendly exchange of views. If it appeared that the Powers with territorial interests in the South Pacific were determined to safeguard the future welfare and good government of all the native peoples, it is certain that the joint war effort against Japan would be aided; something of positive value could be presented to the world as an answer to the Japanese political and economic propaganda within the great areas not yet liberated.

The message under reply rather assumes that Australia and New Zealand wished problems of regional defence to be dealt with prior to and irrespective of arrangements for a general international security system. This is not so. The Agreement between Australia and New Zealand makes the position very clear. Article 13 speaks of a regional zone of defence 'within the framework of a general world plan of security'. [3] Further, the obvious intention both of Australia and New Zealand was that any discussions of regional defence should be related at all times to plans for the general international organisation referred to in the Moscow declaration of October 1943. [4] With that organisation Australia and New Zealand desire to be associated at the planning stages and before any definite proposals are formulated, vide Article 14.

The Australian Government finds it difficult to appreciate the suggestion that a conference in Australia of representatives of every Allied Power without exception interested in the South Pacific Area, whether held formally or informally, could create any reasonable ground whatsoever for objection or suspicion. On the contrary, such a conference should, in our view, be a helpful contribution to the maintenance of harmonious action among the United Nations. All the matters covered by the Australian - New Zealand Agreement have post-war relevance and some of the matters will form the main content of the post-war settlement in this part of the world. The purpose of the conference is to ensure that the discussion of these great matters is set on foot in good time so as to avert the grave risk of insufficiently considered decisions which, through the great pressure of events at or towards the close of hostilities, may prejudice the final peace settlement.

Even in the midst of war every principal government of the United Nations has found it necessary to concern itself with these vital postwar problems, and nearly all have established agencies for the purpose of making suitable plans and arrangements. In this connection it is appropriate to emphasise that no country has more frequently taken the initiative than has the United States of America, and that in all such matters the United States has received the fullest possible support both from Australia and New Zealand.

We feel strongly that Australia and New Zealand are entitled to the fullest degree of preliminary consultation, especially in relation to Pacific matters. At the recent Cairo Conference decisions affecting the future of certain portions of the Pacific and vitally affecting both Australia and New Zealand were not only made but publicly announced without any prior reference either to the Australian or the New Zealand Government. [5] Actually the first news the Australian Government received of the Cairo decisions was through the medium of the press.

Further, it is gradually becoming clear that certain Governments, including the United States Government, are tending to indicate their policy, though not publicly, on important phases of the Pacific settlement.

For instance, at the Pacific Council on March 31st, 1943, the President said he had discussed with Mr. Eden different island territories in the Pacific. [6] The President expressed opinions not only as to sovereignty, but as to proposed economic co- ordination. The President added that he had also discussed with Mr. Eden the question of Japanese Mandated Islands and of Timor.

Subsequently, on 29th September, 1943, also at the Pacific Council, the President referred to the Marshall and Caroline Islands and other islands east of the Philippines. [7] He indicated the existence of plans to determine what post-war policy should be adopted for the maintenance of peace in that part of the Pacific.

Very recently, at the meeting of the Pacific Council on January 12th last [8], the President communicated his views regarding the future of the Pacific Islands both north and south of the Equator.

With reference to the latter, he spoke of the possibility of 'some arrangement' for their future allocation.

In the course of the meeting of January 12th the President referred specially to the question of what should be clone with the French Islands. The President stated that he had told Mr.

Churchill that the French should not have New Caledonia back under any conditions and that he believed that in this view Australia and New Zealand would back him up.

It is realised that the President may not have been speaking definitively on these matters but they are cited as illustrations of the fact that, in matters of tremendous consequence to Australia and New Zealand, post-war arrangements are under consideration by the United States Government. We fear that they may be dealt with in a way which can prejudice a harmonious Pacific settlement.

For instance, I should mention that Australia is under a deep obligation to Fighting France. It is publicly pledged to do its utmost to maintain the sovereignty of France in its present South Pacific possessions. Similar pledges have been given by other of the United Nations.

We trust that the United States Government will appreciate that our reference to France is intended merely to indicate, in our view, the danger of postponing the frank exchange of views which is the purpose of the conference referred to in Article 34 of the Australian - New Zealand Agreement.

It is also pointed out that Australia's proposal to call the International conference was announced in a speech delivered by myself as long ago as October 12th of last year. [9]

It is the hope of the Australian Government that the proposed conference should be held about July of the present year.

Therefore we request that, when the time comes for decision, the United States Government will give the conference such active and vigorous support as will help to secure its success.

As I have already mentioned, the United States has during the present war frequently taken the initiative in matters designed to secure closer collaboration among groups of the United Nations in matters of common interest. This initiative has extended to matters of regional co-operation, e.g. the Caribbean Commission.

Now, when Australia and New Zealand have taken the initiative in relation to an important aspect of future international collaboration in their part of the world, we confidently ask the United States for understanding and sympathy commensurate with that which has always been extended by both Australia and New Zealand.


1 Document 40, Attachment.

2 Document 26.

3 As published by the Commonwealth Govt, the Agreement here reads 'within the framework of a general system of world security'.

4 i.e. the Four Power Declaration.

5 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. VI, Documents 340-1.

6 See cablegram S66 of i April 1943 from the Legation in Washington, on file AA: A981, War 41B.

7 See cablegram 1118 of 29 September 1943 from the Legation in Washington, on the file cited in note 6.

8 See Document 13.

9 This statement was in fact made on 14 October 1943 (see Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, vol. 176, p. 575).

[AA:A989, 44/735/168/20]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History