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132 Attlee to Chifley

Cablegram D867 LONDON, 21 September 1946, 9.15 p.m.


White Paper on central organisation for defence.

The following is the text of paragraphs on Commonwealth collaboration.

'Paragraph 36. Commonwealth Collaboration. Methods of collaboration between the various members of the Commonwealth are governed by the principle enunciated in the Statute of Westminster. Even before 1923 [1], the conception that there should be a central authority in London, representative of all the self-governing members of the Commonwealth to review defence questions and prepare central plans which would be binding on the whole Commonwealth and Empire was never recognized as practicable even if it were desirable. Admittedly the Dominions have a close interest in problems that affect the Commonwealth and Empire as a whole but each of them has a special and distinct outlook on world affairs dependent on its geographical position and its political and economic environment and Dominion Governments must retain full liberty of action. Co-operation in Commonwealth defence has therefore always taken the practical form of promoting uniformity of organisation, training and equipment of military forces, the closest possible touch between staffs and the interchange of officers to promote a common doctrine and outlook in military affairs. Collaboration between the naval, land and air forces from different parts of the Commonwealth and Empire in war-time has thus been easy and effective.

Paragraph 37. Since 1923, the natural tendency of the different parts of the Commonwealth to view problems from their own individual standpoint has become more marked. During the recent war no attempt was made to revive the Imperial War Cabinet of 1917-18 but this did not prevent the maintenance of a very close touch between the Governments of the Commonwealth not only by telegraphic means but by constant meetings between ministers, officers and officials on all levels. In this way it was possible to make common plans for military action for the coordination of munitions production and for the co-operation of scientists and technicians in research and development. This flexible system of handling problems of mutual concern has proved very effective and it was the object of study at the recent discussions in London in the Spring of 1946. The attitude of the assembled representatives of the Governments of the Commonwealth is illustrated by the communique issued at the conclusion of those discussions. Although this was concerned with consultation with the Dominions generally, it is fully applicable to our existing methods of consultation on defence questions. The following is an extract from that communique-

"At the conclusion of the meetings the assembled representatives of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa place on record their appreciation of the value of this series of consultations which exemplify the system of free discussion and exchanging of views that characterises the relations of the countries of the British Commonwealth.

The existing methods of consultation have proved their worth. They include a continuous exchange of information and comment between the different members of the Commonwealth. They are flexible and can be used to meet a variety of situations and needs, both those where the responsibility is on one member alone and where the responsibility may have to be shared.

They are peculiarly appropriate to the character of the British Commonwealth with its independent members who have shown by their sacrifices in the common cause their devotion to kindred ideals and their community of outlook. While all are willing to consider and adopt practical proposals for developing the existing system it is agreed that the methods now practised are preferable to any rigid centralised machinery. In their view such centralised machinery would not facilitate and might even hamper the combination of autonomy and unity which is characteristic of the British Commonwealth and is one of their great achievements."

Paragraph 38. The natural starting point for future progress in Commonwealth defence has been the idea of regional association.

Geography largely decides what problems most directly concern the separate members of the Commonwealth and it is the aim of the various Governments to recognise and take advantage of this fact by arranging that regional questions shall in the first place be studied in the appropriate regional centre. His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have proposed that there should be established in the capital of each of the Dominions United Kingdom liaison officers who could join with the Dominion Chiefs of Staff in studying regional security problems. Similarly they have proposed that Dominion Governments should appoint liaison officers in London. It has been suggested that by this means regional studies can be directed by the Government most immediately concerned with the help of a team of joint advisers.

The fruits of these studies can be made available in London and in the other Dominion capitals and in this way the measure of co- ordination which is necessary can be secured. The exact method of organising the interchange of missions will depend upon the varying constitutional practice in the different parts of the Commonwealth.

39. These proposals received a favourable hearing at the discussions in London in the Spring and His Majesty's Governments in the Dominions are studying them in detail. There is reason to suppose that in the main they will prove acceptable and that they will pave the way for machinery which while giving full play to the independence of the member states of the Commonwealth will be effective as a means of consultation and collaboration.

This regional method of organisation will also fit well into any regional schemes evolved under the aegis of the United Nations in which other states will join with members of the Commonwealth in appropriate geographical areas.'

1 The 1923 Imperial Conference had agreed that empire governments could conclude treaties and agreements with foreign powers.

[AA:A1067, E46/38/9]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History