Date range
Open the calendar popup.
Open the calendar popup.

145 Stokes to Department of External Affairs

Paper SINGAPORE [30 September 1946] [1]



I have no detailed comments to make on this Appreciation [2] because I dissent from the conception of the Appreciation as a whole. This dissent is mostly based on my finding that no active political defence policy is set forth beyond the anachronistic 'maintenance of good relations' to defend us against present and future political menace.

2. A main conclusion of the paper is that the first line of defence is political. With that I wholly agree. But that having been stated, the remaining conclusions are based on the assumption that the first line of defence is military.

3. As an Australian, I look upon South East Asia as the gateway through which the next enemy to the Commonwealth will come. When I reason how best to prevent him coming through that gateway, or at least how seriously to check him in his passage, this is my line of thought.

4. The possible menace to Australia is Russia and China in combination or singly. If it were to be Russia alone, then that would presuppose Chinese conquest or acquiescence. But I can conceive of no Russian menace to Australia without Russia first challenging the United States. If so challenged I believe the United States would defend Australia in order to defend herself, as she did in the instance of Japanese aggression. It would seem to follow that Russia is not the greater menace to Australia.

5. That leaves attack on Australia by China, alone or with the support of Russia. That would appear to be the major threat to Australia. It is my conviction that the British Commonwealth can do little to arrest or check any Asiatic aggressor through Malaya by military arms. The problem is first and last political.

6. I see no use for military forces in Malaya and Singapore, now or in the future, beyond adequate forces for the maintenance of internal law and order within the British administered territories of the area-be they Dominion, Colony or Trusteeship.

7. In the era in which a new life or death war will be fought I do not see how Britain will afford forces to hold-quite apart from reinforcing -Malaya. And surely Malaya would be as untenable a base for the enemy as for ourselves. By the time war is precipitated it will be clear how far Britain has been able to decentralise her industry and defence: how far the Australia- United Kingdom axis has become a complementary axis with respect to population and economic strength. I suggest that from now on all military planning, expenditure on bases, experiments, training, etc., were better concentrated on Australia with the intention that Commonwealth defence should be in and from Australia; that is, integrated from the outset with the Australian Defence authorities and forces.

8. What possible aid can we in Australia expect against an enemy approaching through Malaya? I believe that it will depend on the extent to which the Malay race, from the Siamese border to New Guinea, has been enabled to stem Chinese economic and therefore political penetration. If it is possible to secure that the Malay race shall stand by itself in its own lands and absorb or at least control the Chinese element, then that is the political policy which we should adopt at once: a positive political-defence policy in South East Asia.

9. For the Asiatic challenge which we are planning to meet I see no rhyme or reason for the military or strategic defence of Hongkong, Malaya and Singapore as it is envisaged in this Appreciation. By the time the challenge came, Hongkong and Singapore would surely be of far greater real strength to us as, say-free ports under some form of international trusteeship, than honeycombed with underground headquarters and defences, and with accommodation ready for supplies and reinforcements which it would never be possible to send.

10. I find no reason in present planning beyond seeing that the forces to be stationed here for the next ten years are entirely adequate for the maintenance of law and order in the British territories of the area. Such forces cannot be of too high a calibre or too well cared for.

11. Why should the projected Malayan Force be anything more than an internal police force? Any money which is forthcoming would surely be more usefully devoted to the creation, training and maintenance of a first-class Malayan gendarmerie and naval patrol force for the quelling of any local disorders by local men and not by European hand, and for the prevention of smuggling, superintendence of fishing, etc. Such remnants as exist of the Malay Regiment and Navy could be absorbed into this-Malayan Military and Naval Police Force-and paid for locally after a few years subsidy.

12. So far as the establishment of Service headquarters is concerned I see nothing so important as Intelligence-and again Intelligence. If political defence is to be adopted in South East Asia, and be successful, it primarily depends on the quality and co-ordination of our Far Eastern Intelligence organisation; an organisation closely knit with the diplomatic, police and economic intelligence sources. Then the policy ordained by London can be put into action on the best advice obtainable. I suggest that now is the time, while all the political reefs of the area are open cuts, that energy should be concentrated on securing a first-rate Intelligence organisation. It is now that the best young men should be gathering up all the complicated threads of the area.

The rewards of the work should be sufficient to see that we have the best retained here. It seems to me the most false economy to stilt your Service attachments to Bangkok, Saigon and Batavia while spending money on garrison officers who get bored and inefficient because they have nothing to bite on.

13. Whatever Commonwealth battle there is to be fought in the Pacific in the future, my belief is that it should be fought outwards from Australia as the citadel with a screen of very mobile advanced air bases in territory where a political defence policy has been well conducted. The battle of Malaya will be won or lost before war breaks out, if it is to break out, in the future. And I repeat my small opinion that it is a political battle that really begins today and that the forces we should use should be political with the best brain-weapons available.

14. In general, I feel that while this Appreciation has accepted that the Committee's first line of defence is political it has baulked the radical re-orientation in defence policy such acceptance entails. In another way it may be said that this most fundamental and refreshing principle of political defence appears as an intrusion in the paper rather than the activating principle from which the Appreciation should logically flow. I feel that while there is a certain vision in the paper as it stands, that vision might easily be discarded in London in favour of the more orthodox proposals it also contains. I think that even if the orthodox defence and offence planning of the Appreciation be accepted, channels are charted with unnecessary haste in waters where the currents and sands are more unknown than ever.


1 The paper itself is undated. It was sent to Evatt by Massey as 'Annex K' to Dispatch CM17, dated 30 September, reporting his and Stokes's attendance at a meeting of the British Defence Committee in South East Asia on 26 September.

2 The Appreciation, 'Annex J' to Dispatch CM17, had been drafted by the British Defence Committee in South East Asia to consider 'how best to organise and position British Forces in S.E.A. to meet internal and external threats likely to arise in the foreseeable future'.

[AA:A1838/2, 382/8/2/1, i]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History