747.47H/31: Telegram

The Minister in Australia (Johnson) to the Secretary of State

30. Below is quoted text of note signed by Minister for External Affairs and dated today which constitutes the Commonwealth Government’s reply to the message from the Secretary of State to Prime Minister Curtin (Department’s telegram No. 10, February 1, 6 p.m.)

“Sir: I have the honor to inform you that careful consideration has been given to the recent message of the Secretary of State to the Prime Minister dated February 3 and relating in the main to the time of calling the conference contemplated in Clause 34 of the Australian–New Zealand agreement 1944.

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 suggestions 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 mesage 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 [Page 186] 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 defense 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 defense ‘within the framework of a general world plan of security’. Further, the obvious intention both of Australia and New Zealand was that any discussions of regional defense should be related at all times to plans for the General International Organization referred to in the Moscow Declaration of October 1943. With that organization 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 postwar 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 emphasize 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. 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.

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For instance at the Pacific Council25 on March 31, 1943 the President said he had discussed with Mr. Eden different island territories in the Pacific.26 The President expressed opinions not only as to sovereignty, but as to proposed economic coordination. The President added that he had also discussed with Mr. Eden the question of Japanese mandated islands and of Timor.

Subsequently, on 29 September 1943, also at the Pacific Council, the President referred to the Marshall and Caroline Islands and other islands east of the Philippines. He indicated the existence of plans to determine what postwar 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 12 last, 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 12 the President referred specially to the question of what should be done with the French islands. The President stated that he had told Mr. Churchill27 that the French should not have New Caledonia back under any conditions and that he believed that the people of Australia and New Zealand would back him up.

It is realized 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 postwar arrangements are under consideration by the United States Government. We fear that they may be dealt with in a way which can prejudice 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 pointed out that Australia’s proposal to call the International Conference was announced in a speech delivered by myself as long ago as October 12 of last year.

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.

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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. Groups initiative has extended to matters of regional cooperation, 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.”

I understand a note along similar lines has been communicated by Prime Minister Fraser of New Zealand.28

  1. Pacific War Council, meeting for the first time on April 1, 1942, was created for the purpose of considering matters of policy relating to joint war efforts in the Pacific. The Department of State was not represented on the Council.
  2. Anthony Eden, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; see memorandum of conversation by the Secretary of State, March 27, 1943, Foreign Relations, 1943, vol. iii, p. 36.
  3. Winston S. Churchill, British Prime Minister.
  4. See infra.