Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Holden Furber of the Division of British Commonwealth Affairs

top secret

Subject: Preliminary Discussion with Representatives of the United Kingdom with reference to Base Rights in British administered islands, chiefly in the Pacific.

[Page 21]
Participants: Mr. Wright, British Embassy
Mr. Cockram
Mr. Maclean
Mr. Rogers
Mr. Maude
Commodore Clarke
Commander Frewin
Lt.-Col. Wilson
Major Munro
Group-Captain Rolfe
Air Commodore Findley, New Zealand Legation
Mr. Hickerson, EUR
Mr. Furber, BC
Captain Dennison
Colonel Tate

In beginning the conversation Mr. Wright re-emphasized the difficulty which was felt at the British Cabinet level with reference to reconciling the proposed arrangements with the United Nations Organization. He said that difficulty was also felt by the British Chiefs of Staff, and that support of the United Nations Organization was, of course, regarded as the central pillar of British policy; that they had telegraphed the text of the documents supplied by the American service representatives to London and expected comment thereon shortly. Mr. Hickerson said that we all realized that any agreement must be consistent with any undertakings that might be worked out through the United Nations Organization and that it was the view of the United States Government that the proposed arrangements will strengthen, and not weaken, UNO. He realized that this problem would have to be discussed at higher levels.

Commodore Clarke then proceeded to take up certain specific points from the draft presented by the American service representatives. In particular he wished to clarify the meaning of the phrase “right of control”26 and the American intention with respect to exercise of temporary control at the option of the United States. Captain Dennison explained that in talking about control the Navy was not thinking of control back in Washington, but of the problems of local command on the spot. In this connection it was pointed out that in actual fact in normal times neither the Navy nor Army was contemplating having a permanent garrison on any of the sites referred to with the exception of Canton Island. There was extended discussion as to how phraseology might be devised to meet the British apprehension with regard to the right to exercise suddenly and unexpectedly the option of the United States control. Commodore Clarke was glad to note that in the proposed draft of the base agreement with New [Page 22]Zealand27 the phrase “due notification” was used. This seemed to allay some of his apprehensions. Mr. Hickerson suggested that probably some such phrase as “after consultation and agreement” might have to be used in redrafting of this point, although, he said, the U. S. Chiefs of Staff would object. It was agreed then that Captain Dennison and Colonel Tate would confer with a small sub-committee of the British group with a view to working out acceptable phraseology with reference to the questions of temporary control and the details with regard to the maintenance of bases.

Commodore Clarke suggested that further clarification was needed with reference to the right to erect defense facilities, warning systems, et cetera, in areas adjacent to the area where the base in question was to be situated. It was felt that this difficulty could easily be overcome. In that connection Commodore Clarke felt there should be further redrafting which would make it clear that the British right to install new installations in British territory was not subject to veto by the United States. This also was felt to be a minor drafting point which could be easily straightened out. It was generally agreed that, of course, there would be mutual discussion as to the appropriate location of any new facilities in areas adjacent to those in which joint rights were exercised.

Commodore Clarke suggested that it would be very helpful if the British group could have as much detail as the American Navy could give them on the actual post-war plans with respect to these bases, and Captain Dennison said that the Navy would be glad to supply such details as it could, it being always understood that plans were subject to change due to lack of funds and other contingencies. It was again pointed out that the Department of State had no objections to the use of such a term as H.M. Forces in these agreements, which would make it clear that there was no objection from an American standpoint to the use of the bases not only by the United Kingdom but by other members of the British Commonwealth.

Commodore Clarke asked whether there was any intention of requesting similar rights in Dutch territories as there was in French. Captain Dennison thereupon indicated the sites under French and Dutch jurisdiction in which the Joint Chiefs of Staff were interested in negotiating for joint rights. Mr. Hickerson again emphasized that no indication should be made at this time to either the French or Dutch Governments of these intentions.

Commodore Clarke then asked whether it was entirely out of the question to discuss reciprocal rights with respect to either American or ex-enemy territories. Mr. Hickerson said that he would be glad [Page 23]to talk about any subject informally but he hoped that it would be recognized that the raising of this question of reciprocal rights would be very embarrassing. He pointed out that a strict interpretation of the term “reciprocal” would mean that whereas all the United States was asking for were rights with respect to facilities which it had constructed—reciprocal rights would refer to rights in facilities which the British had constructed on U.S. territory and there were no such facilities. Moreover, quite apart from that, he expressed the feeling in particular that in view of Mr. Churchill’s28 recent speeches the subject was one which had very embarrassing implications and that he hoped it would not be raised. (He indicated the implications with respect to ex-enemy territory might be even more embarrassing.) It was quite clear, as everyone knew, that in case of actual international hostilities involving the Pacific the problem would really solve itself.

Mr. Rogers then pointed out that the Colonial Office was naturally interested in many ancillary and somewhat minor questions which would inevitably come up in connection with the drafting of an agreement. He wished simply to mention them at this time. He pointed out that Funafuti was the administrative headquarters of the Ellice Island group, the only island in the group with a satisfactory anchorage, and though he admitted that Christmas Island was at present uninhabited he mentioned the fact that it was very difficult to find sufficient land for the Gilbertese islanders and there had been plans for the settlement of islanders on Christmas. He also mentioned the problems of health, in case any number of American personnel were suddenly introduced into this Pacific colonial area, the minor problems of wharfage and berthing on small islands where it was obvious that if any of such facilities were monopolized by the military the local economy would be most seriously upset. He pointed out that a great deal of thought would have to be given to the problem of jurisdiction and mentioned the obvious difficulties in granting to the United States jurisdiction over its civilan personnel. He likewise mentioned that the Fiji Government wished to be certain that the Nandi Airfield would be opened to civilian as well as military use.

The meeting adjourned with the understanding that Captain Dennison would submit a more detailed memorandum of the Navy’s postwar plans and that a small sub-committee would report upon the problem of the right of control.

  1. “Right of control” had been defined in previous documentation as “the right to exercise directing power over, and to regulate the conditions under which all parties entitled to rights thereat shall make use of, an area, base, or base site, installation or facility”. (811.245/1–1445)
  2. Ante, p. 3.
  3. Winston Churchill, former British Prime Minister, was in the United States during the first half of March, 1946, and made several addresses to American audiences, including the famous one at Fulton, Missouri. The unity of the United States and the United Kingdom was one of the themes he emphasized.