Memorandum of Conversation, by the Deputy Director of the Office of European Affairs (Hickerson)

top secret

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

Participants: Mr. Wright, British Embassy
Mr. Cockram
Mr. Maclean
Mr. Rogers
Mr. Maude
Commodore Clarke
Commander Frewin
Brigadier Cornwall-Jones
Lt-Col. Wilson
Major Munro
Group-Captain Rolfe
Air Commodore Findlay, New Zealand Legation
Mr. Searls, S
Mr. Hickerson, EUR
Mr. Furber, BC
Captain Dennison
Colonel Tate

Mr. Michael Wright of the British Embassy opened the discussion. Mr. Wright referred to the brief exchange of views between Mr. Bevin and Mr. Byrnes in London with reference to these questions. He said that the conversations opening now in Washington [Page 14]were preliminary and exploratory and that on the British side they would like to clarify their ideas as to the rights desired in each island. They understood that the State Department was not yet ready with a full statement with reference to American claims to disputed islands and that therefore the conversation would proceed without reference to the issue of sovereignty which was, of course, of much concern to the British. He also said that Mr. Bevin’s chief fear with reference to this general subject arose out of the possibility that publicity with regard to any separate bilateral base agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom would have unfortunate repercussions and that Mr. Bevin was most concerned that these issues should not complicate the negotiation of United Nations’ arrangements with reference to security under the authority of the Security Council.

Mr. Hickerson said that since there was a general feeling that any arrangements which the United Kingdom and the United States might arrive at would be compatible with any arrangements made by the Security Council and that we all envisaged making facilities of this type available to the Security Council on its call, he felt that for the purposes of these discussions we might lay aside the question of special security arrangements under the United Nations Organization and concentrate on the more purely military aspects of the matter as between the United States and the United Kingdom. He also said that in this conversation we might proceed without reference to the issue of disputed sovereignty in the case of certain of the islands. In this connection he stated that he quite realized that the American objectives with reference to the acquisition of base rights could be taken care of short of settlement of the issue of sovereignty. Mr. Searls pointed out that in actual fact base rights were desired in only three islands over which the sovereignty was in dispute between the two Governments.

Captain Dennison then read the full list of the desires of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with reference to base rights in the Pacific islands, including the New Zealand-, and Australian-administered islands, as well as Ascension Island in the South Atlantic.22 The British services personnel present asked various questions with reference to definition of the terms used which were explained by Captain Dennison. It was emphasized that the United States desired exclusive base rights in only 3 islands, namely, Canton, Christmas and Funafuti. Mr. Michael Wright asked whether the reason these islands were the [Page 15]only ones in which exclusive rights were desired was because the United States claimed sovereignty over them. Mr. Hickerson said that that was not the entire reason for so doing. In the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff these islands were somewhat more important from a purely strategic and military standpoint than the others mentioned.

Captain Dennison said that while the Navy, of course, could not commit itself with regard to its future policy, no new construction was at present contemplated on any of the islands listed. Similarly no removals of important installations and equipment already present were contemplated. It was made clear that by exclusive base rights the United States meant such base rights as it possessed in the leased bases in the Atlantic—Bermuda, for example. To questions from the service personnel as to methods of allocating costs with reference to the maintenance of installations, Captain Dennison and Mr. Hickerson replied that it was recognized that the military representatives of the Government concerned would have to sit down and work out some of these technical problems, but it was not intended to commit either party to expenditures not agreed to by the other on islands where joint rights were to be exercised. It was a general expectation that in view of the fact that the United States had installed the facilities the other Government concerned would normally be willing to maintain them in those cases where the United States desired joint rather than exclusive rights.

Mr. Hickerson made it clear that the proposed base arrangements with the United Kingdom would presumably be concluded in a manner that would require Congressional approval. He said also that it was the feeling of the Department that the present discussions with respect to military rights should not be complicated by the introduction of the question of rights for civil aircraft which could be considered separately. He reminded the British representatives present that the United States had made no approach to France with reference to rights on Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, and requested that the French be not informed on this point for the present. Mr. Hickerson said that although there was no connection between these base problems and other issues being negotiated with the British Government at the present time, it would certainly be very helpful if action on these problems could be taken sufficiently promptly to have a beneficent influence on the settlement of other problems.23

[Page 16]

In closing the discussion, Mr. Searls pointed out that he felt very strongly that it was desirable that some action on this matter be not long delayed, that it was preferable that these arrangements should seem to be arrangements for the continuance of military installations and facilities at locations where they were already present rather than something entirely new. He felt that there was really no difficulty with reference to the Security Council and that the arrangements contemplated were quite within the spirit of the Charter and that we should not delay unduly because of fears of unfortunate repercussions in this regard. Mr. Michael Wright said that his colleagues would, of course, consider the information which had been communicated to them orally this morning, some of which would be summarized and sent to their service people in writing by the American service representatives present. He said that on the British side they might want to raise both some questions with respect to the civil aviation problem and also might want later to raise the question of certain reciprocal rights in American territory. He re-emphasized again that the main difficulty from the British standpoint was the British anxiety not to prejudice inauguration of military security arrangements of the United Nations Organization.

J[ohn] D. H[ickerson]
  1. On January 14, 1946, the State–War–Navy Coordinating Committee approved SWNCC 38/29 (not printed) which set forth the detailed requirements for military bases and rights in these islands as determined by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (811.245/1–1445).
  2. On March 27, 1946, nine agreements relating to settlement of Lend-Lease, reciprocal aid, surplus war property, and claims were signed at Washington. For texts, see Department of State, Treaties and Other International Acts Series (TIAS) No. 1509, or 60 Stat, (pt.2) 1525.