Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State

top secret
Participants: The Secretary
Sir John Balfour, British Chargé d’Aflfaires
Sir John Magowan, Minister, British Embassy
Mr. Matthews1
[Page 45]

Sir John Balfour called this morning at his request and left with me the attached aide-mémoire2 and annexes concerning the British financial position. He emphasized the importance which his Government attaches to the subject and proceeded to read aloud most of the aide-mémoire.

He then said that he had been instructed to tell me orally that his Government considered this as an informal approach and not the formal notification envisaged in Article 12 of the Anglo-American Financial Agreement. Under that article either the British or American Government reserves the right to initiate formal consultation if it finds itself unable to comply with the provisions of the Agreement. He had also been instructed to say that should this Government consider such an approach desirable the British Government would consider taking the formal step called for by Article 12. Sir John Magowan then read the text of Article 12.

Mr. Balfour asked if there was any word which I would like him to communicate to Mr. Bevin. I said that I would wish to study his aide-mémoire first and that there was nothing which I wished to say at this time.


The British Embassy to the Department of State


British Ministers have recently had a valuable exchange of views with Mr. Clayton on the United Kingdom financial position, on some of the implications of Mr. Marshall’s Harvard speech,4 and other matters.5 After preliminary discussion with the United States Ambassador and Mr. Clayton, a memorandum was drawn up on the subject of action to implement Mr. Marshall’s speech. A copy of this memorandum, which was accepted by Mr. Clayton is attached at Annexe A.6

The United Kingdom Government has also drawn up a note on the results of the second Paris Conference which shows the extent to which they have been able to carry out Mr. Clayton’s informal advice. A copy of this note is attached at Annexe B.6

His Majesty’s Chargé d’Affaires has been instructed to assure the United States Government that the United Kingdom Government will [Page 46] do their utmost to see that a European scheme is produced by the beginning of September which, they hope, will afford the basis of further governmental action by the United States. It is, however, a matter of doubt to the United Kingdom Government whether any assistance to Europe which may flow from Mr. Marshall’s proposals will come early enough or be large enough to meet the special difficulties and position of the United Kingdom as a world-wide trading nation.

The United Kingdom Government have gone ahead unhesitatingly in an attempt to fulfil by July 15th their obligations under the Anglo-American Financial Agreement. They assumed this heavy burden in the hope that by doing so they were taking the first steps in the construction of a healthy world economy and in the faith that by measures taken on a large scale to assist Europe on the one hand and to relieve the world dollar shortage on the other, the United States would ensure that these first steps were not taken in vain. It has been common knowledge between the United States and United Kingdom Governments that, without further measures either through the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development or by direct United States Government action, these first steps were doomed to failure.

Mr. Marshall has had the figure of drawings on the United States credit and a full statement of the position by the United Kingdom Government.6 At the present rate of drawings, and there is no reason to expect any significant change in them in the immediate future, they will by the fall have exhausted the credit and shall be left only with their final reserves. These comprise not only their own working reserves but those of other sterling countries. With all the uncertainties before them they could not contemplate serious depletion of these already inadequate reserves.

In the face of this situation the United Kingdom Government will be compelled in any case early in the fall to take corrective measures affecting not only their own internal economy, but their trading relations with other countries. They are urgently studying these measures already. They will have to cut their imports from the Western Hemisphere to a point where their productive capacity is damaged because of deficiency of food and also of raw materials. This means at once that any contribution from the United Kingdom to restore European economy will be drastically lessened. They will have to explore all possible alternative sources of supply. They will have to curtail the supply of dollars for India, for the Middle East and for other countries, [Page 47] and will not be able to find the dollars necessary to finance the Canadian deficit with the United States. They will be able to provide no further dollars for Germany. Their difficulties will spread to other countries and they will no longer be able to act as the differential gear between the United States economy and much of the rest of the world. Mr. Marshall will realize also that their dollar shortage is bound to react on their military commitments abroad.

Moreover, unless assistance is forthcoming, the United Kingdom Government will be forced by circumstances beyond their control to retreat from one position to another, and further and further from the concept of a multilateral world economy. They will not be able to progress towards multilateral trade and non-discrimination over a large part of the world. Instead they will have to manage their affairs on the basis of a series of bargains by which they can get what they can, where they can and on the best terms they can arrange.

The United Kingdom Government wish to make it clear to Mr. Marshall that these are not groundless fears. They are the stark facts of the situation. It is because they are aware of these facts that they are bending every effort to secure an early and satisfactory response to Mr. Marshall’s Harvard speech. But at the same time they feel they must leave Mr. Marshall in no doubt of what kind of policy, both at home and abroad, will be forced upon them when they have no dollar resources available. They recognise that the first result of this policy will be a general restriction of international trade. They will suffer from that and they are aware of this fact. But they see no alternative line of policy open to them.

As regards Germany, the United Kingdom Government, on the facts given above, could not possibly go to Parliament for a supplementary estimate above their existing appropriation knowing that much of any appropriation for Germany means dollars. Indeed, they are very doubtful whether they can afford to provide the dollars due under their existing appropriation. This will certainly be the case if there is a crisis in the autumn. Further, they cannot ask Parliament for an appropriation largely in dollars for next year unless there is a radical transformation of the whole situation. While they believe, as the United States Government do, that it is vitally necessary to raise and maintain at a higher level the present low standard of German economy, they themselves shall be unable to play any part in providing the dollar funds which will be required for this purpose.

The United Kingdom Government are most anxious that Mr. Marshall should be left in no doubt of the urgency and gravity of the situation as they see it and as they have explained it to Mr. Clayton. They think it necessary to place on record the full implications of the situation with which the United Kingdom Government are now faced.

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It is their intention to keep in very close touch with the United States Government on the development of the situation.

  1. H. Freeman Matthews, Director, Office of European Affairs, until July 21, 1947.
  2. On the previous evening, Sir John Balfour gave to Charles E. Bohlen, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State, an advance copy of the message which Foreign Secretary Bevin wished delivered to Secretary Marshall. The message is substantially the same as the aide-mémoire. (841.51/7–2847)
  3. This aide-mémoire and its enclosures are in Lot 56 D 510, Box 17.
  4. For text of speech, see p. 237.
  5. Memoranda of conversations covering these meetings held June 24–26 in London are printed on pages 268 to 294.
  6. Not printed.
  7. Not printed.
  8. Reference here is to the tables mentioned in Ambassador Douglas’ letter to Secretary Marshall of June 25 (see footnote 2, p. 27) and to other financial information supplied to the American Embassy.