Conference files, lot 60 D 627, CF 251: Telegram
The Secretary of State to the United States Delegation1
Tosec 371. Following is Canberra’s 290, June 6, 10 pm.
“Limit Distribution. Suggest Department pass Geneva, London, Paris. Casey plans leave Sydney Monday night June 7 via Singapore, Bangkok thence New Delhi arriving Pan American 1:15 am June 10 thence Karachi, Geneva, later London, Washington.
Prime Minister at American Embassy Sunday June 6 said he had just received cable from Spender clarifying Secretary’s views respecting possible de facto partition. Cabinet discussions Friday fourth covered:
- Australia does not underestimate seriousness events. Not dragging feet. Realizes importance making constructive suggestions.
Feels US has not defined precisely enough (a) political or (b) military objectives of intervention. Believes staff talks will supply better basis for appraisal. Asks whether we contemplate (a) intervening and hold Viet Minh from further advance which would involve long garrison task or (b) complete defeat Viet Minh which would require massive campaign land forces, (c) bombing Chinese bases and what Cabinet believes would be general war with China.
Australia reports indicate Viet Minh and Vietnamese dislike French and possibly any vote would go to Ho Chi Minh not French. Would be fatal for US merely to support French Power.
- Since immediate intervention at this stage could not be UN it presents two acute problems for Australia: (a) would be committing Australia to military operations outside UN, (b) also outside British Commonwealth, because Cabinet believes neither UK nor Canada nor South Africa nor any other member British Commonwealth disposed participate in intervention except Australia and New Zealand.
- Australia wants to aim at (a) putting block in way of Communist aggression in SEA and (b) reconciliation of UK and American policy, avoiding departure from unity.
Casey gathered impression UK, though thinking ‘French have gone too far to be rescued’, might have different view regarding defense of Thailand.
Therefore in effort to get UK and US views together, following should be considered: (a) Laos and Cambodia are different races from Vietnam. Viet Minh have no rights in Laos and Cambodia. Southern part of Vietnam contains export rice bowl and its protection of tremendous significance to British position in Malaya and to Japan as rice importer. Minds should be directed to having group of nations agree to give guarantee to territorial integrity Laos, Cambodia and Southern section of Vietnam for two reasons:
- Strategic importance in struggle against Communism.
- Guarantee of territorial integrity would not interfere with local self-government and might attract cooperation of India and Burma.
While disagreeing with Nehru, Prime Minister said no doubt of Nehru’s importance in Asia. Nehru would violently challenge military intervention in Hanoi area as military colonialism and invasion. With Nehru’s influence in Burma and Indonesia we might find we had hostile forces all round us, quite unlike situation in Korea.
Cabinet thinks Nehru should be asked to participate in territorial guarantee. Prime Minister personally pessimistic but says Casey does not despair of achieving that.
‘Summing up’ Prime Minister said:
- Australia would regard military intervention in Hanoi area now as precipitate and likely to involve very large forces and over-all war with China with question also of Russian repercussions. Hence, if Australia understands ‘American proposal’ they think it requires more frank exchange before Australia would think the proposal right.
- On other hand Australia thinks UK view may be much too restricted and if French left to themselves and completely evacuate Vietnam with result that Communists over-run down to southern extremities, this would expose Malaya to new form of attack. Cabinet also thinks UK underestimates significance of loss of export rice bowl area.
- Australia therefore will say to Nehru and Eden: ‘While should not risk hasty intervention and rapid evacuation, we must face up to threat. A line must be drawn and guaranteed. Perhaps [Page 1064]French, with material assistance from US can hold their own position in Hanoi area.’
Prime Minister said if UK would join in any sort of territorial guarantee there would be no problem for Australia, but if it became question of entering war in which UK would be neutral, that, ‘would of course involve the end of the British Commonwealth’ and would be very difficult step, particularly for his administration which has consistently emphasized Commonwealth unity. He discounted necessity of such choice and said Casey ‘would have a good go at Nehru and Eden’.
Prime Minister said several Cabinet members had raised question of his going personally to Geneva and that Prime Minister had replied that he could not do that immediately without its appearing as complete disavowal of Casey who had done good job, but he told Cabinet members he will hold himself in readiness in case situation develops so that he could be of assistance in London, Washington or elsewhere. He contemplates leaving for New Zealand tomorrow for vacation two weeks if events permit that long.
Will cable Bangkok, New Delhi and Karachi Casey’s ETA those cities.
- Repeated to London as telegram 6635 and to Paris as telegram 4455.↩