36. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, March 18, 19551


  • Australian Interest in the Defense of Malaya
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  • Mr. Arthur Tange, Secretary, Department of External Affairs, Canberra
  • Mr. F.J. Blakeney, Minister, Australian Embassy
  • Mr. Merchant, Assistant Secretary, EUR
  • Mr. Galloway, C
  • Mr. Horsey, Deputy Director, BNA

Mr. Tange called at his request to raise two questions, (1) certain political implications of any Australian commitment to join with the U.K. and New Zealand in plans for the defense of Malaya and (2) the statement which his Prime Minister wanted to make in Parliament on his return to Australia in connection with his visit to Washington.2

On the first question Mr. Tange referred to the Prime Minister’s recent discussions in London on the defense of Malaya. He then went over the ground covered earlier by Mr. Blakeney with Mr. MacArthur.3 He said that the particular point he was about to mention had been raised by the Prime Minister with Eden and Macmillan and that it had been agreed that the Prime Minister would raise it in Washington. The problem was that, in considering the defense of Malaya, the Chiefs of Staff of the three countries had concluded that, unless a position across the Kra isthmus in Thailand (later in the conversation this line was identified as running west from Songkla) could be held, military estimates which had been made of the force requirements for an effective defense would be invalidated. (Tange said later in the conversation that these studies did not take into account any use of nuclear weapons.) It was necessary to search for means for assuring that it would be possible to occupy this area promptly in the event that the Thai Government fell or was about to fall under Communist control. The Prime Minister therefore wanted to ask the United States Government whether it could give assurances that Australia could count on U.S. political support for such action and whether Australia could call on our experience and help in suggesting ways in which the political groundwork could be laid in advance.

Mr. Tange continued that three possible courses of action had occurred to them. The first was a bilateral arrangement with the present government of Thailand which would be at least legally binding in any successor government. The second was some form of general agreement within the Manila Pact that the treaty powers would welcome forces of other treaty partners on their territory in the event of a threat to their security. The third possibility was to [Page 71] have some form of infrastructure under the Manila Pact arrangements placed in the area in question, which would justify the forces of other Manila Pact powers moving in to protect the territory in an emergency.

On the timing of a solution to this problem, Mr. Tange said that, if Australia were to assume commitments in Malaya, the Prime Minister wanted to know whether the elements in the assumptions on which their military plans were based were valid, including a satisfactory political basis for the immediate military action which would be required.

Mr. Merchant said that he recognized the importance of this consideration in Australian thinking but said that, since the question would have to be carefully considered by Mr. Robertson and others, and of course discussed with the Secretary, he could only give a personal and preliminary reaction at this stage. In general, he thought that this was the type of political problem which was relatively easy to solve in an emergency or in time of war but extremely difficult to solve satisfactorily in peacetime. As to assurances of support from the United States Government in an emergency, he personally would certainly think that we could give political support to the type of action proposed. He thought that this would be entirely consistent with the Secretary’s line of comment at his meeting with the Prime Minister on March 15 on the discussion of Indonesia.4 On the specific courses of action which Mr. Tange had outlined, Mr. Merchant said that a bilateral arrangement with Thailand would surely become public knowledge and would lay the Thai Government and everybody else open to very damaging propaganda attack by the other side. There would also be the implication that defense plans did not contemplate a defense of the forward areas of the Manila Treaty area and thereby promote defeatism elsewhere.

On the second of the courses of action which the Australians had considered, an agreement among the Manila Pact powers, Mr. Merchant said that he thought this, too, would lay all concerned open to serious propaganda disadvantage since the Communists would allege that, as they had been saying from the beginning, the Manila Pact was nothing more than a device to restore western colonial influence on the mainland of Asia. On the third possibility, Mr. Merchant speculated that there might be some possibility of developing the necessary arrangements if a line of communications was established from Malaya into Thailand or if the border arrangements between the respective police forces were strengthened and raised to a military level.

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In conclusion, Mr. Merchant repeated that these were expressions of his personal views only, but that we would give careful consideration to the questions which Mr. Tange had raised and be in communication with the Australian Government in due course. Mr. Tange emphasized the delicacy of the problem and the importance of holding discussion of it very closely. Mr. Merchant agreed.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 790.5/4–1455. Top Secret. Drafted by Horsey. This memorandum was attached to Document 43.
  2. Separate Memorandum of Conversation. [Footnote in the source text. Memorandum not found in Department of State files.]
  3. No record of this conversation has been found in Department of State files.
  4. See Document 34.