338. Memorandum for the Australian Ambassador (Beale)0

This memorandum sets forth the record of recent conversations involving the United States and Australia concerning the applicability of the ANZUS Treaty with respect to Malaysia.

At the ANZUS Council meeting held on June 5, 1963, Mr. Harriman told the Council that if Australian or New Zealand forces stationed in Malaysia were attacked, United States obligations under the ANZUS Treaty would come into force.1
In the meeting with the Australian Cabinet held in Canberra on June 7, 1963, Mr. Harriman, in speaking on the subject of Australia’s role [Page 735] in Malaysia, said that the United States would wish Australia to extend to Malaysia its present defense commitments to Malaya. Mr. Harriman added that if there should be an overt attack on Australian forces stationed in Malaysia, the ANZUS Treaty would come into operation.
Later on at the same meeting Mr. Holt asked Mr. Harriman whether he might clarify his earlier observations about United States participation in support of Australian forces in Malaysia. Mr. Harriman said that if it were a problem of internal security, the responsibility belonged to Malaysia and the British countries. But if there were an overt attack on Australian forces stationed in Malaysia, the ANZUS Treaty would, on the legal advice given to him, come into force. This would be irrespective of the source of the aggression since ANZUS was not, as SEATO was, related specifically to communist aggression.
Still later at that meeting the Prime Minister commented that the dividing line was between overt attack with the troops engaged and ANZUS effective, and subversive activities. Mr. Harriman said that in addition he would expect that the United States would play a role apart from its ANZUS commitment, e.g. in accordance with a United Nations initiative. He asked that this reference to the UN should not be taken as a commitment, but he felt that it would be the policy which the United States Government would follow.
Mr. McEwen2 thereupon brought up the question of subversion arising from organized infiltration into Malaysia from Indonesia. He referred to it as a kind of aggression but not formally or legally identified as such. He stated that in this situation Australia would wish to have the support of the United States, not necessarily the fighting support, but public verbal support and an unambiguous attitude. Mr. Harriman said that a reply would require a careful choice of words which he would not wish to attempt on the instant. However, he felt that the United States attitude would be much affected by the seriousness with which Australia itself was taking the situation. The United States had assumed extensive obligations abroad and had not yet turned away from an appeal by its friends. If there were a commitment on Australia’s part, Mr. Harriman said he did not think that the United States would let Australia down but he could make no commitments. Mr. Harriman added that this was a grey area between the two countries.
At a meeting between President Kennedy and Prime Minister Menzies on July 8, 1963, in Washington, the Prime Minister stated that Australia did not now have a commitment to Malaya but was contemplating making one. He said that he was hesitant to undertake commitments north of Indonesia unless he could be sure that the United States would back Australia if it got in trouble. He put the question thus: since [Page 736] the language of the ANZUS Treaty concerns an attack on Australian forces stationed in the treaty area as distinct from Australian territory, does this mean that if Australian forces stationed in North Borneo were overtly attacked, the ANZUS Treaty would take effect. The Prime Minister emphasized that he was not thinking of guerrilla warfare or subversion but an overt attack by regular armed forces. He said that Mr. Harriman, on the advice of his legal experts, had assured him that the treaty would take effect in the circumstances outlined above. The President agreed that Australia should know the exact commitment under the ANZUS Treaty and that Sukarno and others should also know it. The President directed in the presence of the P.M. Assistant Secretary of State Hilsman to look into the question as to whether an attack on Australian forces stationed in the treaty area would invoke the ANZUS Treaty. The President and the P.M. agreed that if the treaty applied in such circumstances discussions should be held in advance and discuss means of consultation between Australia and the United States in advance of Australian forces being stationed in such places which would invoke the ANZUS Treaty if Australian forces were attacked.
Following the meeting referred to above between the President and the Prime Minister, the President addressed a communication to the Australian Prime Minister proposing that consultations be held between the two Governments with a view to clarifying the nature of the commitments of the two countries towards each other under the ANZUS Treaty.
The foregoing represents an accurate and complete account of the exchanges of views which have taken place between the two Governments over the period June-July 1963. [9 lines of source text not declassified] The kind of action that would be appropriate would depend on the circumstances of any given situation.
In addition in light of this record, it seems in order to institute immediately consultations as already proposed by the United States so that there be no disagreement between the United States and Australia as to the meaning of the treaty.
  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, KennedyJohnson Administrations, Subject Files, Quadripartite talks re Indonesia and Malaysia. Secret. There is no indication that Harriman drafted this memorandum, but there are revisions in his hand. It was apparently not given to Beale because Harriman wrote “hold” on it.
  2. An account of the June 5–6 discussions at the ANZUS Council meetings in Wellington are in Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 2213.
  3. John McEwen, Australian Deputy Prime Minister.