12. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Quadripartite Discussions


  • The Rt. Hon. Paul M.C. Hasluck, Minister for External Affairs of Australia
  • Sir James Plimsoll, Secretary, Australian Department of External Affairs
  • The Hon. J. Keith Waller, Australian Ambassador
  • The Secretary
  • Mr. William P. Bundy, Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs
  • Mr. Thomas F. Conlon, FE/SPA

1. Mr. Hasluck began the discussion by giving the Secretary a copy of a talking paper on the status and possible future development of Quadripartite Discussions. (Paper attached.)

British Defense Review

2. The Secretary noted the reference in the paper to the discussions with British Minister of Defense Healey in January2 and recalled that underlying the British position seemed to be the desire to have a political [Page 23] role in decision-making, while avoiding the most difficult questions and situations. Healey didnʼt give us the impression that the British are interested in continuing to be involved in mainland Southeast Asia. In the recent British elections both major parties seemed to be vying with each other to assure the electorate that there would be no British involvement in Viet-Nam. For our part, we see no interest in participating with the British in what would become a retreat from Singapore to Perth. On the whole, we didnʼt get any good answers regarding British intentions towards Southeast Asia.

3. Mr. Hasluck said that the Australian Government obtained no good answers from its conversations with Mr. Healey. The talks with Healey turned on the pressing economic problems facing the British. Healey faced the GOA with the view that the British cannot stay in Singapore forever and that the options are either to move British forces to Australia or retreat beyond Suez. Healey based his argument on the long-term untenability of Singapore and British economic limitations. This makes the situation difficult for Australia, Mr. Hasluck continued, since we want the British to stay East of Suez. Further, we want them to stay on mainland Southeast Asia, not leave Singapore.

4. The Secretary agreed with Mr. Hasluck, noting that the tenure of Singapore is as much affected by attitudes in London as in Singapore. The Secretary recalled his wartime experiences in the CBI Theater, when it was evident that, because of decisions made in London not to commit the Imperial Reserve forces then in India, the British were not making as much of an effort in Burma as they were capable of. If the British are itching to get out of Singapore, it wonʼt take much squeezing to get them out.

5. Mr. Hasluck said that the British Government is divided on East of Suez policy, as is British public opinion. The Australian Government feels it is in the Australian interest to use all arguments and pressures available to persuade the British to maintain their presence East of Suez. Defense Minister Healey and Prime Minister Wilson profess an intent to stay. Mr. Hasluck said that in his view it is necessary to keep up the pressure.

6. The Secretary said that we were very frank with Mr. Healey during his visit here in January. We made clear we must be in a position to support something, not nothing. We have told the British it is hard for us to support the pound if they do not see their way clear to supporting us. The Secretary added that we threw this point hard at them.

7. Mr. Hasluck said he didnʼt mind what the United States threw at the British on this point. The Australian Government thinks the British can stay in Singapore “a jolly long time.” The GOA feels that the British are not facing any risk of being pushed out. (Earlier in the conversation, Mr. Bundy noted that one man who doesnʼt want the British out of Southeast Asia is the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. Mr. Bundy [Page 24] promised to make available to Mr. Hasluck the text of a speech delivered by Lee Kuan Yew on February 12 on the role of the Chinese in Southeast Asia, in which Lee presented the argument that the overseas Chinese should not identify themselves with Peiping at this juncture.)

8. Mr. Hasluck said that in his view there were three principles to bear in mind:

The British should stay on the Asian mainland.
A British presence in the Far East is essential to give the appearance that the United States is not the only major Western power in Asia, although in this connection it would be better if there were more demonstrations of interest by other European countries as well.
The British should play a global role—otherwise, they will decline to the status of Sweden.

9. The Secretary said he doubted the British could occupy a world economic position if they do not maintain a world political position. Trade follows the flag in this case.

Quadripartite Meeting

10. The Secretary noted that we have agreed to hold discreet four-power discussions. However, British proposals for joint planning, joint commands, etc., would give us real problems. This would bring us to the same problem we had when the ANZUS Treaty was being negotiated. Anything like what the British propose would upset the Philippines, which would be concerned at being excluded. It would look too much like a “White Manʼs Club.” The Secretary asked whether the British have asked the GOA for economic assistance on defense deployments East of Suez.

11. Mr. Hasluck said no. The Secretary said that the British havenʼt asked the United States for assistance, either. Mr. Hasluck said the Australian Treasury fears that the British intend to get the GOA to provide the bases in Australia and so relieve them of the financial burden. The Australian answer, if such a suggestion were made, would be that the GOA doesnʼt want to facilitate a British withdrawal from Singapore. The GOA told Mr. Healey that it is willing to review present and projected defense facilities in Australia with a view to possible joint use with the British.

12. Mr. Bundy asked if the British have asked the GOA to assist in building facilities at Butterworth (in Penang, Malaysia). Mr. Hasluck replied that the GOA has put money into the facilities at Butterworth and at Terendak (State of Malacca, Malaysia).

13. Sir James Plimsoll noted that the anchor point of the British presentation had been that they have a ceiling on defense expenditures. The Secretary commented that the United States would rather see reductions on British support of NATO than reductions East of Suez.

[Page 25]


Memorandum by the Government of Australia


  • Memorandum Left With The Secretary By Australian Minister for External Affairs Hasluck, April 11, 1966
The United States is opposed to:
Four-power discussions leading to joint planning and joint command arrangements. This applies equally to pre-1970 and post-1970 situations.
“Anything that looks like a white manʼs club in Asia”.
Any attempt to change existing treaties (SEATO and ANZUS).
Australia has a similar view and would certainly endorse (a) and (b) at present. We do not discard the idea in (c) but accept that it is not practical politics at the moment.
In large part, the British interest in quadripartite talks arose from their defence review. They appeared to be interested in the possibility of bringing the U.S. and Australia to relieve them of some of the load of defence east of Suez; or, if Britain reduced forces, to replace them; or, if Britain was obliged to move out of Singapore and Malaysia, to help provide alternative facilities. It is assumed that Britain still has such interests, although the pursuit of them may have been modified by earlier discussions in London, Washington and Canberra.
The British defence review led to quadripartite talks by officials in London at end of 1965. U.S. and Australia concerted their efforts to counter any British move to reduce defence effort east of Suez. U.S. and Australia found common ground on the following points:
Britain must not pull out of Asia.
Britain must not base her position in Asia solely on Indonesian confrontation of Malaysia.
The British presence is needed in Asia if Britain is to continue to play a global role.
The U.S. should not be the only non-Asian power to support security in Asia.
Among the points left unresolved from the London talks are:
Whether Britain either expects or can receive any help from her allies in maintaining a role in Asia (e.g., the question of bases or other facilities in Australia).
Whether further arrangements need be made or can be made for concerting the efforts of the four Allies in this region (Australia faces [Page 26] some problems arising from the fact that we are worthy contributors in Malaysia, in Thailand and in Vietnam, as well as defending New Guinea. Some complications would have to be untangled if the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve were to be moved from Malaysia to the Australian mainland; or if British forces based in Australia were to be used as a reserve for duties in theatres other than Asia. Australia has an interest in both Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean security systems. While Australian defence expenditure has been doubled we obviously cannot afford to provide total defence and economically we must avoid duplicated efforts. These are examples, from the Australian viewpoint, of the practical need for concerting the efforts of the four Allies and it is assumed that further discussions on such matters will have to take place).

Following the quadripartite talks by officials at the end of 1965, Mr. Healey made his round of visits to Washington and Canberra and the British defence review was published affirming:

that Britain would continue to maintain a military presence in “the Far East and Southern Asia”;

that Britain would maintain its existing “military facilities” in Malaysia and Singapore “for as long as the Governments of Malaysia and Singapore agree that we should do so on acceptable conditions”.

But the British statement also indicated that Britain thought

“the load must be more equitably shared than in the past”;
that “significant economies” should be aimed at by deploying forces “more realistically”;
“as soon as conditions permit” some reductions would be made in the forces in the Far East and Southern Asia.

Since the publication of the review, the British elections have taken place. Will this affect the nature of the timing of any British adjustments or change the emphasis placed on any aspect of their defence effort?


Mr. Healey, during the visit to Australia, spoke of “quadripartite arrangements” but was not definite about what he meant by them. There has been some tendency to interpret “defence arrangements” as relating to military planning and command. The Australian Government has preferred the phrase “quadripartite discussions”. At present we do not think it necessary or practicable to raise questions of joint planning or joint command. What we want is a continuing dialogue with our Allies at all appropriate levels to obtain a common outlook and purpose and a common understanding on what it is best for each of us to do. Our view was expressed in a passage in the communiqué issued after Mr. Healeyʼs talks in Canberra:

“The primary objective of the talks would be to secure agreements on the strategic concept and aims for allied cooperation in the area in the face of threats from Communist China or elsewhere; and, arising from this, on the future co-ordination of military activities of the four powers on the area.”

[Page 27]

In messages to President Johnson and Mr. Harold Wilson after Vice-President Humphreyʼs visit to Australia, the Australian Prime Minister wrote of the importance we attached to discussions “at a political level, aimed at a political meeting of minds and, deriving from that, some broad joint understanding on our overall objectives in Asia and on defence strategy, on the roles of forces and their dispositions, and the better coordination both of our military and economic aid policies”.

The present visit is being made in keeping with that view and our expectation is that it will be followed by further Ministerial talks in Canberra at the end of June, when the Foreign Ministers of the four governments can meet unobtrusively after having come to Canberra for the SEATO Council meeting. We hope that, in preparation for the Canberra talks, the three Ambassadors in Washington and the appropriate representative of the Department of State can meet to do some preparatory work on the agenda for the talks.
The Australian view does not favour any attempt to create additional machinery (such as a regular conference or a Council of Ministers). We believe we can do better by building on the confidence and respect we already have in each other to continue consultation on all matters of common concern as frequently as the need arises and at the level and in the manner appropriate to each occasion.
Against this background, it is suggested that the present talks be devoted to:
An exchange of information and views on the present situations we all face.
A discussion of the short-term and the long-term objectives in Asia and the practicable means of achieving them.
Arising from these discussions some guidance to the officers in respect of the agenda for the Canberra talks.
In the light of (a) and (b) some discussion of ways in which we can coordinate our policies and ensure the effective application of our policies both in respect of military support and economic aid to countries of Asia.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 1–1 ASIA SE. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Conlon and approved in S on April 26. This memorandum was Part I of III covering the entire conversation which, according to Ruskʼs Appointment Book, lasted until 1 p.m. (Johnson Library) The other parts concerned the situations in Vietnam and China. (Telegram 853 to Canberra; April 12; Department of State, Central Files, POL AUSTL–US)
  2. For the record of these talks on January 27, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIII, Document 126.