17. Memorandum of Conversation1


Canberra, June 27–28, 1966


Canberra, June 30–July 1, 1966


  • United States
    • Secretary Rusk
    • Mr. Bundy
    • Admiral Sharp
    • Ambassador Powell
    • Mr. Kitchen
    • Mr. McCloskey
    • Brig. Gen. Seignious
    • Mr. Weiss
  • United Kingdom
    • The Right Honorable Michael Stewart, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
    • Sir Paul Gore-Booth, Permanent Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
    • Air Chief Marshal Sir John Grandy, UK Commander-in-Chief, Far East
  • Australia
    • The Rt. Hon. Paul M.C. Hasluck, Minister for External Affairs
    • The Hon. Allen Fairhall, Minister for Defence
    • New Zealand
    • The Right Hon. Keith Holyoake, Prime Minister
    • Mr. G.R. Laking, Ambassador to the United States
[Page 37]


  • Quadripartite Discussions Between the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand
Mr. Stewart began the discussion by suggesting that these talks should be followed by official level discussions at a later date. He suggested that as a prelude each Government in the Asian-Pacific area might be subjected to an analysis with a view to assessing the nature of the threat in each country and with each of the four participating nations in the current discussions writing individual papers. This would then permit an evaluation of the material and the development of a scale of the political and military threats to the countries in the area over the next five to ten years. The analysis would include the capability of these countries to meet the threat. On the basis of such studies, the four nations could then decide what needed to be done.
Mr. Hasluck stated that he assumed that what we actually do would not be contingent on the studies. Australia believed that there was a need for increased security immediately and that it could not wait upon the development of studies within individual countries. Mr. Stewart said this depended to some extent “on the march of events.” Mr. Hasluck countered by saying he would not wish to wait for Thailand to become an enlightened society before being willing to take necessary security actions. Mr. Stewart agreed that we should not be foreclosed from taking necessary actions solely because our studies were not finished. The point was that such studies should help in deciding how to approach assistance to the countries in question.
Mr. Hasluck said he could certainly accept the desirability for participating in such studies on behalf of Australia. Secretary Rusk said that he was somewhat troubled by the use of the Quadripartite forum for this purpose. He noted that the four nations were all members of SEATO. He said that while he did not object to the exchange of views, he thought that there was a delicate problem in that the Philippines, Thailand and others should not find themselves being dissected by the four nations without their own involvement. But he reiterated that he had no objections to the exchange of views among the four. Mr. Stewart asked whether we could not start by an exchange of papers and then discuss these papers at the official level. Secretary Rusk stated that he thought discussion at the official level was acceptable but not of formalized papers per se. Mr. Hasluck agreed that it might be politically dangerous to formalize such discussions in the Quadripartite forum given the various political relationships which existed with the other Asian states. Mr. Holyoake also agreed.
Secretary Rusk agreed to “discreet discussions” in autumn at the official level.
Mr. Hasluck returned to the question of the British position in Singapore and Malaysia. He said that he would paraphrase the British position as a willingness to remain as long as there were acceptable conditions for doing so. He stated that Australia believed we should make it our business to stay as long as possible. Mr. Stewart agreed, but was not sure what we could do to facilitate this. Mr. Hasluck said that this was precisely his point. He suggested that we look at the questions of what we can do to make a Western presence in Asia more acceptable. This may perhaps permit us to stay till 1980 or 1990 rather than 1970 and this will be useful. It was agreed that this would be examined.
Mr. Hasluck then suggested that the group turn to a discussion of defense concepts for the area (Item D on the Agenda). He said that he had already commented on the problem which was presented to Australia as to what it does with its forces after confrontation. Decisions could not be taken in a vacuum. The question was whether the Commonwealth strategic reserve was to remain in being or whether Australia and New Zealand were to continue in the reserve. Mr. Fairhall commented that Australia believed in a forward defense position. He said that Australia needed to look at its future commitments to the U.S. and the UK as well as of its own. He therefore needed the benefit of U.S. and UK thinking on the future disposition question.
Mr. Hasluck pointed out that taking part in SEATO planning was without substance if forces were not available for the plans. What we had before confrontation, he pointed out, was available for SEATO plans or for the defense of Malaysia. The hope was that both contingencies would not occur at the same time. While not a military man, it was clear to him that military force without a base from which to operate was obviously impossible.
Secretary Rusk said that the U.S. view was simple. It had one-half million men west of California with 50 percent operationally engaged. Australian and New Zealand forces in Viet-Nam, though important in and of themselves, had an importance far beyond their mere numbers. The Secretary stated that he could see the U.S. running into two questions. First, if there are not several nationsʼ flags standing with the U.S., are we right in our own commitment? Secondly, and perhaps a more important question, would be “are we suckers if others wonʼt share the burden?” He said we will have a difficult political problem at home if, after confrontation forces which were there for confrontation go home without regard to other needs in the SEATO area. Whether there are other uses for these forces needs to be examined, but clearly there is not yet peace in the area. The Secretary jocularly commented that he was not saying we should go to the Indonesians and encourage them in confrontation although one was often tempted. In a more serious vein he said he was not suggesting that others should ask themselves whether [Page 39] or not they support the U.S. This was not the question. The real question is what does the individual national interest require and what can each nation effectively do about it? At this point the U.S. factor becomes relevant. If it was not important for the U.S. to be in the area, that was one thing. If a U.S. involvement was important, that was quite another. He believes that as independent nations, it is important to all present not to have Southeast Asia overrun.
Mr. Hasluck stated that Australia had made no decision to diminish its own forces, they simply were seeking enlightenment on redisposition. He went on to note that the U.S. and UK have worldwide roles. He wondered what strategic importance should be attached to the Indian Ocean and the Straits of Malacca. Subsidiary to that was the position of India. He believed that the Indians did not want a foreign defense, but “if scared” might expect significant material help and even direct assist-ance. Moreover, if China was disposed to use its nuclear weapons against an easy target like India, what then? In the Australian view it would be preferable not to have too many hands on the bomb. Yet India might well wish for a nuclear capability unless there was some other nuclear deterrent available “in the neighborhood.”
Mr. Stewart said “we have staging posts” in the Indian Ocean. For the time being this is our insurance. At the far end, in the Persian Gulf, there is a job to be done. He was not quite clear with regard to the question Mr. Hasluck was posing in connection with India.
Hasluck said the question was whether India for fear of its safety or out of desire for prestige would wish to develop a nuclear capability. He believed it was undesirable for India to waste its resources and to proliferate nuclear weapons. The question was how does one withstand pressure in India of this sort. He followed by again stating the need for clearer lines for programming and policy in the entire area. He stated that Australia could fairly clearly see their course in regard to Viet-Nam and continental security, but was very unclear in Malaysia and Singapore.
Secretary Rusk said the nuclear problem in India was a highly complex question requiring careful thought and the U.S. Government is now studying it. He would not, therefore, wish to make definitive comments. He did venture the view, however, that Australia was presumably primarily concerned with the threat from Southeast Asia. An Australian role on the sub-continent seems less likely. With regard to the Chinese nuclear threat, he doubted that we would need to go to the Indian Ocean to meet it: there were more direct ways to shoot back. Of course, he stated he implied no commitment. With regard to India we think it wrong for her to go nuclear, but maybe an Indian Prime Minister will not necessarily reach the same conclusion. As to nuclear guarantees, this was a serious matter. It put 100 million American lives on the line and in connection with India there was no reciprocity. So far as Soviet [Page 40] and Peking views and attitudes were concerned these were unclear. Mr. Rusk said that his hunch was that India was not likely to go nuclear soon, though he could anticipate their “becoming five months pregnant” by way of preparing themselves to go nuclear, keeping this preparation in reserve. (Mr. Hasluck pointed out that the Australian kangaroo can in fact arrest its pregnancy if necessary. Mr. Rusk commented that this was very convenient.) Mr. Hasluck said that in the Viet-Nam war the Australian Government understood the nature of the problem, but much less so in connection with the nuclear contingency. He wondered if we could get together and have further exchanges to gain a better appreciation of each otherʼs views.
Secretary Rusk said that he wanted to emphasize strongly the importance which the U.S. attached to Southeast Asia, the Straits of Malacca, etc. When Communist China came to power in the 1940ʼs the U.S. analyzed the value of Southeast Asia and concluded that it was of vital importance to the security of the free world. Frequent reviews since that date have reached the same conclusion. If Southeast Asia were seized by force, this would have an important impact on Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Indian sub-continent. For reasons of geography, resources and prestige, the importance of Southeast Asia could not be under-rated.
Mr. Hasluck agreed that this was a critical area. He cited its immense natural resources. He speculated that if sufficient security and stability could be provided, the area could move toward more prosperity and more participation in world affairs. He thought this tremendously important. In economic terms and in trade terms this could be a major asset. Either the area gains security and moves in one direction or it doesnʼt and thereby becomes a source of worry and a drain on our resources.
Secretary Rusk asked Mr. Stewart what he expected to come from his visits to Indonesia and Malaysia. Mr. Stewart replied that they were exploratory. He stated that he might only see Malik in Indonesia, although he hoped he would also see Suharto. He said he would take the opportunity to note that military action was still going forward in Borneo and that it was necessary to bring this to a halt if confrontation was to cease. He said he was not sure where the conversation would go from there although he anticipated some talk about the Indonesian economic and debt mission that was coming to London. He said he had never visited Indonesia and wanted to gain a firsthand impression as to whether Indonesia really wanted to end confrontation and secondly as to what Malaysia really wanted. In the latter connection, he was particularly interested in their attitude toward Indonesia and as to the importance which Malaysia attached to the Borneo states.
Secretary Rusk asked whether the British were clear whether they wanted to be invited to stay or to depart. Mr. Stewart responded that ideally they would like to be invited to depart if confident that Malaysian security was protected. They would like to be sure that Malaysiaʼs future was in fact protected with UK help if necessary. With regard to Singapore, he thought there was need for the dust to settle on the Indonesian/Malaysian dispute before more could be done there.
Secretary Rusk stated that he hoped that the objective of UK policy would be to remain for a considerable period until the general situation in Southeast Asia was improved and until one could be certain that Malaysian security was safeguarded. He wished to make it clear that the U.S. could not pick up the commitment to Malaysiaʼs security.
Mr. Hasluck said that Australia had made no bones about wanting the British to stay. He thought that to leave just because Malaysia feels secure misses the point in that Malaysian security depends upon Thailandʼs security, and the latter depends upon SEATO. Therefore, he foresaw a need for British, Australian, and New Zealand troops in the area, for example in Malaysia, so that they could be utilized to safeguard Thailand. If Thailand “became rotten and fell, it would be the end of the story for Malaysia.” He hoped that Thailand would build its own strength and capability, but if a direct threat came, it would require help from the area of Malaysia. Mr. Stewart reverted to his earlier point regarding the limited utility of helping countries like Thailand unless popular support could be demonstrated. Mr. Fairhall interjected to say that if the UK leaves, there would be no base structure for Australia and others to operate out of. Mr. Stewart said that at the moment, of course, the Thais were not asking for forces.
Mr. Holyoake said that a subsidiary question to him was the place of the Chinese in Malaysia, Singapore, and Southeast Asia generally. He said that he thought the Malaysians were scared and the Indonesians hated them. He said the overseas Chinese tended to look to China as their ultimate home. He thought that we should use whatever power we have on people like the Tunku to get them to understand the facts of life and the need to live together with the overseas Chinese. Sir Paul Gore-Booth said that the Chinese problem presented a different pattern in each place. The Secretary said that to some extent it depended on what Chinese we were talking about, how politically active they were, and in what direction. Mr. Hasluck then turned to the question of contingency planning for a base structure in Australia. He said that the Australian Government was looking at the question of how its facilities could also be made available to the UK, but that such planning was being done solely on the assumption that if the British were forced out of Singapore and Malaysia by unacceptable conditions, Australia might be an alternative. They had made it clear, of course, that they believed that Britain should [Page 42] remain in Singapore and Malaysia as long as possible. UK forces in Australia would not be as anywhere nearly as useful in contrast to their deployment in Singapore and Malaysia. Moreover he foresaw political difficulties. For example, 5000 UK troops in Australia would be a problem if at the same time 5000 Australian conscripts were fighting in Viet-Nam. Similarly it would be politically difficult if British troops were deployed from Australia for military action against Rhodesia. Mr. Holyoake said New Zealand shared precisely the same views. In response to a question, Mr. Fairhall briefly summed up the service-to-service consultation on a naval base on the West Coast of Australia and the deployment of British F–111 aircraft with Australian F–111s. He said there would, however, be a need for an estimate of costing and time. In short an outline existed which requires filling in.
Secretary Rusk raised the question of the purpose of British forces in Australia. Would they be for defense of bases in Australia or to project forces forward? Mr. Hasluck stated that it was the latter.
There was some discussion about the missions involved. Mr. Fairhall pointed out that in the case of the F–111, the bases in Australia would not be for operational purposes. These would be a backup for operational bases further north. Mr. Stewart said that he assumed that the talks between the British and Australian Governments had proceeded satisfactorily and would continue. Mr. Hasluck agreed, although he again referred to the political problems not only for Australia, but for future British Governments in explaining the purpose of British forces in Australia. Mr. Stewart reiterated the purposes for which he saw British forces being utilized. He said that the lack of their immediate involvement in conflict did not necessarily invalidate their utility. To the contrary, if the forces were successful, they would not have to engage in conflict. Forces in Western Europe for example were well understood as a deterrent.
Secretary Rusk said that he saw a problem of timing. If forces were in Singapore for meeting overt aggression, then certainly the 14 North Vietnamese regiments operating in South Vietnam were as overt as you can get. Redeployment of forces in the immediate future to Australia was irrelevant to what we want to accomplish in Southeast Asia. Maybe in the mid-1970ʼs this might make sense. The forces which at this time go 2000 miles further south rather than 1000 miles north would be politically counter productive. He expressed the hope that the British would be cautious about judgments on the end of confrontation. Mr. Stewart said he had couched all his comments about possible redeployment in a carefully qualified way. Secretary Rusk said that Mr. Stewart had asked his opinion of what the British ought to do with their forces and he told them. Mr. Stewart said that this was a subject they had discussed [Page 43] before and in particular the problems posed for the British in connection with committing forces to Viet-Nam.
With regard to the official level discussions in the autumn, Mr. Stewart asked where they were to be held. Mr. Hasluck said that Australia would be willing to host them. Secretary Rusk suggested that the element of discretion made it perhaps more advisable for the discussions to be held in London where they would be less visible. It was agreed that such discussions might be held in late September or early October, but that in the interim the various governments would continue to exchange views bilaterally. Secretary Rusk also suggested that Foreign Ministers might get together briefly if all were going to be present at the UN in September.
There was agreement reached on the nature of response to the press inquiry. The meeting adjourned.
  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 67 D 305, CF 57. Top Secret; Exdis. There was no indication on the source text who drafted it, but it was approved in S on July 28. The same group met the morning of June 30. That discussion related to the general situation in the Pacific, China, the British presence in Southeast Asia, the trends towards a regional grouping of non-Communist Asian states, and Vietnam. (Ibid.)