22. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • ANZUS Council Meeting—Part One—British Position East of Suez


  • The Secretary
  • Prime Minister Keith Holyoake of New Zealand
  • Minister for External Affairs Paul Hasluck of Australia
  • Mr. William P. Bundy, Assistant Secretary, EA
  • Mr. Ian Stewart, Head, Defense Division, Department of External Affairs of New Zealand
  • Sir James Plimsoll, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs of Australia
  • Mr. Jeffrey C. Kitchen, Deputy Asst. Secy, G/PM

Hasluck summarized communications just exchanged between Prime Minister Holt and Prime Minister Wilson. Wilsonʼs message had confirmed that the British felt they must make substantial additional reductions in defense expenditures, which were the largest share of their 550 million pounds of overseas expenditure. Since European and Middle Eastern cuts were not enough, they proposed to reduce their forces in the Far East below the levels contemplated in the 1966 defense review, and on an over-all basis by one-half, by 1970–71. Concurrently, the British felt they must make, and announce, a “long term planning assumption” that they would have completely withdrawn from Malaysia and Singapore by the mid-1970ʼs.

In the message, Wilson had said the British would avoid sudden adjustments and would carry out the reductions in an orderly fashion so as to fit in with reductions elsewhere and over-all logistics factors (presumably including facilities in the UK to hold the troops withdrawn). Moreover, the British felt that their reduction must not impair the economic situation in Malaysia and Singapore, and the British would consider other steps they could take to offset the impact of the reductions on the economies of the two. Lastly, the proposed decisions envisaged a further look at the possibility of basing in Australia.

Wilsonʼs message had said that the British were considering such decisions, looking to a final view and decision in July. In concluding, Wilson reiterated that the British would continue to stand by Australia if trouble ever arose, and suggested that they would then rely on rapid transport capacity. Hasluck added that Brown in his talk with Hasluck here had said that the British maintained a clear continued interest in the Far East and believed that the people in the area wanted them.

Hasluck went on to say that Holt had responded to Wilson that the British presence was vital to the security of the area and also to the position of the UK. Holt had pointed to the general forward movement in Asia and the importance of Britain remaining a part of the Asian situation as it improved. Holt had described the proposed British decisions as a shock to Australia. He had said the Australians had been prepared for some adjustments but had supposed that the British would take no action that would impair the Commonwealth reserve.

In particular, Holt had stated that any announcement of prospective complete withdrawal would be very bad in its effect on Hanoi, on Malaysia and Singapore, and on relations between the US and UK. As to the British assurance of support to Australia and other areas, Holt had commented strongly that there was a vast difference between forces being on [Page 55] the spot and any projected employment of reserve forces however mobile.

After reporting this exchange, Hasluck went on to report a reaction stated by Defense Minister Goh in Singapore. Goh had said that his government wanted no withdrawals. They were in a most difficult economic phase, and the effects of British reductions would be serious; their economic situation might improve so that they could live with withdrawals from this standpoint in 4–5 years or even 2–3, but not now. Goh had pointed out that the Indonesian future remained uncertain. Finally, he had complained that the British had never completed a firm bilateral defense agreement as they had promised at the time of separation between Malaysia and Singapore.

Hasluck then reported a more general reaction from Razak of Malaysia. He was said to be equally unhappy, and complaining that Healey had earlier assured the Malaysians that a substantial presence would be maintained.

Hasluck then said—and Holyoake and the Secretary agreed—that Australian defense planners seemed to be in the best position to do an independent study on the economic and military aspects of any British concept of using mobile forces in the Far East. Their preliminary judgment was that such a concept would not be effective, and that it would be possible to show that a military transport capacity, combined with offsetting economic aid to Malaysia and Singapore, would in fact cost the British more than maintenance of their present positions. The Australian planners could make use of ANZAM ties in getting data for such a study. The Australian military reported that General Hull, the British CGS, appeared clearly unhappy with what was in prospect.

Stewart of New Zealand then commented that Hull had described to them a British concept of maintaining small forces in the area to hold ports of re-entry. This appeared to differ from any plan for ultimate complete withdrawal. The Secretary then said that he could not see why there was any valid planning requirement to announce a timetable for complete withdrawal. In response, there was general agreement that the basic reasons the British wished to announce a timetable were political. The Secretary asked whether the British were seeking in part to dissociate themselves from Viet-Nam. Hasluck thought that their purpose was rather to indicate that they were getting out of Asia in general, although this in turn was linked to their view on Viet-Nam.

Holyoake said that he had told Brown emphatically that Britain could move to half-strength “if you must” by 1970–71, but had taken a strong position against any announcement of withdrawal by 1975.

The Secretary and Hasluck both commented that it would really be desirable to have the British move their forces north to Thailand.

[Page 56]

Hasluck summarized major strategic arguments against British withdrawal. We could not count on the change in Indonesia. A threat to Thailand would remain even if Viet-Nam came out satisfactorily. There were remaining threats in east Burma, southern Thailand, and other parts of the area.

Holyoake asked if Cambodia was not another case of potential instability. The Secretary thought a Communist threat there was not serious for the time being.

The Secretary and Holyoake then reported that they too had sent messages to Brown. The Secretary summarized his message as arguing against significant reductions while Viet-Nam was going on, and arguing most strongly against any announcement of withdrawal by the mid-1970ʼs.

Returning to the subject of British motives, the Secretary speculated that the British might be seeking to avoid any possibility of becoming engaged with China. This led to some discussion in which there was general agreement that British motives included some belief that their prospects for admission to Europe would be enhanced if they announced ultimate withdrawal from Asia. Hasluck said that the British had seemed to him devious for a long time on this subject, and that he thought what Brown had given us might reflect a considered plan that included the handling of the US, Australia, and New Zealand as simply one of its elements.

The Secretary asked whether Brown might have been, in effect, appealing for economic help to enable Britain to carry on in the Far East. If so, he said, the US had no intention of volunteering such help.

Hasluck commented that British planning might have gone too far for any such economic help to have an effect. Kitchen noted that we had given some contingent thought to this question, and had concluded that any method for assistance that we can devise would involve so much money that it would clearly show itself as a subsidy. The Secretary rather wryly remarked that he did think we could help the British if they put forces in Viet-Nam.

Kitchen commented that the current British agitation on the issue probably had something to do with the adverse results of the London elections and with the substantial defections on the recent White Paper.

The discussion was left at this point. In essence, it had been an exchange of views and a sharing of comments given the British. The only concrete action is that the Australian defense planners will seek to develop facts to counter any mobile concept the British may be entertaining.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 4 ANZUS. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by William Bundy and approved in S on April 27. This was the first of four memoranda of conversation covering this session of the ANZUS Council meeting. Part two, which dealt with Cambodia, is printed as Document 204; part three was about Vietnam and is in the Department of State, Central Files, DEF 4 ANZUS; part four concerned miscellaneous topics—the United Nations, the Philippines, and Northeast Thailand. A complete copy is ibid., Conference Files: Lot 67 D 586, CF 169, which also contains additional records on the ANZUS Council meetings.