30. Memorandum of Conversation1



  • Visit of Australian Minister of External Affairs, Paul Hasluck


  • United States Side
    • Secretary of Defense—Robert S. McNamara
    • Assistant Secretary of Defense (ISA)—Paul Warnke
    • Staff Officer for Southwest Pacific (ISA)—Donald Nuechterlein
  • Australian Side
    • Minister of External Affairs—Paul Hasluck
    • Ambassador to the United States—Keith Waller

Australian Forces in Malaysia/Singapore: Mr. Hasluck gave the Secretary a copy of a memorandum he had presented to Secretary Rusk on 9 October concerning an Australian Cabinet discussion of the status of Australian forces in Malaysia and Singapore, following the British withdrawal of their forces.2 Prime Minister Holt plans to make a public announcement during the next two months of the GOAʼs decision, he said, and the U.S. attitude on this matter is an important factor in the decision. Mr. Hasluck added that this was a very sensitive matter and requested that it be “closely held.”

[Page 73]

After reading the memorandum, the Secretary commented that it raised a number of complicated questions which would have to be considered carefully within the USG.

Mr. Hasluck elaborated on the contents of the memorandum, stating that a key question is whether the ANZUS commitment would apply to Australian troops stationed in Malaysia and Singapore, if they remained after the British withdraw. His government needed to know whether the U.S. would consider these troops to be covered by ANZUS, were they ever to get into difficulties there. It will be particularly important to know the USG position before Australia discusses defense arrangements with its Commonwealth partners early next year. Australia will also need to determine whether, and on what conditions, Singapore and Malaysia would permit Australian forces to remain on their territory, and particularly whether they could be used in support of SEATO commitments, such as Vietnam.

An understanding with the U.S. is more important for the longer term than in the short run. Mr. Hasluck assumed that the U.S. would maintain a military capability in Thailand after the Vietnam war ended and he did not, therefore, anticipate a threat of attack from the North. However, there is the possibility that insurgency may occur again in Malaysia. There is also the possibility that Indonesia may again become a threat to Malaysiaʼs or Singaporeʼs security, and this contingency requires some planning. Mr. Hasluck did not consider this a strong possibility nor did he want to antagonize the Indonesian Government in any way; but he felt that this question must be taken into account if Australia is to assume a long-term commitment to remain in Malaysia/Singapore, after the British depart. He mentioned that Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore would be in Washington the following week and probably would like to know what are U.S. intentions. He assumed that neither the U.S. nor Singapore would want to make any defense commitments, but he thought that the U.S. and Australia should consult and work out some arrangement that would be satisfactory to all concerned.

Secretary McNamara replied that he had two major questions about this matter: 1. What are the intentions of the governments of Malaysia and Singapore regarding the withdrawal of British forces? Neither government seems to be worried about this prospect, he said, and neither has approached the U.S. on the matter. 2. How do the British plan to fulfill their SEATO commitments after they pull out their forces? Where will they base their F–111s in the future? The Secretary felt it would be very helpful if Australia and New Zealand could get answers to these questions in the five-power talks that are scheduled for early next year and let us know. In the meantime, we can study the matter within the USG and see what our own position might be. In response to Mr. Hasluckʼs point that the British prefer not to participate in five-nation talks, Mr. McNamara [Page 74] said perhaps it was possible for Australia to have the discussions in two stages, first with the governments of Malaysia and Singapore, and then with the British. However these talks are arranged, it is clear that the U.S. will need to have a better idea than we now have about how the Commonwealth nations themselves wish to proceed on future security arrangements for Malaysia/Singapore.

Mr. Hasluck said that Ambassador Waller had been designated to follow up on these matters and he hoped that we would be able to provide some guidance regarding the U.S. position before Prime Minister Holt makes his public announcement, in four to eight weeks, about the GOAʼs position in Malaysia/Singapore.

The Secretary said we would be glad to talk with the Ambassador further about this matter.

Mr. McNamara asked Mr. Hasluck what he thought about future use of commercial ship and aircraft repair facilities in Singapore. Mr. Hasluck said this matter had not been discussed by his government.

Additional Forces for Vietnam: The Secretary said he was delighted at the Cabinetʼs decision to send additional ground forces to SVN and asked when the announcement would be made. The Foreign Minister expected the Prime Minister to make a statement in parliament on 17 October. (The size of the additional force was not mentioned.) He added that nearly all available Australian ground troops would have to be used to carry out this additional commitment, but the Cabinet felt it could be done without calling up reserves. Mr. Hasluck mentioned that he understood Mr. McMahon (Treasurer) had discussed Australian financial problems with the Secretary last week.3 Mr. McNamara indicated that he appreciated the GOAʼs financial situation and the problem of its defense budget; he thought it might be necessary to defer expenditures on ships and aircraft, in order to provide for the additional ground forces. In response to Mr. Hasluckʼs query regarding the reaction of other governments to the Presidentʼs appeal for additional forces, the Secretary said we were hopeful that Thailand would make an announcement in the next two to three weeks and that Korea would be able to do so later on. The Secretary felt that additional forces from the Australians, Thais and Koreans would have a very beneficial impact in the U.S.
Summit Conference: Mr. Hasluck asked about the prospects for a new summit conference among the troop-contributing nations. The Secretary replied that there was nothing definite so far as he knew, but that this was a matter for the Secretary of State to handle. His personal feeling was that such a conference should be held only if it would be clearly productive. [Page 75] He felt that the public impact in the U.S. would be an important factor to take into account.

Situation in Vietnam: The Australian Foreign Minister asked about the outlook in Vietnam. Secretary McNamara said it was about the same as last April when Mr. Hasluck last visited him, although he felt there was good progress on the military side. The North Vietnamese had committed a large force to battle along the DMZ, perhaps because it wished to shorten its supply lines, and the enemy had suffered heavy casualties. Its forces had withdrawn within the past ten days, but it was not clear why or for how long. The U.S. plans to put more troops into this area, he said, to insure the security of the northern provinces. Pacification is going very slowly, however. The Secretary felt that enough progress was being made in Vietnam so that, given time, the war would be brought to a successful conclusion. The big question, he said, was whether there was sufficient patience and firmness at home to see the situation through.

Mr. Hasluck asked about the barrier along the DMZ, and the Secretary gave him a detailed explanation of the deployment and nature of the detection system. He indicated that the first part of the plan would become operational in January 1968.


U.S. Public Reactions: Mr. Hasluck asked about the pressures in the U.S. to stop the bombing. The Secretary cited pressures on both sides—for more bombing, and for less or no bombing. He said there is no question that the bombing is hurting North Vietnam, but it does not appear that it can force Hanoi to negotiate an end to the war. He noted that if the bombing were stopped and nothing concrete happened as a result, it might be very difficult to resume the bombing.

Mr. Hasluck said his government supported the present level of bombing and believed there should be no halt in it until we had a clear indication that something concrete would result from Hanoi. He then asked whether U.S. public pressures would change our policy. Mr. McNamara said this question was best answered by the President, but that it was clear the war was becoming increasingly unpopular with the U.S. public. The big question was whether the President could keep enough support in an election year to see the war through to a successful conclusion. He indicated that it would not be necessary to call up reserves and that, from a financial point of view, the U.S. could well afford to continue the war without significant strains on its economy.

Soviet Reactions: The Australian Minister wondered whether the build-up of U.S. forces in Southeast Asia, the large investment in installations and the excellent experience U.S. forces were getting would cause the Soviets to worry about an alteration in the balance of power in Asia. The Secretary replied that we had no indication the Russians were worried about their own security, that they probably understood that the [Page 76] increasing U.S. power was directed against Peking, not against them. He felt we had a far greater capability to cope with any military contingency in the Far East now than we had two years ago. In answer to Mr. Hasluckʼs question as to whether Congress would be willing to have the U.S. forces pull out of the bases we had built on the mainland, the Secretary said Congress would have no problem about withdrawing from installations; Congress would not, however, be willing to have South Vietnam turned over to the Communists. Hanoi may not believe that the U.S. seriously intends to withdraw its forces from the South, he said, but this is our policy, if we can insure that the South will not be taken over by the North.
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 71 A 4546, Australia, 333. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Nuechterlein on October 26 and approved by Warnke on October 23. The meeting was held in McNamaraʼs office.
  2. See the attachment to Document 32.
  3. As recorded in an October 3 memorandum of conversation, I–26044/67. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 71 A 4546, Australia, 333)