THE WHITE HOUSE
MEMORANDUM OF CONVERSATION
- Mr. Peter Wilenski, Private Secretary to Australian Prime Minister Whitlam
- Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- Kathleen Anne Ryan, NSC Staff
DATE AND TIME: Wednesday, May 2, 1973
PLACE: Dr. Kissinger’s Office
The White House
Dr. Kissinger: [After talking on the telephone] I don’t know if you have the problem of getting people off the telephone. They have something prepared and will not stop until it has been said.
Mr. Wilenski: If they can get through.
Dr. Kissinger: I am delighted to see you. I was terrified that I would have to stand up a member of the Australian Labor Party, as happened once before.
Mr. Wilenski: Mr. Whitlam realizes what happened. He is quite relaxed about that. Because of the importance he attaches to the relations with the United States, and with the minimum of intermediaries he would like to be able to get across the conceptual framework of our foreign policy and the restraints in formulating it [foreign policy]. Whenever a new government comes into power, a discontinuity of policy with the old government has to be stressed rather than the continuity with the old. At the same time he wants to see what framework you see Australian foreign policy in relation to that of the United States. [It is] not a major factor.
Dr. Kissinger: It is a significant factor. First, how do you view the situation?[Page 02]
Mr. Wilenski: Right after the election itself — the campaign had four considerations; national security, a policy regarding New Guinea, Indonesia, and relations with the region in general.
Up to now the Australian campaign has been dominated by fear of Communist hordes and the gravitational theory. It was rather significant that in this particular instance that sort of campaign couldn’t get under way. And as one of domestic issues, it shows greater sophistication in Australian consensus and awareness. We have gone away from the fear of the Asian menace. You also contributed to that by your visit to Moscow near the time of our Prime Minister’s.
In many ways Whitlam is freed from constraints. We had urgent decisions last fall as it was the closing of the General Assembly. Some call these decisions impulsive. Our feeling is different; they were carefully thought out over seven years of opposition. In regard to recognition of North Vietnam, I think that was one of the changes that our predecessors would have taken any way. They would probably have done it at a slower pace.
Secondly, we are less interested in having troops on the ground in our region. We are still continuing military assistance to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, but we will gradually phase out our troops. We are not in a hurry. We will still have some planes. We are not anxious to have troops in a situation where they are involved in local conflicts.
Thirdly, we are less racial in our aboriginal problems.
We want a defense policy that can deal with local threats. We will not cut down the percentage of GNP on defense. We are cutting off options, such as the possibility of building bombs. Yet, we want to maintain a regional stance. An American alliance is the background for these things.
It is taken for granted in the community of interest that the security thing is an important element in the entire framework. On security we would like U.S. defense. Obviously, the United States will look at its own interests first. The sort of things we do will influence these sort of perceptions. The Prime Minister feels we provide something to the United States in the form of those bases for which the Prime Minister has gone out on a limb. He has said to the people, “I have studied the question of American bases here, they are important elements and you will have to trust me.”[Page 03]
Dr. Kissinger: We know that and we appreciate that.
Mr. Wilenski: We feel in the flurry of nuclear activity the other continuing activities are sometimes being forgotten. Therefore, it is important to stress them and our view of relations with the U.S. as not changing. Perhaps there will be times that we will disagree with the United States, but they will be in private. We know that some Ministers have said things in public. Our system is not like that in Great Britain. The Prime Minister does not have the power to choose the Ministers. He does not have the right to select or fire them.
Dr. Kissinger: Can he make their life impossible?
Mr. Wilenski: Yes, that is true. Whitlam wants to have a very positive stance in our region.
Dr. Kissinger: How do you define your region?
Mr. Wilenski: The countries of the Pacific: Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore. Then you, of course, get into the difficult area of Indochina. We define our region in different ways for different purposes. You cannot define the region without including Japan. On the other side we have the whole Indian Ocean area, which introduces a whole new element into our foreign policy, the Soviet Union. We don’t say that the Soviet Union is in our region. Defining that region will be done in the next 18 months; we will be most anxious not to extend our commitments beyond our capacity. We will concentrate on Indonesia, the countries north, the Pacific, then beyond in China and Japan. The latter are the outer limits of our region. Where do you see our region?
Dr. Kissinger: First, let me say, when you and I talk we can be frank. None of this will go beyond this office. How will this conversation go in your area?
Mr. Wilenski: It will go to the Prime Minister.
Dr. Kissinger: I hope that your Ministry will not check with our State Department. It is quite embarrassing for them if they do not know anything. Whoever you inform, I will let our counterparts here know.[Page 04]
Our relation with your government has started inauspiciously. We take great umbrage, even to keep it private, to be put on the same level as Hanoi. It seemed gratuitous and unreal and therefore, we never answered. The public comments of your Ministers compounded the problem.
We feel the following: We found that when we got into office, Vietnam had 550, 000 people there. I can argue about the rate of withdrawal and critics have the advantage of extolling their cause. Nothing fails like failure. Your critics never give you credit for following their advice. The Christma s bombing is silly to debate. Now, we did not bomb population centers, and it achieved its purpose — to get ground for a settlement. That is not the issue; it is in the past.
I can also see that a Labor Party which has had strong views over a long period of time was put in a very sensitive time during the first four weeks of its beginning. One doesn’t form foreign policy on one particular action. I hope so, or else your Prime Minister would not talk to me.
What is our general attitude? We hope not to be involved in an analogous situation again. The problem is if you wait until something is unambiguously clear to the world opinion, you also run the risk of a situation which is a great risk. The other side is that if you act in anticipation, you can never be sure if this was truly necessary. This is a very serious issue.
I come from an academic background. I know what the academic community, the intellectuals and the left wing think, and most of my personal friends are on the left rather than on the right. There is a great reluctance of the left wing to face the fact of power. Our thinking is that we should move from military to economic aid. Yet, today I had a cable from our Ambassador in Delhi, you know him, Patrick Moynihan, a liberal. He said it is sad to think that we are giving food to Bangladesh while the Russians are giving arms. And with the arms they will have more influence.
Mr. Wilenski: That is not always the lesson of history.
Dr. Kissinger: Yes, that is not always the lesson of history, but take India. They are dependent on the Soviet Union for spare parts and for military aid. We have no intention of going back into weapons sales in India nor Bangladesh. We are pursuing close to what you have described.
But I sometimes have the fear that we are bringing about a state of affairs [Page 05] where the most primitive people are going to take over the world. We do face the problem of having to analyze some minimum power positions that must be maintained, even if doing this is less exhilarating and morally satisfying.
In the Pacific we are opening to China. We are accelerating our relations. We are prepared to normalize relations with Hanoi if we can get a ceasefire maintained.
Our basic position is not different — in making the distinction between Allies and opponents. If all are treated the same, you get in the position of total flexibility.
Secondly, you have unpleasant things that have to be done.
Thirdly, in regard to security in the Pacific, Australia will be harmed before the U.S. in any ten to fifteen year period. We gain more time.
Finally, we don’t say we have identical policies. It is better if there is some understanding between governments which provides for flexibility. Again I am not talking about December. I understand the conditions of taking over the government. I think the observation you made in the beginning of our conversation correctly described that discontinuity is important to stress in the initial undertakings of a new government.
I must tell you, and you probably know, that there was very bad feeling here toward your Prime Minister, particularly because the President has a warm spot towards Australia, and therefore this hurt him.
In the future we believe that the alliance with Australia should continue and we are prepared to have a close relationship with Australia. Each side will have to consult its national interests in specific cases.
On the specifics on where do we want Australia to play a security role. I myself would have thought we would not have recommended pulling troops out of Singapore. Not of course for the numbers that were involved, but because you get a symbolic retreat of Western power.
Mr. Wilenski: It is not a process which we started.[Page 06]
Dr. Kissinger: No, we started too. Each country can legitimatize what it is doing by looking at other countries. I have not studied the Australian situation, but we were vastly overcommitted and had to withdraw.
Mr. Wilenski: The Indonesian case is a better model in regard to maintenance of these troops.
Dr. Kissinger: I am affected by that particular event because Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was here. He considered that a move that was not helpful to his position.
Mr. Wilenski: He has moved in the past.
Dr. Kissinger: So can all of them. The danger is that we can create a situation for countries to save themselves, and other countries will move in.
Mr. Wilenski: Singapore is not the hub of Southeast Asia.
Dr. Kissinger: My basic point is as long as Australia has security interests, it has to make the ultimate decision of where these interests are. A real Australian security interest, the Australians must feel it is essential.
Mr. Wilenski: I was wondering whether you see our role as being with Indonesia or in a more traditional view of outer Pacific American defense in regard to the bases in Pine Gap, etc.?
Dr. Kissinger: It is certainly beyond the bases we have in Australia. I would have thought it would certainly have included Indonesia. How far beyond is a question of fine judgment. The perimeter of Asia . . . our whole concept is that the perimeter should take care of itself. Therefore, we are not taking the same role.
Mr. Wilenski: Would you give up bases in the Philippines with reluctance?
Dr. Kissinger: Yes, it would be difficult for us. Indonesia would be more easy.
Mr. Wilenski: Where do you see the solution lying in Cambodia?[Page 07]
Dr. Kissinger: We have made a major effort to broaden the Phnom Penh government. North Vietnam and China, to my mind, have agreed to have Sihanouk as the formal head of the opposition forces. Therefore there are two identifiable heads, and that creates a theoretical basis for a ceasefire. One difficulty is that Leninists have no desire to share power. In practice whenever you negotiate with any Leninists they strive for something that would give them the possibility of a takeover. Laos is a possibility; we would settle for that and would stop our bombing. We are bombing to create a basis for negotiations.
As you know, I will see Le Duc Tho. I think there is a 50/50 chance for some amelioration of the present ceasefire conditions.
Mr. Wilenski: We can say that our Prime Minister is very much aware of the security that you have talked about, and at the same time he wants to add a different flavor to his foreign policy.
Dr. Kissinger: Many things he has done have coincided with our policies.
Mr. Wilenski: Yes, they have coincided, as in the case of China. In Indochina and Thailand it is obvious that there are differences in perceptions. As you have explained it, we appreciate your dilemmas but we genuinely do not believe that maintenance of foreign troops, once hostilities have ceased will help these governments.
Dr. Kissinger: You mean where?
Mr. Wilenski: Thailand. The presence of troops will add, rather than subtract to the problems.
Dr. Kissinger: The troops in Thailand are not there to deal with the Thai problem but those problems in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
If the ceasefire was observed, you would see a very substantial reduction of forces in Thailand. I cannot but argue that the Agreement that the U.S. had signed has been cynically violated, and what this will do to the American capacity to conduct a serious foreign policy . . . We obviously didn’t desire the situation and have not spent four years in order to look for a pretext to reinvolve ourselves. If the people in Hanoi were not professional warmakers, if they had any understanding at all, they would not force us to make actions we didn’t want to take. The Agreement was immediately violated.[Page 08]
Mr. Wilenski: It must be very difficult to sort out precisely how and where the violations have occurred.
Dr. Kissinger: Look, all the Vietnamese are bastards. And I am not saying that our fellows are paragons of virtue. They are all monomaniacs, and this added to Confucianism and the French administrative system creates havoc. Our side is also committing violations. But these violations are tactical maneuvers that don’t change the strategic situation. The violations committed by Hanoi follow a very clear design. This makes a big difference, I am not even counting the 60 daily violations. I don’t even mention them. But when you talk about massive infiltration — they have brought in 300 tanks. We have not supplied Saigon in this manner. We are prepared to use a maximum degree of influence to enforce the Agreement, but we need some help from Hanoi.
Mr. Wilenski: In the political history of this dispute our attitude to it now would be that one wants no part of the dispute.
Dr. Kissinger: We are not asking for your support now.
Mr. Wilenski: I realize that. Even if a settlement were not reached, we would continue to say that this is a hands-off sort of thing. There are, though, many members of our party that have personally suffered a great deal because of their opposition to the war. I hope you are successful with Le Duc Tho without taking any stronger action.
Dr. Kissinger: I don’t know what I have done to be punished by having to meet Le Duc Tho again. I like him, but he is so tiring.
Mr. Wilenski: Some day the Prime Minister would like to meet with the President.
Dr. Kissinger: In principle yes. What would you like to do?
Mr. Wilenski: One doesn’t like to be invited.
Dr. Kissinger: We used to have with the old government a place for confidential communications. In principle we have no issues in which to confront each other.[Page 09]
Mr. Wilenski: Our Prime Minister is going to the heads of government meeting in Ottawa in August and will be passing by the United States at that time.
Dr. Kissinger: I appreciate that. The President is going to the West Coast as soon as the Congressional session terminates.
Mr. Wilenski: He is visiting Mexico first and will be free between July 30 and August 1.
Dr. Kissinger: We have the Japanese Prime Minister July 31 and August 1. Would he be free any other time?
Mr. Wilenski: I will try.
Dr. Kissinger: We can have an informal visit.
Mr. Wilenski: He could be passing through Washington, an hour visit, no formalities or parties.
Dr. Kissinger: We could give him a party. Let me explore that. I am sure we will prefer it with some interval between the Japanese. How do I get in touch with you?
Mr. Wilenski: It depends on how you want to do it. By direct channel.
Dr. Kissinger: We did it through your Ambassador.
Mr. Wilenski: That is fine.
Dr. Kissinger: Do you have any other means?
Mr. Wilenski: There may be advantages in establishing some other means. How other than a direct telephone conversation?
Dr. Kissinger: That is not very secure.
Mr. Wilenski: How about through your embassy to our office.
Dr. Kissinger: Everything we send, they make copies. If we ever have to get the Prime Minister we have an alternative system of communication that doesn’t go through the State Department.[Page 10]
Mr. Wilenski: Then through our Embassy.
Dr. Kissinger: If you have something for me, make sure your Ambassador marks it through the White House channel. Shall I work through you or the Prime Minister directly?
Mr. Wilenski: It is the same thing. Whatever goes to me will immediately go to the Prime Minister.
Dr. Kissinger: Then I will address it to you and I will let you know about the possibility of a meeting early in August.
Mr. Wilenski: I don’t know what you think about this. One has to be careful with the press. If this meeting were announced it would help Australian-U.S. relations.
Dr. Kissinger: Fine. What will you do, confirm?
Mr. Wilenski: We will release it to the press that a meeting has taken place.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 504, Country Files, Far East, Australia, January 1972–December 31, 1973. Secret. The conversation took place in Kissinger’s Office at the White House. Kissinger’s talking points from Froebe, May 2, are ibid. Following the meeting, Kissinger instructed Rodman to send Nixon a proposal for a visit by Whitlam. (Memorandum from Rodman to Kissinger, May 3; ibid. [secret])↩
- Kissinger and Wilenski discussed U.S.-Australian relations.↩