38. Memorandum of Conversation, Washington, July 30, 1973.1 2



  • The President
  • Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger
  • Australian Ambassador Sir James Plimsoll
  • Ambassador Marshall Green

After the photographers had left the room and after opening pleasantries, the President asked the Prime Minister how he saw the future of Australian-US relations, commenting that he did not expect that we would have serious bilateral problems but that we both faced issues with third countries, notably in Asia. The President remarked that there were those in the US who felt we should get out of Asia and Europe, and that that view may well prevail since it is a view that is shared by a strong group in the State Department as well as in Congress. Americans have an affectionate regard for their Australian friends and we have a sound alliance between us. But, it is a question of where we go from here. Do we try to muddle through or do we try to develop a concept of where we are going and how we propose to get there? There is no doubt that the Russians and Chinese have a very clear view of where they are headed. On the other hand, there may be some 50 different viewpoints within our own bureaucracy as to where we are going; all of these views are well intentioned but most of them are wrong. A number of our European friends have criticized us in the past for not negotiating with the Russians and Chinese, but, now that we are at long last doing so, these European friends feel neglected.

The Prime Minister responded: The US is without doubt the greatest power in the world. The Nixon Doctrine has generated a greater sense of self reliance among the developing countries of the world; and you have made a major contribution to world peace in effecting a rational relationship with China and a detente with [Page 2] the Soviet Union. You should derive great satisfaction from the fact that you had advocated these successful measures many years ago, measures widely appreciated in Australia and around the world, including the Soviet Union and China which see the dangers in power vacuums.

The President acknowledged with a smile that NATO’s strongest supporter seems to be Chou En-lai and that the Chinese, unlike some in our own bureaucracy, are opposed to our quitting Japan. However, we must remember that if the US cuts the umbilical cord with Japan, the latter does have options. It already has one of the world’s strongest economies and qualifies as a “mini-nuclear power.” Japan has options to make a deal with the Russians at this time, or possibly later on with the Chinese, or Japan could go nuclear. At the moment Japan feels very much alone in a dangerous world, which underlines the importance of Japan’s continuing its close ties with its friends like the US and Australia.

The Prime Minister replied: I suppose even American critics of the Administration’s policy do not wish to see the US withdraw from Japan and the West Pacific since it would only encourage militarism in Japan. They must recognize that US protective arrangements with Japan and Germany prevented a resurgence of militarism there. I further suppose that the strongest critics to current shifts in American policy are those on the far right and it is therefore essential to have at the helm of the US Government a man who is considered by them to be reliable.

The President observed that this proved helpful in handling the Taiwan issue. He asked the Prime Minister how he knew our politics so well.

The Prime Minister replied: When I was in school in the 1930’s I mastered Western European history but was ignorant of the histories of the US, Japan and the USSR. Idle periods during my wartime service provided opportunity to study the history of these [Page 3] other countries, especially the US. One of the things I learned was that the US Congress lacked the voting discipline of the Australian parliamentary process. Perhaps the US could learn more about our system.

The Prime Minister continued: The international moves you spearheaded have Australia’s support, and your general objectives are perceived to be right. Your inaugural address bespoke a practical approach to international affairs, one that Australia welcomed. Whether Democrat or Republican, or whether Labor or Liberal, both our countries can work together. We cannot make issues between us a matter of contention in a way that jeopardizes our relations. “You may be discouraged at times — though you are not the type to be discouraged — by some of what goes on, but we know that your strongest critics are in the US itself.” I well recall your address to the Australian Parliament back in 1953 when I was a very junior parliamentarian. I knew then that a glittering future lay before you.

The President said: Whatever our problems may be today, it is a better world today than it was back in 1953. I specifically recall the tough assignment I was given by President Eisenhower of telling Syngman Rhee that he couldn’t march north; that if he did go north, we would have to get out of Korea. The world today is better because, for one thing, the polarization of the 1950’s and ’60s is behind us. The Nixon Doctrine is not designed to wash our hands of international responsibilities. At the beginning of our talk I was being the devil’s advocate; I was trying to point up the malaise of liberal thinking: to hell with everything. Suppose we were to face another crisis in Berlin or the Middle East, our intellectuals would demand that we stay out of these affairs and we would have a hard time exercising influence. Thus we really have to decide whether we are going to opt out of the world. But can we afford to? Looking ahead another quarter of a century, there will be over one billion Chinese and 350 million Russians. Now they glare at each other; [Page 4] but suppose those powers got together? Meanwhile Japan will be straining within the straight jacket of its land shortage. The countries of the Southern hemisphere 20-25 years from now will be taking on more and more importance, despite all the troubles of Africa and Latin America. The peoples of these areas could have great quality. Who would have foreseen many years ago that the Vietnamese and Koreans would be amongst the best fighters in the world? As far as Australia is concerned, I have a deep admiration for Australians, and Australia has great resources. One of Australia’s main handicap is shortage of water, but desalinization and nuclear fusion could change all that.

The President continued: We understand your politics and internal problems. As I look at Western civilization, I do not see us in confrontation with the Communists but we will be faced with challenges where your Parliament and our Congress have something very precious in their hands to preserve; but do they have the wisdom to do that which will enable our civilization to survive? Neither of our countries wants to appear in a colonialist role, and neither of us may exactly approve of some of the governments in Asia where authoritarianism prevails; but these are forces with which we must deal, and we must do so in the closest cooperation — standing together against predators. In this connection, any evidence of our pull-out from Malaysia or other key countries could have tragic consequences. Our problem is that public opinion moves strongly in the other direction in a world weary of war and beset with economic problems. But we must take the longer view, and if we weaken in our resolve we present a vacuum which will be exploited by men I don’t hate but who will inevitably react adversely to our interests if leaders of Western civilization “don’t get a new charge.” The Soviets are now talking about reciprocal reduction of armaments, but if we reduce unilaterally, why should they? American strength and evidence of our willingness to use that strength when necessary evokes a curious kind [Page 5] of respect from China; and when we get that respect from China, it has a desirable effect upon soviet attitudes toward us. In short, if we get out of the world as some of our people and your people recommend, that may be fine in theory but in practice it could be totally otherwise.

The Prime Minister said: Australia with its well-developed, literate, internationalist community, must live cheek by jowl with a large grouping of developing nations to the near north whose combined GNP is less than that of Australia. In dealing with these developing countries, Australia has three close associates — the US, the UK and Japan, though the latter has only economic power. Our task is how to sustain hope amongst all these developing people and provide assistance, even though what Australia can do is but a drop in the bucket. The contrast between our standards of living and theirs is stark indeed. But we are trying to break down differences. The “White Australian policy” has been discarded; and there have been great improvements in our handling of the Aborigines of Australia just as there has been in America’s handling of racial issues.

The Prime Minister continued: I am the first Australian Prime Minister to have visited Latin America. No Australian Prime Minister has ever visited Africa, though my assistant, Minister Willisee, just visited there recently. I was the first Australian Prime Minister to visit India in the past 14 years.

The President commended the Prime Minister for these visits which comport with Australia’s role as a world power. He specifically suggested that the Prime Minister visit Brazil, a country of great future significance. As far as China is concerned, Australia moved properly and in timely fashion to recognize the PRC.

The President summarized his view of Australian-American relations as follows: In personal terms there could be no two peoples with more in common. [Page 6] I have never met an Aussie I didn’t like. That bond will always remain. Economically our ties will continue to grow for it is so much in our mutual interests to do so. We can work closely together as allies, even though alliances are no longer relevant in all cases. Finally, we are both free countries with a free-swinging press, often irresponsible but vigorous and strong. In short, we have a lot in common and a lot to protect in common. What remains is to determine our roles in defending our heritage and interest. We cannot get out too far in front of public opinion, and since the latter is beset with isolationist trends we must fight against that tide, both of us. The main point is that we are at a critical turning point in history. After all the wars we have been through, we face the questions: do we have the will and economic power to cope with the challenges ahead? Can we afford to create a vacuum which others will fill? The view in Peking and Moscow is that their systems will prevail, not through nuclear war, but through other means. China is now preoccupied with a host of problems but it will have an even vaster population and an even greater nuclear arsenal. By pandering to public opinion we could leave the world. But why should we do so when it is within our power to maintain a sufficient presence along with our friends so that there can be a reciprocal reduction in armaments and the prospect of real peace? Our views of the world may differ but our goals are the same.

The Prime Minister said: Australia is not pulling out of Southeast Asia; its air squadron will remain in Malaysia. More importantly, it is widely understood that Australia’s effectiveness in its relations with Asia depends upon a reputation for good relations with the US. This Australia will maintain, just as it will seek to advance its economic ties with the US, Australia recently having appreciated its dollar and cutting tariffs by 25%.

The President concluded by directing attention once again to the importance of our relationships with Japan, a nation of prodigious economic power and [Page 7] highly capable people, yet a nation with which we must have the best of relations so that the Japanese feel they share our destiny in the world.

The Prime Minister responded that he will be visiting Japan shortly and continuing the annual ministerial talks that were started several years ago between the Japanese and Australian cabinets.

Upon the conclusion of their cordial one hour, 20 minutes meeting, the President accompanied the Prime Minister to his car where he bade him farewell.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 910, VIP Visits, Australia, PM. Whitlam Visit, July, 1973, folder 7. “Top Secret” is handwritten on the top of the first page. The President’s Daily Diary indicates that the meeting lasted from 11:15 a.m. until 12:33 p.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) Drafted by Green. Nixon’s undated talking points from Kissinger, which the President saw, are ibid. [1 of 2]. Rogers sent a briefing memorandum to the President On July 26. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–1973, POL 7 AUSTL)
  2. Nixon and Whitlam discussed U.S.-Australian relations.