43. Letter From Acting Secretary of State Rush to Secretary of Defense Schlesinger, Washington, December 21, 1973.1 2


The Honorable
James R. Schlesinger
Secretary of Defense

December 21, 1973

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We have become increasingly concerned, as I know you have, with certain trends in our relationships with Australia since Prime Minister Whitlam’s Labor Government came to office a little over one year ago. Some rather erratic and even irresponsible Australian foreign and defense policy decisions, and leftist pressures within the Labor Party have all combined to place strains on our formerly close relationships. Clearly some of Whitlam’s public remarks have been regretted immediately and some of Australia’s recent policy decisions can be understood, if not excused, by the inexperience and preconceptions of a political party which had been out of office for 23 years. But if present trends are not halted, there is little question that grave damage will be done to Australian/American relationships and, in the process, to our vital interests in Australia. On the latter point, I need not convince you of the importance to the US of our several defense installations in Australia.

Against this background, I am convinced that Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Lance Bernard’s forthcoming visit to Washington provides an excellent opportunity to attempt to at least restrain present trends which could ultimately threaten the viability of our Australian installations.

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Barnard, by all accounts, is not only close to Whitlam, but also a very positive influence on him and the Australian Cabinet with respect to US defense and foreign policy interests in Australia. Even opposition party conservatives describe him as the most reasonable member of the current government. Our own assessment is that he may in fact be our best friend in the Australian cabinet. To our further advantage, Barnard is open-minded and prepared to listen to our point of view on issues of importance to us, and to convey back to Canberra accurately (and perhaps even with sympathy) our concerns on those matters which now divide us.

Barnard is also, I understand, a man of some pride and sensitivity. Given these traits, the manner in which we handle him could determine whether his will to fight our battles in Canberra will be strengthened or weakened.

In the above circumstances, I think all of us who will meet with Barnard would be well advised to put considerable effort into educating him and through him, Whitlam and his Cabinet, on some of the strategic realities which concern us, and should concern Australia. Various officers of the Australian Government who share our worries about the current state of our relationships with that country have been generous in taking us into their confidence by offering some solid suggestions for the kind of discussion approaches which might have the most positive effect on Barnard. These are now being developed into a paper which we will provide to your staff, and to other senior US officials who will be meeting Barnard. I would, however, emphasize one point made by those who know Barnard well — the importance of recognizing Barnard’s pride and sensibilities as they relate to his positions of Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister, and the seriousness [Page 3] of Barnard’s desire to have as thorough as possible discussions with US officials of global, regional, and bilateral matters of concern to our two countries.

We are similarly advising other senior officials of the foregoing in connection with their own meetings with Barnard.

Kenneth Rush
Acting Secretary

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–78–0001, Australia, 091.112, 1973. Secret. On bottom of the first page “22 Dec 1973. Sec Def has seen” is stamped, Rush received this letter for his signature under a covering memorandum from Sneider dated December 20. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–1973, POL 7 AUSTL)
  2. Rush communicated to Schlesinger the importance of Barnard’s visit.