Volume #15 - 766.|
Memorandum to Secretary of State for External Affairs|
February 1st, 1949|
You will have seen C.R.O. circular telegram H.2 of January 1† which summarized the position taken by the Commonwealth governments on the proposals on Commonwealth consultation which were made at the meeting of Prime Ministers in London, and in which the United Kingdom suggested an amendment of the London proposals for regular meetings at the Ministerial level on foreign affairs, providing for the substitution for the words "at least once a year and twice a year if possible" the words "once a year or more frequently if occasion requires."
2. This telegram has not yet been answered. We did, however, send a telegram to Mr. Robertson on January 5† stating that it did not appear likely that the amendment now suggested would do anything towards meeting the difficulties felt by the Canadian government, though the matter had not been considered by Ministers. Mr. Robertson informally told officials of the Commonwealth Relations Office that we did not regard their draft amendment as going any substantial distance to meet Canadian criticism of the original paper. They hoped for the record that we were replying to Circular H.2.
3. The governments of Australia, New Zealand and Ceylon have approved the proposed amendment. India, on the other hand, largely followed the line taken by the Canadian government in its reply of November 5. On January 26 the South African government at last circulated its views and comments on the original paper of October 21. A copy of its telegram No. 3 is attached.t It will be noted that it expressed general satisfaction with the existing arrangements for consultation but makes certain specific comments and proposed amendments, particularly with regard to the London recommendations for regular meetings on foreign affairs and on defence consultation. The views of the South African government are clearly very close to our own but it is thought that if their statement as well as ours of November 5 were published, ours would appear to be less cooperative and more negative. This might well expose the Canadian government to unjustified criticism.
4. As you are aware, a considerable amount of attention has been given to this subject in the press during the last few days as a result principally, it seems, of the remark made by Dr. Evatt on his arrival in Perth on January 13 to the effect that "one of the most important decisions" of the October meeting had not yet been announced. Both London dailies and Canadian newspapers have mentioned the proposal to hold a meeting in Ceylon on foreign affairs a few months hence.
5. You will no doubt wish to consider urgently what action should now be taken by the Canadian government in regard to the reply that might be sent to London on the subject of the proposals on Commonwealth consultation.
6. The following alternative courses of action might be considered:
1. A telegram might be sent to the United Kingdom, and repeated to other Commonwealth governments, intimating that the United Kingdom's suggested amendment to the text of the statement does not meet our views.v
It might be anticipated that this telegram together with our original reply would have to be published, probably at an early date. Although our previous comments would probably be quite acceptable to the majority of the Canadian people, publication of replies of all governments might have the unfortunate effect of indicating a much more serious split among Commonwealth governments in the matter of consultation than is actually the case.
II. We might draft a new statement on consultation and endeavour to have it accepted by other Commonwealth governments. Since the main public interest in speculation in the press about consultation has been on the proposed meetings of ministers on foreign affairs, and on the subject of defence consultation, our proposed statement might be confined to these points.
It may be seriously doubted whether we would have much success in getting such a statement accepted by other Commonwealth governments in view of the fact that so far all discussion between governments has been on the statement drafted in London and in view of the apparently strong pressure from Australia for the present statement, which includes proposals for consultation on economic matters.
III. We might endeavour to have the statement amended to take account of views expressed in our reply to the United Kingdom and the South African reply. It is felt that this course would be the more practical. If this course is adopted, a telegram might be drafted along the following lines:
(a) We might repeat our reluctance to the publication of the Statement on Consultation on the ground that it would tend to make more rigid and formal the present arrangements, which are working out quite satisfactorily, largely because they are flexible and informal, but we might indicate our assent to publication of an amended statement if other Commonwealth governments feel strongly that such a public statement is desirable.
(b) We might seek amendment of paragraph 2 of the statement along the following lines: "A meeting on foreign affairs will be held by the Heads of Commonwealth delegations to the General Assembly of the United Nations immediately following the conclusion of each regular annual session of the Assembly. This arrangement will be subject to review as circumstances warrant. At such meetings the necessity or desirability of further meetings on foreign affairs at the Ministerial level will be discussed."
(c) We might accept the South African amendment for Recommendation 4, paragraphs (a) and (b) as well as their suggested deletion of 5 (b).
(d) We might accept the South African amendment of Recommendation 6, adding a sentence along the lines of Mr. St. Laurent's reservation at London. Below is the South African redraft of paragraph 6. (Deletions are bracketed, additions are underlined.)
"In furtherance of the general aim of cooperation between all peace‑loving nations to deter and resist aggression there will be close consultation between Commonwealth Governments to arrange cooperative action in matters of defence (including)with particular reference to those matters which arise from a common interest in the security of a particular region. The military advisers of these Governments will consult together to frame proposals and plans for submission to their respective Governments.
"Meetings will be arranged on the Ministerial level as the occasion demands to discuss (defence problems whether general or regional)specific problems of particular interest to the Governments concerned. "In the system of Commonwealth service liaison officers there already exists machinery for the exchange of military information of general interest and Commonwealth Governments will consider how that machinery can be improved to render it fully effective as a means of exchanging information about the progress of the defence plans, whether general or regional, and securing the maximum appropriate degree of defence coordination." The following sentence to cover Mr. St. Laurent's reservation at London might be added:
"It is, however, recognized that it would be unrealistic to regard as effective either general or regional plans of defence which would comprise Commonwealth countries exclusively, and which did not also include other peace‑loving countries prepared to cooperate in resisting aggression."
Statement as drafted at London.1
Canadian Government's reply.2
United Kingdom's proposed amendment (telegram of Jan. 1, 1949)†
South African Government's reply†
1 Volume 14, piece jointe au document 856 et renvoi 15, page 1394. Volume 14,
2Volume 14, Document 858.