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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume III

78 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the Prime Minister of New Zealand

3 December 1941

My telegram M.412.1

After consideration of Lord Halifax's account of his discussion with the President, the following reply is being despatched to Lord Halifax this evening:

‘1. We entirely agree with President Roosevelt that we and the United States Government (and the Netherlands Government) should be clear as to what action we shall respectively take in the various situations likely to arise.

1 Not published. In this telegram the Dominions Secretary repeated to the Prime Minister the text of a telegram from Lord Halifax reporting on his interview with the President.

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‘2. Of the hypotheses in paragraph 6 of your telegram, the first two seem to us for practical purposes indistinguishable.1 All our information goes to show that reinforcements have been arriving for some time and are still continuing. The only question, therefore, appears to be what we should do if the Japanese reply to President Roosevelt's inquiry is unsatisfactory. We feel the proper reaction would be simultaneous warnings to Japan by the United States, the Dutch and ourselves to the effect that if she uses Indo-Chinese territory as a base for further aggression, she will do so at her peril. If such warnings are given it is necessary to be clear as to the action which we shall all take if they are ignored. We read the President's assurance of support recorded in paragraph 8 of your telegram to mean armed support,2 and on this assumption we should ourselves be prepared to put into effect the operation referred to in my telegram [No. 73] if there were a [group mutilated – direct?] Japanese attack or threat of immediate attack on the Kra Isthmus. Under hypothesis (c) the threat to Singapore might be less immediate, but we should still think it wise to put into operation the same plan, provided we had a similar assurance that we would have the armed support of the United States if our action resulted in hostilities with Japan. If the President's wishes suggested any other form of action in which he would be disposed to participate, we should of course be glad to consider it. We note particularly the President's statement that in any direct attack on ourselves or the Dutch we should all be together.3 We fully endorse this statement.

‘3. We have already been considering the possibility of some arrangement with the Thai Government under which our entry into the Kra Isthmus, at whatever stage it might take place, would be by their invitation. The difficulty at present is that we are not militarily in a position to give direct assistance to the Thai Government in the protection of the rest of their territory. The proposal to occupy a very small part of the Kra Isthmus is therefore unlikely to appeal to them, and we fear the same applies to an undertaking from us to guarantee their ultimate full sovereignty and independence. It would, we feel, be asking a good deal of them to expect them to accept the virtual certainty of partial extinction in order to ensure their ultimate independence.

1 Paragraph 6 read: ‘He wished me accordingly to ask you what His Majesty's Government would do in the event of (a) the Japanese reply being unsatisfactory, reinforcements not yet having reached Indo-China, and (b) the reply being unsatisfactory, reinforcements having in the meantime reached Indo-China, and (c) a Japanese attack on Thailand other than an attack on the Kra Isthmus, attack covering in his mind such Japanese pressure on Thailand as to force concessions to the Japanese dangerously detrimental to the general position.’

2 The reference to support in paragraph 8 read: ‘On the immediate question asked in your telegram [No. 73] he said we could certainly count on their support, though it might take a short time, he spoke of a few days, to get things into political shape here….’

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‘4. The Thai Prime Minister has forcibly represented to us that the only way to save Thailand is by a public warning to Japan by the United States and ourselves that if she went to war with Thailand she would find herself at war with us both as well. If he knew a warning of the type suggested in paragraph 2 above had been delivered, even though it were not made publicly, his outlook might change. We feel, however, that any communication to him about our plans in the Kra Isthmus would be useless until such a warning has been delivered, and there is in addition a very great risk of leakage to the Japanese. For the moment we are confining our action to informing Sir J. Crosby of our plan so that he may be able to make a communication at short notice.

‘5. We would propose to make it clear in any such communication or in any announcement which might accompany our [group mutilated – plan?] that we should restore in full to Thailand any territory which we might occupy, and that our aim is to ensure the full independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Thailand.’