Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume III
48 — The acting Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Prime Minister of Australia1
Your telegram of 11 August.
1. His Majesty's Government in New Zealand share the anxiety of His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia over the deterioration of the situation in the Far East, and they would welcome after full discussion an early definition of some common policy.
3. With the views of His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia regarding the issue of a mutual guarantee to and from the Netherlands East Indies, His Majesty's Government in New Zealand are in full accord, and they too have on several occasions made representations in support of this proposal to His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.
4. They have always assumed that, in the event of an outbreak of war, effect would be given to the assurances of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom that capital ships would be transferred to the Far Eastern area. While they fully agree that the presence now of British capital ships in Singapore would act as a powerful deterrent upon the Japanese, they are not without doubts as to the wisdom of denuding the British fleets in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean to the extent proposed, at a time when a number of capital ships are under repair and so long as there remain in existence heavy units of the German and Italian navies. Until the United States have agreed to take over a more active role in the Atlantic and have transferred sufficient capital ships to balance the withdrawal of British naval units, it would in their opinion be dangerous to remove five capital ships from the actual theatres of war.
5. It is agreed that an early discussion concerning the British attitude vis-à-vis Thailand is urgently required. His Majesty's Government in New Zealand fully realise the importance to British interests of maintaining the integrity of Thailand, but here again they are not without doubts as to the practicability and the wisdom of issuing a warning from the British countries alone that any attack on Thailand by Japan would be regarded as a casus belli. It seems to them unwise to take such action unless and until there is available a force sufficiently strong to ensure successful resistance to Japan in the area threatened. The result of any hasty or ill-conceived guarantee might well be a repetition of the circumstances surrounding the British guarantee to Poland in 1939.1
6. It appears to His Majesty's Government in New Zealand moreover that, having encouraged Thailand to resist, the British Commonwealth may in a very short time be called upon to render active assistance, and the time has arrived, if it is not already overdue, to consider whether or not the British nations are in a position to render immediate and effective assistance.page 57
7. The force of the arguments put forward by His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth for making a stand is fully admitted but the question of expediency cannot be overlooked. Before any clear definition of policy can be agreed upon, it seems necessary to ascertain what military resources are available in the Far East and whether or not effective assistance can in fact be offered to Thailand.
8. His Majesty's Government in New Zealand would therefore welcome a very early appreciation of the strategical position in regard to Thailand. They feel that the result of a defeat in this region such as we experienced in Norway, in Belgium, in Greece and in Crete, arising from any premature or ill-conceived attempt to assist the Thais, could not fail to have the most disastrous results, particularly in the United States.
9. The choice seems to be not so much one of abandoning Thailand or of delaying action against Japan as whether or not it is possible to give effect to a guarantee to Thailand, and until an appreciation of the facts of the position is available, and until there is a clearer definition of the views of the United Kingdom and also the United States attitude in the event of a Japanese move in this direction, His Majesty's Government in New Zealand would prefer to wait before deciding on the course of action proposed.