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

135 — The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs1

The Prime Minister of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs1

6 February 1942

Following from Prime Minister for Prime Minister:

I am very grateful to you for your message contained in the Secretary of State's telegrams of 2 February [No. 133] and Nos. 85 and 86,2 and for your early intimation to me of President Roosevelt's views on the establishment of the Far Eastern Council.

I am sure you will agree that it would serve no useful purpose for me to say that we agree with the view now expressed by President Roosevelt (which we appreciate concurs with your own) when in fact we do not agree. We have considered this matter at great length and with the most earnest desire to reconcile our views on a proposal which deeply concerns us with those which we know you to hold. In this we page 148 have failed, and we retain the belief that a Far Eastern Council, wherever its seat, without the participation of the United States (and indeed of China) is inadequate for the purposes which it is designed to serve. We think, therefore, that a mistake is being made which in our opinion may prove serious.

At the same time, having expressed our views, we feel that we have taken the matter as far as we can. As you know, despite our doubts, we have never at any time declined your proposal for a Far Eastern Council established at London with representatives of Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands, and, though we retain the view that it is inadequate for its purpose, we will nevertheless now accept it and do everything that lies in our power to ensure that it operates to the fullest advantage within the limitations of its constitution. We are now addressing our minds to the question of suitable representation both on this Council and on the War Cabinet, in connection with which latter subject we have noted the views which you were kind enough to forward of Mr Mackenzie King and General Smuts.

There are, however, two matters to which I feel I must call your attention:


It is noted that in your last communication, as in previous communications, the whole thought appears to be directed to the ABDA area, and I wonder if it is sufficiently appreciated by those responsible in the United Kingdom and in the United States (a) that no part of New Zealand territory is included in that area; (b) that, except through the proposed Far East Council and liaison officers on Wavell's staff, New Zealand will have no direct connection with that area; and (c) that while conditions in that area may well have a vital effect on this Dominion, nevertheless a direct attack on New Zealand or New Zealand outposts is unlikely to originate from or to pass through that area. Our main preoccupations therefore are in the Anzac area and the remainder of the Pacific, and to these portions of the globe it appears to us that your communication omits to refer at all.


We wonder whether this is in any way connected with what we regard as the inaccurate and misleading title which is now given to the ABDA area. This portion of the Pacific area is now consistently referred to as the South-Western Pacific, and General Wavell is spoken of and signs himself as the Supreme Commander of the South-Western Pacific. The plain fact of the matter is that a large portion of the ABDA area is not in the South-Western Pacific and, if the whole of the ABDA area was so included, it certainly does not constitute the whole of the South-Western Pacific. It might be more accurately termed the Mid-Western Pacific. It seems page 149 to us that this error in geographical nomenclature may well have obscured the fact that New Zealand and a large part of the South-Western Pacific is not included in the ABDA area. We think that the use of the term South-Western Pacific as a description of the ABDA area should be re-examined, and we do this without any wish unduly to stress or exaggerate the importance of the matter. We do feel convinced, however, that both in London and in Washington, as is evident in President Roosevelt's message, some measure of confusion exists, and may continue to exist, as to defence requirements for the countries in the respective areas and as to the strategical problems involved.

1 Repeated to the Prime Minister of Australia.

2 The last two telegrams are not published. See p. 146, note 1.