Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume III
15 — The Governor-General of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs
The Governor-General of New Zealand to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs
My Ministers have now had an opportunity of considering your most secret and personal telegrams to your High Commissioner [Nos. 11 and 12] and Circular Z. 214 of 12 August3 with reference to the Far Eastern situation.page 25
In the first place my Ministers would like His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to know how warmly they welcome and appreciate the assurance as to naval protection in Eastern waters, should the necessity arise, which is contained in the Prime Minister's message conveyed in your telegram [No. 11].
His Majesty's Government in New Zealand offer the following immediate comments on those aspects of the matter upon which specific requests for their views have been made:
1. The main problem as it appears to them is not so much (as set out in your telegram [No. 12]) ‘whether our limited resources in the Far East, in combination with the Dutch resources in the Netherlands East Indies, would justify our taking action in the event of an attack on the Netherlands East Indies’, as whether we can afford not to take action.
2. They do not believe that this can be considered solely or even primarily as a military problem.
3. The political aspects seem to them to be of even greater importance than the military, and the problem involves also the question of honour and of that indefinable which for want of a better word might be referred to as prestige. Our honour, and our reputation for fair and generous dealing, they feel, are among the most valuable attributes of the British Commonwealth—so valuable that without them our cause might not prevail. We must bear in mind that, in the event of a Japanese attack on the Netherlands East Indies in respect to which we took no action, there is a danger that the neutral world, and particularly the United States of America, would be gravely disturbed by what they would regard as another instance in which we have considered ourselves unable to assist our friends against piecemeal attack and destruction. This would, they feel, be highly disadvantageous to us, especially if it militated, as it well might, against the possibility of our receiving assistance from the United States.
4. Turning now to the military aspects of the matter, they agree that for the time being there is little that the British Commonwealth, and particularly New Zealand, could do, other than by example and encouragement, to support the Dutch, and they agree also that the Dutch refusal up to the present to concert plans with us is an embarrassing factor that cannot be ignored. But, as they see it, Japanese control of the Netherlands East Indies would surely and rapidly render untenable our position in Singapore and Malaya, and would thus certainly and perhaps irretrievably jeopardise the security of New Zealand, Australia, and all British possessions in the Pacific.
5. It is their opinion, therefore, that the British Commonwealth cannot afford, on the material side, to allow a Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies, nor on the moral side remain neutral and inactive page 26 if our allies, the Dutch, are attacked in that area. Nor do they believe that an attempt to follow such a policy would at best achieve more than a postponement of hostilities with Japan for a short period. Such a postponement they feel would be dearly purchased if it enabled Japan, as they believe it would, to attack us later at her chosen time and—in occupation of the Netherlands East Indies, and perhaps of other areas of strategic value—on still more advantageous terms.
6. It seems to His Majesty's Government in New Zealand therefore:
That we are bound, both by honour and interest, to act with what vigour we can in the case of Japanese aggression in the Dutch East Indies, which we should let it be known we would regard as a hostile act;
that we should accept, and as far as possible prepare against, the disadvantageous position (temporary they hope) in which we would be placed vis-à-vis Japan;
that the Dutch should at once be advised of our attitude to Japan if Japan should attack the Netherlands East Indies and urged to resist discreetly any Japanese commercial advances in the Netherlands East Indies, and to oppose by every means any Japanese aggression on that territory;
that at the same time the Dutch should be informed of our difficulties in providing immediate powerful military, naval and air force assistance but that steps are already under way to overcome these limitations, and they should be informed also of our firm resolve to do all in our power to come to their assistance if attacked;
that the Dutch should be suitably warned of the obvious results, as so patently exemplified in Europe, of a failure to consult and concert plans in advance, and urged to enter at once, with the utmost secrecy, into the necessary staff consultations. Should such consultations take place, His Majesty's Government in New Zealand would of course be glad to detail suitable officers for this purpose as suggested;
that the policy outlined above should be explained fully to the United States Government, whose sympathy would be valuable and whose collaboration in such a policy it might not be impossible to obtain.