Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 11 April 1957


Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) .- 1 think that every honorable member who takes up a position in opposition to the Government in this debate is in honesty bound to state quite simply and directly what he believes ought to be the objectives of the Australian Government in the situation that he is discussing. Therefore, at the outset, I should like to say what I believe about the Middle East. First, I believe that it ought to be the objective of our policy to obtain a guarantee of the frontiers of Israel, and to make those frontiers rational. Secondly, I believe that we should acknowledge Egypt's full ownership ot the Suez Canal. In terms of international law, all the evidence that I have seen is that the Egyptian Government's action in nationalizing the canal was legal. 1 am not at the moment discussing whether it was right or wrong; I am discussing its legality. The United Kingdom Government at no time challenged that action in the International Court ot Justice at the Hague, because of its experience before that court in relation to the nationalization of the Persian oil-fields. Thirdly, I believe that we should insist that the Arab refugees driven out of Israel and living in the Gaza strip should be re-settled in Israel. Fourthly, 1 believe that Israel should be given, by the Western Powers or the United Nations, the capital needed for the resettlement of these people. Fifthly, I believe, on the basis of this just agreement being reached, that if Egypt were still to exclude Israeli ships from the Suez Canal, the United Nations should forcibly assume control of the canal and continue to pay to Egypt the revenues received from it. I believe that those ought to be the objectives of Australian foreign policy in relation to the Middle East.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in the course of a number of speeches on the Middle East situation, seems to have confused a number of facts. He always speaks as if the blow at British power in the Middle

East has been dealt by Nasser's act of nationalization. The truth is that British power in the Middle East disappeared with the withdrawal of British troops, and that Nasser's act of nationalization was a consequence of that withdrawal of British power and not the act that ended British power. The architect of the withdrawal of British power was Sir Anthony Eden, who, as early as 1936, entered into a treaty agreement under which British troops were to be withdrawn in 1956. When they were withdrawn in 1956, the Suez Canal passed into the power of Egypt, lt is always the tendency of mind of the Australian Prime Minister to confuse a number of facts. First, he plays upon the resentment of the Australian people at what they see as the spectacle of the disappearance of British power, and he makes a false diagnosis of the point at which that power disappeared.

Secondly- and this was a most conspicuous feature of his speech on Tuesday evening - he asserts that the motive of American policy in the Middle East was an uncritical surrender of authority to the United Nations. The United States of America at no time indicated such a motive. On the contrary, all its official pronouncements were to the effect - the Prime Minister has never dealt with this contention - that, if the United Stales were to be identified with Anglo-French policy in the Middle East, all influence of the Western Powers among the Arab peoples would be ended. I believe that the prestige of the United States, in the eyes of both the Arabs and the peoples of Asia, stands unprecedentedly high, and that the entire resources of Soviet propaganda are directed, not at the destruction of the credit of Britain and France, because they have virtually no credit in the Arab world at the present time, but at the destruction of the credit of the United States. The United States may be right or wrong in having such a motive in her foreign policy; but the motive was not that imputed to her by the Prime Minister, and he has never dealt with, or refuted, the contentions of President Eisenhower as to the motives of the United States.

The third, and the constant, implication by the Prime Minister is that Nasser excluded Israel from the canal as one of his dictatorial whims. The truth is that the original exclusion of Israeli ships from the canal was carried out by Farouk, in 1949. It was not carried out by Nasser at all, and for seven years, while 80,000 British troops were in occupation of the canal zone, Israeli ships were excluded from the canal That is the point. The ownership of the canal at that stage was vested not in Egypt but in the Suez Canal Company. I do not justify the Egyptian action in excluding Israel from the canal, but when she did, Britain, with 80,000 troops, did nothing. Secondly, in 1954, Britain entered into a treaty with Egypt. It was signed by Mr. Anthony Nutting and stated that Britain could return all her troops to the canal in the event of any serious disturbance in the Middle East, wilh one proviso. That proviso was that if Israel were to attack Egypt, it should not be regarded as the case in which British troops could return to the canal. And no member of the Government has ever pointed out that the ground of Mr. Nutting's resignation was that he had signed the specific provision making the one count on which British troops could not come back to the canal, that of an Israeli attack on Egypt. And yet we treated that as the " casus belli "!

I cannot accept the contention of the honorable member for Ryan (Mr. Drury) that the British action was to separate the protagonists; that the mounting of British power in the Mediterranean took place because of an Israeli attack. It is quite impossible to regard the naval actions in the Gulf of Suez, where there was absolutely no Israeli power of any kind, but where Egyptian corvettes were sunk, as separating two contending parties. I feel that the honorable member for Ryan knows as weD as I do that what British prestige in the world suffered most of all from was the succession of contradictory explanations of her action.

As a great deal has been said about the failure of the Labour party adequately to condemn Russian aggression in Hungary, let us come now to one very significant fact: The Soviet attack on Hungary took place two weeks before the British action in Egypt, and at no stage, until after the Soviet Union had attacked the action in the Middle East, did either the British Prime Minister or the British Foreign Secretary say one word in condemnation of Russian action in Hungary. I draw the conclusion that the British Prime Minister's hands were morally tied by his intentions, and I believe that that is one of the greatest tragedies of the whole situation.

I believe, passionately, that the tragedy about British foreign policy under Sir Anthony Eden was that it was irrelevant; that while the Soviet Union was holding the vital areas for the future control of the world - the heart of Europe and China - Britain was fiddling around with an obsolete diplomacy based on the route to India, the vital importance of Cyprus - which no British strategist believes matters twopence in a hydrogen age - the canal, and all the obsolete conceptions of the route to India, which had great validity in the nineteenth century, but have none to-day.

The fourth contention of the Prime Minister was quite important, because 1 believe that it comes on to his blind spot, Asia. I want to pay this tribute to the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey): I was convinced that he was fiercely resented in India because of his role as Governor of Bengal. On the contrary, I found, when I was in India, that no man stood higher in respect. Indian civil servants and Indian leaders would tell me about his battle during the famine, and I believe that he enjoys a tremendous amount of goodwill in Asia. The Prime Minister is quite unaware of the feelings of Asia. I want to draw attention to the fact that in one of his original speeches during the Suez crisis, he spoke as if Indian foreign policy in this matter would be motivated by a strictly material consideration. He asked the House on a number of occasions to consider how badly India would be affected by the closure of the canal. If India were conducting her foreign policy in. terms of pounds, shillings and pence, no doubt that would be so, but there are many honorable members, such as the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson), who have shown a sensitive sympathy for Great Britain. They believe that she is being ejected from all sorts of positions unjustly. With them, it is not just a material question. If that is their feeling, they have only to look into their own hearts to see the situation that exists in Asia, and to realize that no material consideration would weigh as much with Indian foreign policy as the thought that here was another instance in which a coloured power was being pushed around. From many points of view, the Bandung conference was absurd, lt decided nothing, but psychologically it meant a tremendous amount to the Afro-Asian powers to be able to get together and say, " At last we have a situation in which the affairs of our countries are not determined in London and Paris". If we are not prepared to look at that situation, and conduct our foreign policy accordingly, we are going to forfeit Asia to communism.

Another of the Prime Minister's constant tendencies in these debates is to speak of French foreign policy towards the canal as if it existed " in vacuo "; as if it were purely a canal situation divorced from the whole Middle East situation. The truth is that France has been bitterly at war with most of the Arab peoples, for they aspire to independence. We have come to recognize in the British Commonwealth of Nations, with the conspicuous exception of Cyprus, that that is an inevitable demand. In point of fact, because of the leadership of the Neo Destour in Tunisia and Morocco, and because of Mendes France, a sane solution has been arrived at in those countries, but in Algeria there has been a continuing situation of war, and Colonel Nasser's propaganda has been directed at inflaming that situation. The foreign policy of the French was directed towards smashing what they regarded as the source of Arab resistance to themselves. I think that is understandable, but I also think that, in totality, French foreign policy in indefensible. It ought not to be the aim of a wise diplomacy to encourage France in a flat refusal to make concessions to the Algerians, or the Arabic peoples. It is contrary to all our own experience in the British Commonwealth of Nations, and it is true that Nasser can inflame that situation. It is also true that France has very systematically piled up the straw into which Nasser can throw the matches, and it is not adequate merely to look at his match-throwing activities and take no notice of the straw-piling activities of France.

In my time in the United Kingdom. I had the opportunity of meeting many British generals and service chiefs, and I never found one who believed that in the event of war the Suez Canal would be of the slightest importance, or that anybody could keep it open. That is not, of course, to say that it is not immensely important in peace, but I am speaking at the moment strategically. I did not meet one general who believed that in the event of war anybody could move a gallon of oil from the Middle East. They believed that, if we possessed the Persian oil wells, nothing could stop the Russians from destroying them by atomic warfare; if Russia seized them, nothing could stop us from destroying them from Africa by atomic warfare. The likely situation in the Middle East would be that no one would have the resources of that area in their possession.

The Middle East is vital, not from those narrow considerations which the Prime Minister seems to regard as important, but from other considerations. The Middle East is still the junction of continents. In the strategy of communism, the taking over of both Asia and Africa is envisaged and then, with that flanking movement, bringing down the Western Powers. The Middle East is still the strategic area through which that policy must pass, and, for utterly different reasons from those that existed in the past, the Persian Gulf has become again one of the great strategic areas of the world.

I believe that in this situation we ought to have a diplomacy that is slow to lose patience. We ought to have a diplomacy that looks for a way to be constructive. We ought to have a diplomacy that is not possessive, not anxious to impress and not cherishing inflated ideas of the importance of this country. There is no need for a lot of passionate activism in diplomacy. We also need one which, in relation to Asia, has good manners, is not touchy and does not pursue selfish advantages. Finally, we want one that is not despairing and liable to write off nations as inevitably opposed to us.







Suggest corrections