HC Deb 11 April 1951 vol 486 cc1025-32
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

The House will have heard of the decisions taken by the President of the United States of America in regard to General MacArthur. In view, however, of the widespread interest and anxiety about the objectives and plans of the United Nations in Korea, I consider that it may be useful to deal with the various issues raised in the Questions on the Order Paper.

Let me deal first with the question of aims in Korea. Consultations in which we are taking an active part are proceeding between Governments as to a possible statement of aims in Korea in the light of the general situation. If, as I hope, these consultations are shortly concluded, I shall then be able to give the House further information. All I wish to say now—so that there may be no possible doubt on the matter—is that our aims are unchanged. We stand for resistance to aggression, a free, independent and unified Korea, and no extension of the conflict.

Great interest has been expressed in the machinery for consultation between the United Nations and their Commander in the field. The position is that the United States Government were invited by the Security Council of the United Nations to make provision for a Unified Command, and to designate a commander for the United Nations forces in Korea. The President of the United States is the Chief Executive of the Unified Command and he designated General MacArthur as Commander in Korea. The Unified Command is responsible for the implementation of United Nations Resolutions in regard to Korea and for issuing directives to the Commander of the United Nations forces.

Apart from constant exchanges of views with Commonwealth and other friendly governments through the diplomatic channels, there is continuous consultation in Washington between representatives of governments contributing forces in Korea. The views of His Majesty's Government are and have been made known to the United States Government whenever the need arises. Sometimes our views prevail, sometimes they do not. That is only natural in discussions of this kind involving a number of nations, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the way in which the United States Government, on whom the main burden rests, has at all times displayed its readiness to consult and discuss in regard to these difficult problems.

The question of crossing the 38th Parallel cannot be treated apart from other matters concerning Korea. We were ready a few months ago to negotiate a cease-fire, and we are ready now. But it takes two to agree on a cease-fire, and so far the other side have shown no desire to stop hostilities in Korea. Consultations on crossing the Parallel began in February. I do not propose to reveal the nature of the discussions since the question of the extent of the advance of the United Nations forces has military as well as political aspects.

But I would not have the House think that the crossing of the 38th Parallel—despite all the attention it has received—is the main issue in Korea. The real issue is whether the North Koreans and Chinese are willing to negotiate a settlement. If they are, the question of the Parallel will soon cease to have any political importance, and I would hope that the aims to which so many nations, including the Soviet Union, have been pledged for so long—a free, unified and independent Korea—could be achieved by negotiation.

Let me now turn to the nature of the directives issued to the Commander of the United Nations forces in Korea since the establishment of the Unified Command. In the interests of the security and safety of the United Nations forces in Korea the House will not expect me to give precise details of these directives. I can, however, give an indication of their general content, and I shall try to summarise the instructions issued over a period of many months.

The Commander of the United Nations forces in Korea was instructed that the political aims of the United Nations called for resistance to aggression in Korea and included the long-standing aim of a free and independent Korea. He was told that these aims did not necessarily require the conquest of North Korea by force, though the disposition of troops and positions in the war of manœuvre in the vicinity of the 38th Parallel should be appropriate to defence against possible impending offensives by the Chinese and North Koreans.

He was told that operations should not be undertaken which extended the conflict beyond Korean territory, and that it was the intention of the United Nations to localise hostilities in Korea, and therefore that it was not their intention to become involved in general hostilities with China. And he was told that the powers of the Commander of the United Nations forces to conduct operations on behalf of the United Nations were limited to Korea, and were to be executed within the framework of declared United Nations policy.

I have given a summary of the instructions issued to the Commander of the United Nations forces in Korea, and I take this opportunity to associate His Majesty's Government fully with them. They represent the policy of our country and of the other countries with forces in Korea.

A number of questions on the Order Paper relate to the way in which General MacArthur has carried out his instructions. In view of the change of command, this episode is now closed, and I do not desire to say more than to draw the atten- tion of the House to the traditional British interpretation of the relationship between a military commander in the field and the Government to whom he is responsible. On this matter, successive British Governments have always consistently stood for the subordination of the military to the political. It is clear from the statement issued this morning by the President of the United States that, under the American Constitution and practice, the same interpretation is placed on this relationship, as indeed it must in any democratic country where the views of the people, expressed by their freely elected governments, must be paramount.

I should like, if I may, to turn for a moment from the issues raised in the questions on the Order Paper. These issues which relate to Korea are of the highest importance, and I have tried to deal with them at some length in order to remove any doubt and misunderstanding.

The record of General MacArthur is, however, not to be judged solely by some of his recent public utterances. He was a great servant of the Allies during the war in the Pacific, and he has proved himself a brilliant soldier. He has displayed qualities of the highest order in his conduct of the occupation in Japan. These are achievements which will be remembered long after the immediate controversy has been forgotten.

I hope that the House will bear with me if, in view of the announcement this morning in Washington, I do not deal with all the detailed points raised in the questions. This is not the time to look back but to look forward, and I take this opportunity of expressing the confidence of His Majesty's Government in General Ridgway, the new United Nations Commander in Korea, who has already shown such brilliant qualities in the field.

I, like my right hon. Friend my predecessor, am anxious to see whether we can bring about a negotiated settlement and, as I said at the beginning of this statement, consultations have been and still are, proceeding between the Governments. I hope shortly to be able to say something further on where we stand in Korea, and on what should be our policy for the future.

Mr. Churchill

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that there is general agreement on this side of the House with what he calls the traditional view that the constitutional and civil authorities should control the actions of military commanders? May I also associate us on this side with what he has said about the brilliant services which General MacArthur has rendered throughout the Great War and since in the direction of affairs in Japan, and say that we do not feel that these troubles which have occurred recently in any way diminish the great quality of the services which he has rendered?

Mr. Wyatt

Would my right hon. Friend cause it informally to be conveyed to President Truman that the people of this country deeply appreciate the courage that was needed to take this action and have fully appreciated the reasons for his actions all along?

Mr. Morrison

I will think about that, but there will be a little argument somewhere else and I do not want to get involved in it.

Captain Soames

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that as long ago as 12th February the Prime Minister informed the House that consultations were taking place within the United Nations as to the advisability of a military crossing of the 38th Parallel? Can he say whether the conversations have been going on ever since that date and whether any conclusions have been arrived at?

Mr. Morrison

Conversations have been going on but, as I said, it would not really be in the interest of the campaign that I should be too specific on that matter.

Mr. Driberg

As a sequel to this morning's announcement, would my right hon. Friend address himself very seriously to the difficult task of persuading the Chinese that the change in the Supreme Command was made because the policies proclaimed in Tokyo were wrong and were not in accordance with the United Nations aims and not merely because the Supreme Commander was being indiscreet?

Mr. Morrison

I can assure my hon. Friend I shall do my best in the matter. If he will also be so good as to do his best to persuade the Chinese to be forthcoming then I shall be much obliged.

Mr. Blackburn

While agreeing entirely with the general tone of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, may I ask whether he will take account of the fact that the announcement made by President Truman today was made by him as Commander-in-Chief of American Forces and there is no statement that it was made on behalf of the United Nations? May I ask him to give urgent consideration to the Question on the Order Paper in my name asking for the improvement of channels which enable us to see that our influence is felt in relation to the conduct of the campaign in Korea?

Mr. Morrison

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman could cheer up in all the circumstances of the case. It is perfectly true that the President of the United States acts sometimes in one capacity and sometimes in another. After all, I have been acting in two capacities this afternoon.

Mr. McGovern

May I ask my right hon. Friend if he is aware that there is a general feeling amongst people in the country that one of the reasons for General MacArthur's talking so much was because the politicians seemed to fail to state very clearly not only their objectives but whether or not we could conduct this campaign successfully without carrying out the policy that General MacArthur has enunciated?

Mr. Morrison

I will keep that point in mind.

Mr. Nigel Fisher

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that what is really required in Korea and what has been sadly lacking since the very inception of the war is strong central strategic direction of the war such as we had in the Second World War under my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill).

Mr. Morrison

I should not have thought this was an occasion for the hon. Member to bring in such a partisan consideration.

Mr. McAllister

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the issues raised by the statement made by the President this morning are far larger than those concerning the Commanding Officer? Would he not agree that the question really involved is the structure and constitution of the United Nations? Will His Majesty's Government give some attention to that problem to make it a more effective world organisation?

Mr. Morrison

I appreciate that there is the point in what my hon. Friend has said and in what has been hinted at in other questions. This is, of course, a novel departure—what are in fact warlike operations being conducted by 14 nations through the United Nations. As I have said on other occasions, we have to learn as we go and do our best.

Mr. Henry Strauss

Were not the aims of the United Nations in Korea authoritatively set out in a resolution adopted by the Assembly of the United Nations on 7th October last? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the aims there set out have complete legal validity until the Assembly or other organ of the United Nations chooses to alter them?

Mr. Morrison

That is so, but there is no reason why a revised version should not be issued so long as it is consistent with the resolution.

Mr. Rankin

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the new Commander, Lieut.-General Ridgway, has stated there is no end in sight to the Korean war under present military conditions unless there is a political settlement? Can he tell us if he has any comments to make on that statement and what authority, so far as the United Nations are concerned, lies behind it?

Mr. Gammans

Can the right hon. Gentleman say if the consultations to which he referred just now concern only the future of Korea or do they include the whole of the defence of the Far East in view of the fact that Korea is not the only country in Asia in which aggression is being resisted at this moment?

Mr. Morrison

The consultations to which I was referring were with a view to bringing hostilities to an end in Korea if possible, but we are always willing to consult on the wider questions affecting the Far East.

Mr. William Teeling

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that, presumably, this arrangement about General MacArthur is due to the Korean situation and that Lieut.-General Ridgway has great knowledge of what is going on in Korea? But will he also remember that there may be difficulties going on in Japan of which the new general may have no knowledge whatsoever? Might it not be possible to have a civilian representative there until the peace treaty is signed?

Mr. Morrison

There is some relationship between the two posts.