No. 58 NAI DT S4978
Dublin, 22 January 1927
COAST DEFENCE - DOMINIONS OFFICE DESPATCH
1st JANUARY, 1927
|I.||It is understood that the Executive Council's intention was to give no indication, prior to its assembly, of the line of action they proposed adopting to the Coast Defence and any other questions likely to arise at the Conference provided for under Clause 6 of the Treaty. The British Despatch of 1st January very definitely raises the question of the extent to which this decision can be adhered, but it is felt that the attention of those responsible for deciding the policy which will be adopted should also be directed to a number of other questions likely to seriously affect policy in this matter. These questions are:-|
|(a)||The varying interpretations that may be placed on the term 'Coast Defence' alone, not to mention the other term 'Defence by Sea' which can be argued to mean an entirely different thing from that meant by Coast Defence, even when a very wide construction is placed on the services implied by the use of the latter term.|
|(b)||The extent to which Clause 7 and its attached Annexe is related to Clause 6. These two are so inter-related that they, in practice, and for military purposes, must be considered together, although possibly legally separate and independent of each other.|
|(c)||The fact that for all practical purposes the Saorstát's Defence Policy, as at present visualised, postulates only the preservation of internal order and the prevention of raids, landings or attempted invasion. As there is no question of regarding the Six County Boundary as a Military Frontier, raids, landings etc., must be affected by the coast line; and methods taken to deal with or prevent them would come under the term Coast Defence when used in its wider sense. Otherwise, there is the consideration that this clause was inserted with a view to finding at the end of five years how the Saorstát's altered status would affect Britain's Defence and strategic position and to ascertaining what part the Saorstát might take in providing her own Defence Forces for purposes other than the preservation of internal order - their only function in practice so far. And, lastly,|
|(d)||the consideration that the Dominions Office Despatch not only asks us, so to speak, to put our cards on the table in so far as our proposals for undertaking a share in Coast Defence are concerned but was so drafted that a reply to it might indicate what our attitude to the other three considerations will be if they are discussed at the Conference, as they almost certainly will.|
Interpretation of Clause 6
Attention has already been directed in another paper - para. 3 R.M. 8(c) Coast Defence (Sea)1 - to the very narrow or very wide meanings that the term 'Coast Defence' might be argued under varying circumstances to convey. In addition, however, the term 'Defence by Sea' is also used in this Clause as if it meant the same thing as Coastal Defence, a proposition to which it is doubtful if any military or naval authority would subscribe. The second sentence in the clause would, of course, incline one to believe that it was ships and naval matters which were in the minds of those who drafted the clause.
In the papers circulated prior to the 1923 Imperial Conference, this matter is referred to and in a paper circulated by the Admiralty on 'Empire Naval Policy and Co-Operation' 'Naval Defence' and the 'Imperial Naval Forces' are described as, at that time, undertaking the sea defence of the Irish Free State. When the British Premier mentioned the forthcoming Conference at the opening of the recent Imperial Conference, he used the term 'Coastal Defence' and in later Despatches it will be noticed that the expression Coastal Defence is always used.
Interpretation of Term 'Coast Defence'
The term Coast Defence when used by British Naval or Military Authorities is generally accepted to imply only the provision of certain Artillery with supporting infantry, engineers, etc. for the Defence of either Harbours, Naval Bases, Anchorages or points on the coast which might be raided or bombarded by enemy ships. Aerial forces would, of course, co-operate in this work, and, in the case of Harbours, Anchorages and Naval Bases and Refuges, the Naval Service would be responsible for the provision of Booms or any other defences that might be used at sea below the high water mark. On the whole, the term 'Coast Defence' when used in the British Forces may be taken to imply services almost entirely performed by land forces, and in which Naval Forces play only a very minor part.
Raison d'être of Clause 6
It has been indicated in the opening paragraph of this paper that our Defence Policy as at present visualised postulates only the preservation of internal order and the preparation for and performance of services for the prevention of raids, landings etc., as covered by the term 'Coast Defence' when giving that expression its widest interpretation. The British, when considering our Defence needs, could only reasonably add to their estimate of our possible commitments one other - the provision of an Expeditionary Force to assist them in their Wars. As these matters were probably considered by the Experts who advised them on the Defence Clauses of the Treaty, it would seem that the real idea in the insertion of Clause 6 was not primarily the adjournment for five years of the consideration of the extent to which we could share in our Coast Defence, but the deliberate exclusion of us for at least that period from the control which is our natural and geographical right of certain points essential to British Maritime supremacy. It was probably decided at the time by the British that it would be too risky a proceeding to place in our control Naval Bases and Anchorages in the same way as the Bases and Anchorages in Canada and Australia were in the control of their respective Governments and that the inclusion of the clause providing for the Conference at the end of five years would give them a suitable opportunity to reconsider the matter in the light of our attitude to them in the intervening years. Of course, the provisions in Clause 7 and the Annexe make it possible for them, if they consider it necessary, to withhold from us at least the key positions from which Coast Defence would be prepared in peace and to demand almost anything in time of war. Taking it as granted that the two main considerations in our defence policy are the maintenance of internal order and the discharge of duties in connection with Coast Defence in its wider sense, it follows that the effect of Clause 6 has been to entitle the British to object to our dealing with any defence questions that might have arisen in the last five years outside the preservation of internal order. If it is granted, as it must, that there are reasonable grounds for this supposition, it naturally follows that the British Authorities will regard this question primarily from the point of view of the extent to which we may be trusted with responsibility for the defence or even possession of points vital to their maritime strategy and regard only as a secondary consideration the extent to which they can transfer some of their defence expenses to us. Consideration of the question from this aspect will logically lead to consideration of our attitude on a number of the matters on which cooperation between the Saorstát and Britain is necessary in time of war. A list of these matters will be found in Memo. R.M. 662 and subsidiary papers3 dealing with Policy on Defence prepared for the Imperial Conference. These papers deal mainly with questions of Aerial and Naval Co-Operation and of the extent to which we must undertake a number of defensive measures in wartime, unless we are prepared to abandon the defence of the Saorstát to the British with its inevitable consequences of British interference in civil administration. Owing to the unchallenged control exercised by Britain over us for the past century, the vast strategical importance of this country has been generally ignored, and an appendix containing a number of authoritative and historical statements on this subject as well as a number of references to the altered position caused by the Treaty has been attached.4
Reply to British Despatch
It is suggested that not until consideration has been given to the questions raised in the previous paragraphs and to the papers submitted previously would it be desirable to decide the nature of the answer to be sent to the British Government in reply to the question asked in the Despatch of 1st January as to the extent in which we wish to share the responsibility for Coast Defence. It will be recognised that this reply is of pre-eminent importance as it will have a vital and binding influence on our whole attitude at the coming Conference; and will be in the nature of an outline of our terms of reference for the discussions which will arise. In other words, precautions must be taken that at the outset we do not stultify ourselves by limiting the scope of our discussion.
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