Imperial War Cabinet

Imperial War Cabinet in 1917
The Imperial War Cabinet at No. 10 Downing Street in 1917

The Imperial War Cabinet was the British Empire's wartime coordinating body. The Imperial War Conferences of 1917 and 1918 were a series of meetings held concurrent with the Imperial War Cabinet to co-ordinate governance of the British Empire during the war and prepare for the post-war situation.

First World War Imperial War Cabinet

The Imperial War Cabinet was created by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George in the spring of 1917 as a means of co-ordinating the British Empire's military policy during the First World War. Its creation was the result of a recognition by Lloyd George that the increased contribution by the dominions to the war effort necessitated increased consultation with dominion governments on the conduct of the war.


The body met through 1917 and 1918

Nation Name Portfolio
United Kingdom United Kingdom Lloyd George Prime Minister
Lord Curzon Leader of the House of Lords
Andrew Bonar Law Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons
 Canada Robert Borden Prime Minister of Canada
South Africa South Africa Louis Botha Prime Minister of South Africa
Jan Smuts, Prime Minister of South Africa
Australia Australia Billy Hughes Prime Minister of Australia
New Zealand New Zealand William Massey Prime Minister of New Zealand
Sir Joseph Ward Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
Dominion of Newfoundland Newfoundland Edward Morris Prime Minister of Newfoundland
British Raj India James Meston Lieutenant-Governor of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh.
Ganga Singh Maharaja of Bikaner

Imperial War Conferences

Imperial War Conferences
Dates 21 March 191727 April 1917
12 June 191826 July 1918
Cities United Kingdom London, United Kingdom
Chair David Lloyd George
(Prime Minister)
Follows 1911 Imperial Conference
Precedes 1921 Imperial Conference
Key points
Imperial constitutional arrangements, Imperial Federation, international relations and treaties

The Imperial War Cabinet existed concurrently with Imperial Conferences (or "Imperial War Conferences") which were held from 21 March to 27 April 1917 and from 12 June to 26 July 1918.

In April 1917, the conference passed Resolution IX which resolved a conference was to be held after the war in order to rearrange Imperial constitutional arrangements "based upon a full recognition of the Dominions as autonomous nations of an Imperial Commonwealth", and should give the Dominions and India "a right... to an adequate voice in foreign policy and in foreign relations." This was the first instance in which the term Commonwealth was used officially.[1] The Imperial War Conference acknowledged the importance of the whole empire in defence policy by admitting India, not yet self-governing, to future imperial conferences.

In 1917 the Imperial War Conference also passed a resolution regarding a future special Imperial Conference to readjust the relations of the component parts of the Empire. That readjustment should be based upon the full recognition of the dominions as autonomous nations of an Imperial Commonwealth, with an "adequate voice" in foreign policy.

Second World War

Australian prime ministers Robert Menzies and John Curtin campaigned for the creation of an Imperial War Cabinet during the Second World War that would include representatives of all four dominions. British prime minister Winston Churchill was unenthusiastic as he felt the concept was unwieldy and since he was tepid towards the idea of sharing authority with the dominions.

Australia was unable to secure the support of the other three dominions: Canada, South Africa and New Zealand (the Irish Free State was neutral during war).[2] Canadian prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was concerned that the idea would be a step towards Imperial Federation, which he opposed, New Zealand's government was satisfied with Churchill's conduct of the war and saw no need for change while South African prime minister Jan Smuts was already a Churchill confidante and similarly saw no need to change the way the war was run. It was also felt impractical for dominion prime ministers to spend extended periods in London instead of in their own capitals and that dominion ministers appointed to sit in an Imperial Cabinet would lack the authority to make decisions.

Instead of creating a separate Imperial War Cabinet, Churchill invited Smuts and Menzies to sit in and join the deliberations of Britain's War Cabinet whenever the leaders were in London. (These meetings of the British War Cabinet have sometimes been referred to as an Imperial War Cabinet.)

Stanley Bruce, Australia's High Commissioner to London, was delegated by his government sit in on meetings of Churchill's War Cabinet. However, Churchill found Bruce's advice to be contrary to his own priorities and, as a result, Bruce found he was often not told when meetings were being held.

The 1944 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference was called to obtain Commonwealth agreement to the Moscow Declaration of war aims and to co-ordinate Commonwealth efforts in the concluding years of the war and prepare for peacetime reconstruction and restructuring.

See also


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