We Need a Foreign Policy

WILFRID BOVEY October 15 1935

We Need a Foreign Policy

WILFRID BOVEY October 15 1935

We Need a Foreign Policy



"UntI we turn our thoughts more to nternational relations we shall not prosper"

IN A VERY short time Canada will have a new government and that new government, however uncomfortable and brief its tenure of office, will have many problems to face. It will almost certainly begin with the problems at home, and all our leaders have made enough promises to keep them busy at performance—provided, of course, that they are able to perform. And if our new government does set out along that road it will be following every recent precedent and going in the wrong direction. We Canadians are far too prone to turn nine-tenths of our attention to our internal affairs and only one tenth, if that, to our external relations. Some of Mr. Bennett’s supporters will disagree. But the accusation is not levelled at Mr. Bennett: he is no worse than the rest of us and better than most. We are wrapped up in personal affairs, municipal affairs, provincial affairs. Our ministers spend so much of their time interviewing seekers after political favors that they have no time left to think. And if our federal government does turn its attention to international matters it looks at them through Ottawa opera glasses.

It is all wrong. The external affairs of Canada should be our first thought, instead of our last. The statesman will be he who is able to set up his telescope on a near-by star, look at the whole world picture—and so fix his course* of action.

The reasons are obvious. Canada, despite all our assertions, is not self-sufficient. Geographically, economically and politically, we are in a position which makes us dependent on our relations with other nations. Táke geography first. Look at the globe. There is Canada in the track of half the main trade routes, half the seaways, highways and airways of the northern hemisphere. Montreal is nearer to London and Chicago than is New York. The greater part of the United States has its easiest access to Europe and Asia by Canadian rails, Canadian rivers and Canadian ports. A Russian aviator wants to take the shortest route to San Francisco, so he selects the track by our Arctic islands and Vancouver. Suppose—only suppose, because none of us expect it—a war between Japan and the United States, the most convenient strategic routes lie through Canada. We could never hope to remain neutral except by handing over an empty British Columbia as a battleground.

Geography and economics cannot be separated. We have played with our geographical position as an ace in the hole. On the strength of that we have gambled two great railroads and fleets of steamships. Yet most of us, when we talk of our railroad problem, forget that our railroads and steamships are only part of the world’s transportation system. Every citizen of Canada is in the transportation business up to his neck, and is or ought to be concerned with getting freight and passengers. It does not matter so much whether consignee or consignor are in Canada. If the United States doubles its trade with Latvia, it ought to be good business for Canadians; if New York buys more silk from Yokohama, so much the better for us. But what have our government done to help this transportation business in which we are all involved? Nothing at all, except to avoid offending the supporters of the Canadian National and C.P.R. They have looked within Canada, but not outside.

Canada is International

IN THESE days of travel we might very well remember that we have a country which has extraordinary appeal to the tourist. We have a dozen Switzerlands and a Norway in the west; we have the world’s finest bathing and fishing in the east; Quebec, with its French-speaking population, its unique architecture, its Saguenay canyons and its Gaspé mountains, offers the American a trip abroad overnight. But these are things that we must sell, and until we become

more internationally minded we shall make nothing of them. Our efforts to advertise have so far been ludicrously inadequate; single states of the Union, small European countries, other dominions, have done far more for themselves than we.

In our attempts to enlarge our foreign trade we have been just as niggardly. We are probably the richest people in the world, per capita, in natural resources. How much study have we devoted to turning them to account? We have a fine agricultural population. Have we ever thought of doing as Denmark has done; providing an educational system which will train that population for first-class production and co-operative selling? That is why Denmark, from a comparatively poor nation, became a comparatively rich one. The Danes are having their troubles just now, but from a new set of causes. We have a few trade commissioners; we have been afraid to spend money on consuls. We have been so satisfied with our place as a trading nation that we have neither tried much tp improve it, nor found out who made all the money out of our trade.

Canada cannot really prosper except through international relations, and until we turn our thoughts much more to those relations we shall not prosper at all.

Jüst as geography and economics are linked, so are econo-rmics and politics linked. If we want to profit in the field of international economics we must not hesitate to make our voices heard in international politics, to assume our share of responsibility for maintaining peace. For we must have peace if we are to have prosperity. Nothing is more obvious than that Canada has let herself be relegated to a position of complete unimportance in the international field. We have devoted so much energy to affirming an independence which no one denied that we have disappeared from world politics.

When we do think of our international position, such as it is, we must look at three scenes, the Great War and the League of Nations, the British Empire, the North American continent.

In 1916 Canada was far from negligible. In the autumn of that year the single Canadian Corps captured half the guns taken by the whole British Army in the whole of the last two years of war, defeated as many German divisions and recaptured as much territory as the American army.

We believed, and not without reason, that we had won a new position in the world, and we were ambitious to use it aright. While the war was still going on, Dr. J. A. Macdonald, a noted Canadian speaker, expressed those ambitions:

“But when this world storm of Europe is past,” he said, “when this red rain has enriched the roots of Europe’s next verdure, the United States and Canada, their common democracy made stronger by their common experiences, shall come again into the council chamber of the nations and with the released democracies of warring Europe shall speak the doom of the autocrats and the despots and the war lords and all that damning system of militarism that has cursed Europe for two thousand years.”

The sentiments were typical, hundreds of speakers echoed

them, we all felt them. But what have we done lately? Germany has set up a new army and is getting a new navy. What had Canada to say about that? Who even thought of asking Canada anything about it? Italy and Ethiopia are quarrelling, perhaps by the time this is published they will be fighting, certainly for all that we have done to stop them. Japan has established control over a territory the size of France on the mainland of Asia. We ought to have been deeply interested in these happenings in an area to which we are nearer than any occidental power except our next-door neighbor. But were we? And who would have cared if we had been?

How have we come to change our attitude?

Isolation a Wrong Attitude

WHEN THE Great War ended—or when we thought it ended—with the armistice, Canada, as a result of the most strenuous efforts on the part of Sir Robert Borden was allowed a place at the Peace Conference. Our representation was dual; we had a member on the British delegation and we also had representatives of our own. When the League of Nations was formed we insisted on membership in our own right. After a great deal of argument we succeeded, although the name of Canada, like those of the other Dominions, is placed not in its own alphabetical order among other nations, but under that of Great Britain—a device to indicate some degree of international inferiority.

Once again we had to fight, this time for a right to a place on the Council, and once again, thanks to Sir Robert Borden, we were successful. We had done what Dr. Macdonald prophesied : we had come into the Council Chamber of the nations. Having got there, what have been our contributions?

The League of Nations, in the original intention of its founders, was to be an active instrument for the enforcement of peace, and one of the clauses aiming at this (Article X) gave, or purported to give, to the council some sort of authority to call upon members to take action against an aggressor. The world was not yet ready for such a collective system: everyone knows it now. Yet it is significant that Canada’s main activity in the League consisted of opposition to the collective principle in this particular respect, of insistence on our right to independent action. When in 1924 the projected Geneva protocol for compulsory arbitration and collective action against wrongdoing states was put forward, Canada stood aside and as a result the whole plan fell to pieces. There is no point in criticizing the action of the Canadian government. Events have proved that they showed good judgment in doubting the value of the League as an international police agency, but it is nevertheless perfectly clear that their real aim was to avoid international responsibility.

In our relations with the British Empire the same trend

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has been evident. Our main concern has been to ensure our individual freedom of action; in other words, our isolation. There was nothing new in the idea of Canadian nationality. Sir Wilfrid Laurier had once said: “Canada is a nation. . . We have

practical control of our foreign relations. . . We bow the heart and the knee to the King . . . but he has no more rights over us than are allowed him by our Canadian parliament.” British statesmen had voiced the same views. The right of the Secretary of State for the Colonies to supervise our legislation had long gone unexercised. There was no question about the strength of the conventions which had grown up. The only difficulty was, as lawyers pointed out, that they were not law. So we had ten years of Imperial Conferences, all of which spent more time on intra-Empire matters than on questions of international policy. Finally, we made the law agree with the facts and the Statute of Westminster became the Magna Charta of the Dominions. It was an enactment of extreme importance; there is no doubt about that. Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, a leader of American opinion, calls it “beyond question the most important act in

public law since the ratification of the Constitution of the United States.”

But what have we done with it? Have we used the right it undoubtedly gives us to join in and influence the foreign policy of Britain? Have we fulfilled the obligations it undoubtedly lays upon us as a member state of the British Commonwealth of Nations, the obligation of helping to maintain world order? Certainly not. We have used it as an excuse for having no foreign policy at all.

Peace with Strength

TS THAT quite accurate? Not quite. We are forgetting the United States. We have no foreign policy of our own, true enough, but we feel we must conform to that of our next door neighbor. We have some reason, since distinguished naval experts have observed that Britain could not protect us against the United States. But though we assume that the Monroe doctrine protects us from aggression, we contribute as little as possible to our own defense or to the common defense of North America. No one seems to think of our influencing American policy; we just take what comes. In the discussions

between Britain and the United States which resulted in limitation of navies we neither asked nor were given a part. Nor incidentally were we asked our opinions when first Japan and then Britain decided to retire from the arrangement. And yet we should be able to influence American policy, if we wanted to pay our shot by taking our share of the burden.

This is no plea for militarism. There is no place for militarism in Canada. Every Canadian hopes that we have seen the end of war and no Canadian will be ready to fight at the dictation of any power but that of the Canadian people. But just as every good citizen has a duty to ensure peace and order within his country and profits by fulfilling it, so has every right-thinking nation a duty to ensure peace and order among all peoples— a duty which it will pay to carry out. And just as we need police to maintain order within our borders, so we need forces to help maintain order in the world. We ought, of course, to think of them as police forces and we ought to see that they think of themselves the same way. But we are making no contribution to peace if we sit on our heels around our Canadian campfires, let other nations strive to prevent war and stick our fingers in our ears, as we have done for tire last few years. We have no need to fear British militarism either, the bogey which has been used so long to frighten us. There is no such thing. A recent German review prints these remarkably acute paragraphs:

“The turn which English politics has taken this spring and summer signifies for world politics in general a step involving consequences which cannot be overlooked. Generally speaking, this reversal can be termed a transition from a policy of peace dictated by weakness to a policy of peace aiming at strength. While almost every other world power has aims which it is true she would rather attain by peaceful means but which she would not hesitate to achieve by means of war, for England peace is no mere means to an end; it is the goal itself.”

Abandon Laissez Faire

IT IS quite time that Canada too abandoned her policy of peace dictated by weakness in favor of a policy of peace aiming at strength. Even though we cannot be strong alone, we can be strong in co-operation with other powers whose objects are the same as ours. We have no reason to fear that by asserting ourselves we shall be involved in policies which we cannot control On the contrary, we proved once and for all during the Great War that we are entitled to a hearing and can expect to get one. We have every reason to fear that if we continue to live in retirement we shall find that we are committed to something we do not expect, and that will serve us right.

It may be a materialistic viewpoint to hold that we should aim at maintaining peace mainly with a view to our own prosperity; it may be that we should lay more stress on altruistic motives. There are plenty of people ready to argue that. But at the moment we are more concerned with our own prosperity than with anything else, and if we want to be prosperous we must seek peace and ensure it in no shilly-shallying fashion. And we must do more than that; we must bend every ounce of our national energy to building up new international relations. We must forget our cheeseparing habits and take a far larger point of view. We must get every possible advantage from every possible asset. And as Sir Edward Beatty once said : “If we have the courage to take the opportunity which lies before us, the development of Canada has only begun.”

Canada needs a foreign policy. We need it now.