BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

A Red Trend in Sheep’s Clothing

BLAIR FRASER September 1 1951
BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

A Red Trend in Sheep’s Clothing

BLAIR FRASER September 1 1951

A Red Trend in Sheep’s Clothing

BACKSTAGE AT OTTAWA

BLAIR FRASER

Maclean’s Ottawa Editor

IT'S A small straw in a very light wind, but the Kremlin seems to have instructed its embassies and

satellites to be friendly again. They’re hampered by lack of practice, but they’re trying manfully.

Canadian officials here became aware of the new Communist tack as reports drifted in during the summer from twenty-nine missions abroad. All over the world the Canada Day party on July 1 was attended by unprecedented weight of brass from Iron Curtain embassies. In Moscow itself the difference was especially notable, both in the numbers and in the rank of those who accepted the routine invitation.

Cooing sounds were also heard in Ottawa from the ageing mansion on Charlotte Street which houses a dozen Soviet diplomats and their families. A month ago half a dozen Western ambassadors and a couple of External Affairs men found themselves invited to see a new Soviet film at the Russian Embassy.

“What evening did you say?” one guest enquired.

“Oh, Tuesday—or Wednesday, or Thursday, or Friday.”

Stymied, the victim asked, “What shall I wear?”

“Ordinary clothes, and wife,” said his host.

It turned out to be a curious evening. The film was chosen with rare Soviet tact for a Canadian audience; it was entitled The Life of the Beaver (Russian beaver, of course. “Apparently they’ve invented that too,” a guest remarked). This was followed by a long dull newsreel on parachute jumping.

“The jumping is sportif,” an aide explained, “not military.”

Even that left a large chunk of evening still to be filled up, and Russians in Canada have scanty resources of small talk. Politics naturally are taboo; innocuous topics like the weather and the beautiful countryside were soon exhausted, liecause the Russians in Ottawa nowadays hardly ever venture outside their own gloomy embassy.

Anyway, there was plenty of vodka and caviar.

* * *

WHILE the enemy is being fitted for sheep’s clothing friends are a bit stiff with one another. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization will meet here this month in an atmosphere of pained politeness.

German rearmament is one major item on the agenda, and resentment has not entirely cooled about that. Even countries (like Canada) whose governments agree with U. S. objectives in Germany are unhappy about the abrupt way it was laid before them.

Admission of Greece and Turkey to the NATO circle is a somewhat similar case. Nobody has any hostility toward Greece or Turkey. It might well have been easy to work out some kind of military alliance between the NATO countries as a group and the two newcomers which would have offered them all the military advantages of full membership.

But NATO is supposed to be more than a military alliance. It’s supposed to be a regional group associated for mutual co-operation in all fields, including the economic. These peaceful features have been obscured by the

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tensions of the past few years, but Canada for one takes them seriously. Even more so do the Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden, whose one - hundred - and - thirty - six - year tradition of neutrality makes the ordinary citizen acutely allergic to “entangling alliances.”

That issue could have been argued out, perhaps, and amicably settled. What is regarded as most unfortunate here is the virtual announcement in advance of the NATO meeting that Greece and Turkey are to be admitted as full members. That is not what some of the allies had understood by the word “consultation.”

Uneasiness about this is deepened, and complicated, by the new American deal with Franco Spain. This is something that may not be mentioned at all in the September conference unless Portugal again brings up her proposal for the admission of Spain to NATO. Strictly speaking the SpanishAmerican agreement is none of NATO’s business; it’s a purely bilateral affair between Washington and Madrid. But it could hardly be described as timely.

In Ottawa there seems to be little emotional reaction against assisting Franco. Since the West is helping Tito too it seems a bit late in the day for striking moral attitudes about freedom and democracy. But in Britain and France the emotional hostility to Franco is still high.

These things might be disregarded if the Spanish-American agreement really is, as it purports to be, a straight military deal in which Washington can be trusted to drive a hard bargain. But there is suspicion that Washington may have been prodded, even if not motivated, by the internal pressure of the Roman Catholic vote. If that be so it’s feared that the political loss, in Europe, will heavily outweigh the military gain. After all, Franco’s record as a military ally is not very good. He got plenty of help from Hitler and Mussolini in exchange for extravagant promises, and he never did anything for them. Why should we expect him to do more for us?

* * *

An argument of a very different character is the one about arms standardization. Here Canada has been playing her traditional role of mediator on an issue of crucial importance.

Ever since 1947 the Western allies have been trying to get together on a common small-arms ammunition. Common weapons are not so important; it doesn’t matter much if each army uses its own rifle so long as they all fire the same round.

Last year it looked as if four years of effort had ended in failure. British War Secretary Emmanuel Shinwell announced that Britain was adopting a new .280-calibre rifle, and going into production forthwith. The United States was sticking to its .300-calibre Garand. In Canada Brooke Claxton, Minister of National Defense, expressed his great disappointment but that seemed to be all. For several months there was no sign of any further attempt to bring the two major Western powers together.

In private Canadians refused to accept the defeat. General Guy Simonds, Chief of the General Staff, went to Washington and talked earnestly with General Mark Clark and other top men in U. S. procurement. Then he went to London and talked to Field Marshal Sir William Slim and his aides. The upshot was the an-

nouncement of further talks on standardization in Washington in August.

The British have every reason for wanting to change from the old .303 Lee-Enfield with the rimmed cartridge. It was designed in the 1870s and proved none too satisfactory in the South African War. By 1912 Britain had decided to abandon it and was starting work on a new design and calibre.

World War I caught Britain short; there was no time to change the basic infantry weapon. And war’s end, of course, left Britain with huge supplies of small-arms ammunition in her mobilization stores. That was the time (remember?) when there was never going to be another war; the idea of spending millions of pounds on a new rifle and round was preposterous.

In the 1930s the idea came up again with new urgency, but this time there was no money. Every defense department in the Western world was on starvation rations. By the time British military spending picked up again it was again too late to risk a basic change in ammunition.

After World War II Britain decided not to be caught a third time. Exhaustive tests began in 1945. Every calibre from .250 to .330 was tried and the new .280 round was found to be the best.

Meanwhile, between the two wars, the United States had already made the big switch-over. Their experts had also looked with much favor on the .280-calibre round, but for various technical reasons they picked the .300 instead. That was the basic American infantry weapon through World War II, as it is today in Korea.

Americans are inclined to admit, on the basis of the British tests, that the .280 is a little better, except (as the British also admit) at relatively short ranges where the .300 has a slight edge in some respects. But they say (and the British admit) that the difference is marginal. The present .300 round is pretty good, the United States has tremendous supplies of it and her armament factories have been adding to those supplies in huge quantities ever since the Korean War started. The Americans feel that under the circumstances they can’t afford to change. Not now.

All right, said the British, will you give us a firm undertaking not to change? If we adopt your .300-calibre round will you agree to make that the international standard?

No, the Americans couldn’t do that either. Their .300-calibre round has some admitted shortcomings, and they may want to improve it when the time seems ripe.

Well then, would they agree now that if they decided on a change they’d adopt the .280-calibre round which (according to the British tests and according to a majority of United States ballistics experts themselves) seems to be the best available?

No. By the time they turn to \ new round and weapon something still better may have turned up.

Canadians were more aghast at the deadlock than either the British or the Americans. Canada played an important part in supplying small-arms ammunition in a critical stage of World War II and is equipped to do it again. But with our relatively small resources it was desperately important that we be able to produce for a common pool.

So Canada came up with two compromise proposals.

One was a mere stopgap: Delay

the whole tiling for eighteen months. Let the United States agree to provide Britain with enough infantry weapons and ammunition to tide her over in the meantime, while further tests are

run in an attempt to get agreement on a common round.

The second Canadian proposal had more substance. It suggested in effect that both calibres be adopted by both countries, for slightly different uses. Thus each would be able to produce for the other.

Canadians pointed out that while American soldiers are satisfied with their Garand rifle they are not at all satisfied with the light carbine which is their secondary weapon. In Korea, G Is have been throwing their carbines away and using the old reliable Garand. The carbine uses a .300-calibre round, but it’s entirely different from the Garand round — short, stubby and “with no more punch than a pistol,” as one Canadian put it.

On the basis of Korean experience the Americans are likely to abandon this carbine anyway. Canadians say, “Why not take the British .280 round for a new carbine? You’ll be no worse off than you are now, since you’re using two different rounds anyway.”

On the other hand the British are already using a .300 round in their tanks. Why not use the American for that?

Canadians think their second proposal makes sense on purely military grounds. There is also a diplomatic or psychological reason which, they think, is equally important.

Europeans have become somewhat embittered by the very word “standardization” in recent months. In practice, they say, it never means anything but adoption of U. S. equipment. General Eisenhower’s HQ is continually pressing them to “Help yourselves, do more on your own.” But when they come up with a specific idea or design and say “We can make this,” the usual answer is “We have something in the States that we like better.”

Canadians argue that this is a fine opportunity for the United States to gain a lot in general morale with a relatively minor concession. The British .280 is not a wholly British idea, but a combination of Belgian, Swedish and British design. If the U. S. adopts it even for a secondary weapon the effect would be to boost the spirit of co-operation in NATO forces and give the minor members a new sense of partnership.

Which, all things considered, seems a rather timely idea. if