BACKSTAGE at Ottawa

BACKSTAGE at Ottawa

But Winnie Could Be Wrong

BLAIR FRASER December 1 1953
BACKSTAGE at Ottawa

BACKSTAGE at Ottawa

But Winnie Could Be Wrong

BLAIR FRASER December 1 1953

BACKSTAGE at Ottawa

BLAIR FRASER

But Winnie Could Be Wrong

WHENEVER Washington and London have differed in recent years, Ottawa has happened to be on London’s side. Some Canadians have come to take it for granted, in any such disagreement, that the British are right and the Americans wrong.

Canada’s had no occasion for any formal official view on the latest Anglo-American argument, about Sir Winston Churchill’s proposal that he and President Eisenhower meet Premier Malenkov. But many individuals in External Affairs, including L. B. Pearson, the minister, are inclined to think that in this case the British are wrong and the Americans right.

One bad effect of the argument has been to cloud the real point. Americans are not opposed to a meeting with the Soviet Union. They want one as soon as possible. They are anxious to sit down at a formal conference with a carefully prepared agenda, and discuss the real problems of world peace.

American diplomacy has pursued this objective with considerable skill. The Russians have been forced to choose between a peace conference which they don’t want and a public admission that they don’t want it.

But this is not the kind of conference Sir Winston has suggested. He proposes a personal chat among the three heads of government, a meeting “at the summit” such as he and Roosevelt used to have with Stalin. The three would have no agenda and next-to-no advisers. They would talk things over in a general way, perhaps over a good Russian dinner, and hope some hitherto unsuspected basis of co-operation might emerge.

Ottawa’s first reaction was a feeling that “it can’t do any harm and it might just possibly do some good.” Some people still feel that, way. Others, including Pearson, now lean to the American view that it couldn’t possibly do any good and might do real harm.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the meeting won’t, be held. Now that it has been proposed, there is a grave political danger in refusing it—the Russians can and will argue that the Americans don’t want peace. Since Americans are aware of this they may yet go along with Sir Winston’s proposition. But they won’t like it.

One of their arguments sounds like Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s argument against the Imperial War Cabinet: No one man, detached from his colleagues and his parliament and his people, can make decisions or commitments binding a free nation.

It was different in wartime. Military decisions have to be secret anyway, and the military decisions of the Big Three were all fruitful. But when they ventured on political decisions at Yalta and Potsdam, the results were extremely unhappy.

Of course President Eisenhower would be fully aware of the gap between wartime and peacetime powers of a president of the United States, and he would not try to settle the fate of territories and continents over a dinner table. He would not, in fact, try to do anything tangible at all. But a Big Three meeting “at the summit” would arouse the interest, and inevitably the hopes, of the whole world—hopes that would be dashed by anything short of a quite impossible “agreement.”

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this misunderstanding would almost certainly wax and not wane with time. Quasi-social meetings between heads of government usually produce a communiqué of some kind, an agreed statement in which all differences of opinion are puttied over with suitably ambiguous platitudes. Previous experience with the Russians has shown that when they get one of these bland documents they treat it as if it were an international treaty; they make quotations from it skilfully removed from context, and accuse their erstwhile guests of a breach of faith.

According to reports in both Washington and Ottawa, some eminent Britons also share these views. Anthony Eden, for one, is said to be very dubious about the Churchill-Eisenhower-Malenkov chat. About the only person heartily in favor of it, apparently, is Sir Winston himself.

And this, indeed, is another reason why Americans and some Canadians are so shy of the whole idea. Sir Winston at seventy-nine is understandably anxious to crown his career by proving himself as great a man of peace as he was a man of war. He believes he can achieve something, by bringing two leaders of the great powers together, which perhaps no one else could achieve. And of course he may be right.

But Americans recall that one reason for the calamities at Yalta, a reason which the British were quick to point out, was President Roosevelt’s conviction that he and nobody else could do business with Stalin. It would be ironic if Churchill, the hard-headed realist of the Yalta Conference, should be moved to play Roosevelt’s role ten years later.

CANADA’S own disagreement with the United States, the twenty-year-old one about the St. Lawrence Seaway, seems at last about to disappear. It really looks as if the sod for this longdelayed project might be broken in the spring.

Pearson’s trip to Washington in October was not, as some Washington reporters thought, a last-minute attempt to persuade the United States to take part. It was an appeal to John Foster Dulles, U. S. Secretary of State, to do what he can to remove legalistic impediments to the power development

on the American side of the border.

Dulles cannot, of course, prevent any American citizen from going to court to try to stop his government from doing anything he doesn’t like. Neither can any other agency of the U. S.» Administration. What the U. S. Government can do, and has indicated that it, will do, is use its influence to put any such legal action through with a minimum of delay. If the law were to take its ordinary course, a mere application for injunction might hold up the seaway for another two years.

If United States courts put all such

actions through as rapidly as possible, lawyers think the last legal obstruction could be removed by next June. A request from the U. S. Attorney-General would have great influence in producing such haste, and such a request is now probable.

Incidentally, Pearson went to Washington loaded down with briefs and documents on every conceivable aspect of the seaway. He had the answer to every question except the first one Dulles asked.

“What,” said the Secretary of State with a grin, “will these dams of yours

do to my summer place in the Thousand Islands?”

Pearson didn’t know, but he enquired. The answer turned out to be, “Nothing at all.”

SPEAKING of misunderstandings, an eminent civil servant was recently addressing a women’s club in Pembroke, Ont. The president, new to the job and a bit flustered, introduced him thus:

“I know that our guest is so well known to all you ladies that 1 won’t go into any biological details.” ^