For the sake of argument

Canada should get out of the Arctic

CLEMENT ATTLEE April 11 1959
For the sake of argument

Canada should get out of the Arctic

CLEMENT ATTLEE April 11 1959

Canada should get out of the Arctic

For the sake of argument


It is difficult for people who grew up half a century ago to realize how profound the advent of the atomic weapon has altered the whole problem of defense. In the past, geographical features such as high mountains, great rivers, deserts or the sea were sufficient to provide nations with a high degree of security. Their absence exposed people to a constant menace. Thus Britain for centuries, given an adequate navy, was safe behind her moat. Countries like Palestine and Belgium became cockpits of war marched over by stronger forces from outside. Poland, lying in an almost featureless plain, never achieved security. Sometimes these natural defenses were reinforced by treaties.

The outstanding example of security by treaty was Canada, with its long southern frontier undefended, owing to the wisdom of the statesmen of Britain and the U.S.A., while its northern frontier was defended by the inhospital polar regions. But nowadays weapons of immense power of destruction can be projected for distances of thousands of miles. The polar regions form no obstacle.

It is, therefore, not surprising that men are seeking other devices to enable people to dwell in security. National defense is outdated: what is required today is a world authority with power to enforce the keeping of the peace. Despite the United Nations, this has not become an accomplished fact, but this does not mean that there are not immediate steps that could be taken to minimize the danger of war.

One of these is disengagement, an instance of which is the socalled Rapacki plan put forward by a Polish statesman for creating in the heart of Europe a neutralized zone free from atomic weapons.

There is a strong case for this. Where there are frontiers between powerful rivals there is always the danger of incidents, fortuitous or planned, leading to war. If the prospective combatants are kept at arm’s length by a neutral zone, the danger of a clash is lessened. Hence in the past there used to be attempts to set up buffer states guaranteed by the powers. There are, of course, great difficulties in practice in realizing this concept. There are old animosities in central Europe between Slavs and Germans, there are still latent imperial ambitions and there is a lot of history to be forgotten.

Central Europe may not be the best place to start with this disengagement, but there are, it seems to me, two areas, one of which is of special interest to Canada, where a start could be made. They are the arctic and antarctic regions.

Commonwealth has claims

Though there are some small lodgments, these great areas are not in effective occupation by any one power. There are various claims to them, some based on exploration, others on propinquity, yet others—as it seems to me merely by map projections from territories — a considerable distance from the area in question. The British Commonwealth alone, through Canada, Australia, New Zealand and perhaps the Falkland Islands, has strong claims in both regions, which seems to me a good reason why the Commonwealth renouncing its own claims should take the lead in proposing their internationalization. At the present time, and as far as one can see into the future, it is unlikely that there will be a great accession of population. The few inhabitants only ask to be left alone. I imagine that they continued on page 83



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are unlikely to embrace Marx-Leninism or to desire elaborate democratic institutions. There would not appear to be at present any great wealth to attract the cupidity of nations. There may well be minerals but they are as yet unexploited; the other forms of wealth, whales and other pelagic creatures, are already subject to various international agreements. Without agreements of some kind this interesting fauna may be exterminated by modern methods of killing and capture. On the other hand scientists in many countries are profoundly interested, and —as has been shown in the geophysical year—undertakings are ready to subordinate national rivalries to the advancement of science.

It is therefore my view that before any more claims are staked out in these regions they should cease to belong to any national state, but should be brought under the control of an international body — preferably the United Nations, although this is not essential. It might be ad hoc authority.

Let us consider the disadvantages and advantages of such a plan. At the present time large areas of the world are shown on our maps as national territory. One is impressed with the great expanse owing allegiance to Soviet Russia and equally with the huge size of Canada, especially on maps drawn on Mercator’s projection. Yet much of this is uninhabitable, covered with ice. I recall when I was a boy we used to look at the great British Empire painted red on the map and did not consider the reality under the color. Similarly, French possessions were swollen by the great mass of the Sahara desert. There is no doubt a certain prestige in possessing large parts of the earth’s surface, but it is surely not a very valid consideration. While it may be said that the possession of the arctic regions permits measures for timely warning of possible attack “over the top" to be given, it would be better and cheaper to exclude altogether the possibility of attack.

If we could get these regions neutralized we should not have to waste our resources on elaborate defense expenditure. The more we can get rid of areas of possible tension in the world the better.

I am not enough of a scientist to know what danger to the world might ensue if some power chose to start experimenting with atomic explosions at the poles. 1 have read that in some hundreds of thousands of years the world will experience another ice age. Whether when it comes our descendants will be sufficiently advanced in scientific knowledge to prevent it or to deal with it I do not know, but 1 should feel happier if the possibility of some irresponsible people monkeying about with our climate were excluded from our apprehensions, which are already quite lively enough.

On the other hand an international body might by combined effort of scientists from many nations make useful

advances in our knowledge. I should be the last to discourage the spirit of adventure and exploration and I admire the fortitude of those who explore the polar regions, but there is no reason why the spirit of peaceful emulation should not be encouraged in these regions where there now is suspicion and jealousy between nations as is seen in the Antarctic. There are not many nations today concerned in the north polar regions: only Canada, the United States, Soviet Russia and the Scandinavians. If these nations could be persuaded to cede their arctic claims to an international authority, a great advance in human relations would be secured. It should not be difficult to demarcate the international zone from the national territories. This zone would then be declared entirely neutral. No war planes would be allowed to fly over it. Instead of national military posts and forces, small forces recruited from all the nations would police the areas in the air. on land and on and under the sea. If deposits valuable to mankind were found there they would be developed for the advantage of all. I conceive that the authority would have at its disposal a body of scientists and that it would set up its own meteorological stations. It would be its duty to protect and help the aboriginal inhabitants. It might well also be charged with the enforcement of regulations for the taking of whales, seals and so forth, for closed seasons and for rights of fishing, due regard being paid to any vested interests.

Thus in addition to removing a large area of the world from the possibility of warfare, there would be created a field of endeavor open to all nations, a field for co-operation instead of conflict.

I have always held that efforts to ensure the peace of the world must not be based solely on the negation of war. but in constructive co-operative effort. How much can be done in this way was demonstrated by the old League of Nations

and is shown today by UNESCO and other agencies.

If a successful beginning were made here, it might well lead to other advances. I remember well President Truman at the Potsdam Conference proposing the internationalization of rivers, straits, canals and other waterways so that they might be used by the ships of all nations on their lawful occasions. We have recently seen a serious dispute arise between Iceland and Britain over the question of the three-mile or six-mile limit of territorial waters. Where international law consists only in the dicta of jurists such troubles are sure to arise. What is required is an authoritative decision by a responsible body such as the United Nations, but to get that the UN would need alterations in its composition and constitution. I would like to see constructive advances, such as those 1 suggest for the polar regions, rather than theoretical disputations.

In the present very dangerous world situation, where weapons of unprecedented destructive pow'er in the hands of rival states threaten the annihilation of the human race, what is needed is a constructive step forward. There are two great states with no past record of aggression. both lying outside the main field of international tension — Canada and Australia. Australia is the largest state nearest to the Antarctic, Canada is one of the largest concerned in the Arctic. Here is an opportunity for statesmanship.

A move in this direction by the prime minister of Canada might well be of incalculable benefit to the world. Charles John Canning, when recognizing the South American republics, said that he had called in the new world to redress the balance of the old. I should like to see a Commonwealth statesman of the new world of Canada or Australia calling in common sense to save both the new and the old worlds.