Friends and Relations
Arnold D P Heeney, QC. Chairman, Canadian Section, International Joint Commission (USA and Canada)
What I propose is to present a view of the Anglo-American relationship as it appears to one who has been closely involved in the course of its development over the past twenty-five years. It will of course be a personal view. It will also be a frankly Canadian view. I shall, however, be as objective as I can and my references to the Canadian scene will be mainly to remind you of the point of vantage.
First of all, to sketch in briefly the present background:
Despite recent alarms, the most notable feature of our current situation, however fragile it may prove, is the relaxation of tension in East-West relations. In all our countries this has permitted us to concentrate on our own national affairs. With the passing of the anxiety which made us huddle together has come uncertainty in external policy and the diversion of energy to domestic matters.
During the years of the Grand Alliance and for the fifteen years which followed the victory, the objectives of Western diplomacy were stern, but they were not hard to agree upon. First in the hot war, then in the cold, it was not difficult for any of us to know what friendships to cultivate, what relationships to claim. With the fall of Czechoslovakia, the menace of Communist imperialism re placed Nazi Germany and Japan as the compulsive motive to alliance. For Britain and the United States, over the years which followed, NATO provided a framework for foreign policy which fitted conveniently into the agreeable concept of Anglo-Saxon friendship. For Canadians, who contributed not inconsiderably to the doctrine as well as to the sinews of the alliance, it was natural to be ranged simultaneously alongside Britain, France, and the United States, their traditional relations and friends.
But all this has changed and we miss the familiar, if unpleasant, certainties of those years. The recoil from nuclear disaster two years ago; Mr. Khruschev’s subsequent relatively amiable demeanour against a background of increasing Sino-Soviet enmity; the achievement of modest diplomatic accommodations; these circumstances, whatever the appreciations of the experts, have greatly reduced the sense of common danger which gave vitality to our first efforts in NATO. Even the grave developments in South-East Asia, the uneasy situation in Africa, and the current situation in the Mediterranean have not rekindled the flame of common resolve. When perhaps we did have the chance, we failed to make of our combination of Western nations anything much more than a military alliance. Now, the idea of an Atlantic community seems to have lost its capacity to move us greatly, and attempts to give NATO a new look, as for example by providing it with a multilateral nuclear force and more effective means of joint decision, have evoked little enthusiasm and a good many misgivings.
Meantime, Britain has been rejected in her bid to enter Europe, and the quality and pattern of Commonwealth relationships have been radically altered. The devolution of the imperial power has not proved altogether the orderly process that had been hoped; and the emergence of the new nations has been accompanied by difficulties and disappointments.
In international economic affairs, the aspirations of Havana and the high hopes of the Grand Design have been dimmed, and a systematic and constructive approach to aid has been put in doubt by the impatience of the developing countries and the widening gap between rich and poor.
No doubt, in retrospect, the problems of times past assume a quality of simplicity which is misleading and unreal in terms of available contemporary solutions. However that may be, it is painfully evident that our situation is now in the process of such radical change as to demand serious re-examination of many accepted policies and reassessment of much traditional doctrine.
Among the most widely held and popular theories of our generation has been that of ‘special relationship’ between ‘Anglo Saxon’ countries. This has usually meant the United States and Britain, although it has often been extended to include other Commonwealth countries, sometimes my own country in particular. Much eloquence has been inspired by this attractive theme, some from very high levels, and much sincere and intelligent effort on both sides of the Atlantic. It would be stupid, and un gracious—especially in a Canadian, and in this company—to depreciate the immense service this famous association has per formed, in its time, for the two principal nations which compose it as well as for other Commonwealth countries and for the world at large.
Nevertheless, however well such policies may have served in the past, we should now feel bound to re-examine them closely to determine whether or not they are adequate and appropriate to our new situation.
In doing so, it is well that we should realize that the British and the Americans are not alone in claiming special relationship with one another. Those who have been involved in American affairs have heard a good deal of other special relationships— between the United States and France—though the spirit of Lafayette walks uneasily nowadays—between the United States and Latin America—with the Scandinavian countries, the Philippines, or even with Poland and China. For your own part in Britain, you also have been notably catholic in claiming kinship and its favourable consequences during the long course of your imperial history.
Nor have we, in Canada, been backward at this family game. And, in accordance with the accepted rules, we too vary the direction of our claims to fit current argument and interest.
So we Canadians assert a very special relationship with you in Britain, one hallowed by blood and treasure at every stage of our development from colony to nation, embracing within its friendly circle many principal elements in our national life, crowned by the monarchy itself.
In much the same way, though on somewhat different grounds, we in Canada claim relationship of a special character with our great neighbour the United States. To all Canadians the need for friendship and co-operation between Ottawa and Washington is self-evident. That this, however friendly, is such an unequal alliance contributes to Canadian external policy a constant, some times disproportionate, element—the results of which are not always easy to assess.
Recently, too, we have become more actively conscious of Canada’s special relationship with France, our ‘other mother- country’. An attachment which, until lately, tended to be more sentimental than real has been stimulated by the new nationalism of French Canada and given actuality by political and economic initiatives on both sides.
Canadians have also found common diplomatic ground—notably in the United Nations—with other countries of comparable size and power. This affinity of ‘middle’ powers has developed perceptibly in recent years in co-operative efforts to provide peace keeping forces in many parts of the world, most recently in Cyprus. We have also affirmed at various times special relationships with India, with our Commonwealth friends and others in Africa, with Caribbean countries and, albeit diffidently, with other countries of the western hemisphere.
The plain fact is that the relations between all countries which have much to do with one another are in some sense ‘special’. And, as our world contracts, the circle of involvement closes in and the reasons for special relations are multiplied.
It has been said that, while fate provides us with our relations, we remain providentially free to choose our friends. I am not sure that this rule has ever really applied in international life, except for rhetorical purposes. At the same time, it would be idle to deny the advantage, in the conduct of affairs between nations, of such elements as a common background of culture and political tradition, nor of the notable and beneficial influence of personal friend ships in official and private dealings. There is little doubt too, I should say, that the conduct of Anglo-American affairs, in modern times at any rate, has been facilitated by the use of a language which still possesses certain common characteristics.
There is, however, genuine risk of over-emphasizing the importance of friendship between nations, in claiming too much on grounds of special relationship. Too often we who invoke these familiar sanctions are in reality seeking some manner of preferential treatment, if not indeed some kind of discrimination against others. In the long run, policies based on such a double standard are likely to prove double-edged.
Recent history has provided not a few examples of the unwisdom of resting policy on the assumption that all other nations and governments are either friends or enemies. Surely we have had enough of this, as Senator Fulbright has recently reminded the United States Senate. All of us, in some degree, have become prisoners of the cold-war vocabulary and are consequently but ill-equipped with the combination of flexibility and firmness which the new international dialogue requires.
A few weeks ago I encountered in Washington an American friend who, after representing his country in a high diplomatic post in Asia, had recently been involved in a severely bilateral United States—Canadian problem. ‘What a relief!’ After struggling with issues the intrinsic difficulties of which were complicated by factors of race, religion, and ancient prejudice, it was pure bliss to be confronted by one in which the sole consideration, on both sides, was ‘n self-interest.’ Indeed, he was tempted to conclude, in a quite uncharacteristic reversion to Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham, that, in international affairs at all events, self- interest might well be the root of all virtue. I am bound to add that the matters in question have still to be resolved.
What I am trying to say is that, in seeking solutions to our problems, we—British, Americans, Canadians alike—should guard against the temptation to rely excessively upon our celebrated friendship and special relationship. To do so is to risk clouding realities in our dealings with one another and distorting, even embittering, our relations with the rest of the world. I believe this to be especially true of the British—American situation, where the tendency to assume that the well-known ties of blood and language—and the rest—imply coincidence of interest and attitude has often compounded intrinsic difficulties.
The truth is that, while our countries may share many of the objectives commonly described as ‘ultimate’, these tend to be of such indefinite character, so ‘ultimate’, in fact, as to have little relevance to actual situations, in which there may be quite genuine, and respectable, differences, even conflicts, of interest. In such circumstances, we are, in my judgement, more likely to achieve acceptable solutions or accommodations, hence more likely to strengthen the real basis of future dealings, by taking pains to identify and acknowledge such differences and counting less for their resolution upon the similarity of our aims and the mystiques of race and culture.
Such a realistic approach might, I believe, help to avoid some of the disappointments and misunderstandings which have occasionally marred Anglo-American relations. The experience over Suez, with its aftermath of bitterness—now largely dispelled, I am happy to think—provides a classic illustration. In that melancholy affair, if, over the preceding months, Whitehall had paid heed to its accurate and sensitive reports from Washington, there would, in the event, have been less surprise and recrimination in this country over American attitudes. As it was, a grievous wound was inflicted on the most famous of special relationships, one which appeals to traditional friendship could not prevent, though they did, in due course, facilitate the healing process. It has been said that the Bay of Pigs was Suez in reverse. Perhaps it was.
A couple of years ago, a distinguished American with many ties of friendship in Britain, suggested in the course of a lecture that ‘the role of Great Britain apart from Europe, based on a special relationship with the United States—and on being the head of a Commonwealth which has no political structure or unity or strength—was “about played out” ‘. Whether or not this was a sound judgement is immaterial. But the reaction in this country, where much worse has been said, and quite recently, seemed to me disproportionate to the offence and equally un helpful. There is a quality of euphoria in Anglo-American relations which tends to smother genuine friendship and provide but fragile protection against reality.
In Canada we have had a good deal of experience of the gulf which may separate the amiable generalities from the harsher specifics of day-to-day dealings with friends and relations.
As Canada has grown in political as well as commercial importance, the involvement of Canadians and Americans has greatly increased in volume and complexity. In consequence, officials of our two governments continually find themselves face to face across the long border which divides as well as unites the two countries. With the emergence of the United States from her continental isolation to her present world pre-eminence, and the simultaneous development of our own international position, we have also found ourselves associated in an increasing number of multilateral under takings—NATO, the GATT, the United Nations, and many more.
As could be expected, our bilateral affairs, so largely in commerce and finance, have not infrequently subjected Canada— United States relations to stresses and strains. And always our vast business with one another is conducted against the historic backdrop of Canadian determination to resist the constant pres sure upon our national independence—pressure which is none the less serious because it is now friendly, and economic and cultural rather than military. We worry publicly about the political con sequences of massive United States investment; we wring our hands over the Americanization of our popular periodicals. Yet, for impressive practical reasons, we hesitate to adopt measures which might interfere with the rate of our material growth or give th impression of restriction in the realm of ideas. Year by year, American influence becomes more pervasive in every phase of Canadian life. Reason tells us that it cannot be otherwise; instinct and tradition move us to resist, often to resent.
In the broader area of world affairs, there is no doubt in the minds of Canadians that the United States is our friend, the country with which we have a ‘special relationship’ par excellence, which has grown closer and more vital as the years have gone by. We have, however, had divergences of some consequence in our multilateral as well as our bilateral relations with Uncle Sam. United States policy toward Cuba, for example, has found little support in Canada, though successive Canadian governments have modified their own practices so as not to exploit or frustrate United States measures. We have been unwilling to go along with other aspects of U.S. political and economic regionalism in the hemisphere. While we continue to flirt with the Organization of American States, we are reluctant to take the step which might seem to involve surrender of our traditional reliance on the Old World to redress the imbalance of the New. On nuclear arms, we have lately reached an accommodation after years of uncertainty during which the Canada—U.S. partnership for North American defence lost some of its glitter. We have diverged from U.S. policies in the United Nations, over Indo-China, and else where.
In order to compose or contain our differences, considerable joint Canada—U.S. machinery has been established. The body of which I am presently Canadian chairman, the International Joint Commission, is such a mechanism. Composed equally of American and Canadian members, it has extensive jurisdiction under a treaty of 1909 which has enabled it to develop acceptable solutions in large matters of common concern, such as the development and regulation of continental water resources which we share. During and since World War II, a network of other, less formal, joint bodies has been created for a variety of purposes— committees of Canadian ministers and U.S. cabinet secretaries to deliberate and recommend on matters of defence, on trade and economic affairs; committees of officials and experts on a great range of subjects where the two countries have common problems and where joint or co-ordinate solutions are likely to be of mutual advantage.
The latest essay of this sort was the establishment earlier this year by the President and the Prime Minister of a joint ‘working group’ to explore the feasibility of developing agreed ‘principles’ which would help to avoid divergences in the economic and other policies of the two countries. Whether, in such a complex relation ship of friendship and interest, such an exercise will be of value remains to be seen. At the least it should prove interesting and perhaps instructive. Here we shall attempt no new charter of the Canadian—American relationship but, from an examination of actual ‘cases’, try to extract practical lessons for future guidance.
It seems to me that this pragmatic joint approach to problems might be capable of wider application. In any event, I am persuaded that there is merit, between friends, in a procedure directed to the joint identification of difficulties as a preliminary to their joint resolution. Those of us who are interested in strengthening the Anglo-American association, and in having the Atlantic countries work together more effectively in the wider context of world order, might, it seems to me, find that useful practical results are often to be achieved by such methods.
It is important, too, that we should appreciate and understand our differences—for example in our systems of government. These are but little comprehended by our peoples and are often responsible for misunderstandings. In Britain and Canada, we may have an intellectual comprehension of the principle of the division of powers, but the practical consequences, in terms of the conduct of United States foreign affairs, too often take us by surprise. Equally, it seems virtually impossible for Americans to appreciate the implications of the system of parliamentary and responsible government in which we have been nurtured.
Not unrelated to such distinctions is a marked tendency, of long standing, on the part of European friends of the United States, to regard as virtuous in the New World those manifestations which are most familiar, because closest to their own image. An illustration of recent experience is the, largely posthumous, adulation of President Kennedy which has been so conspicuous in western European countries. This would be admirable and no doubt much appreciated in the United States—where the memory of the shining young leader is universally revered—were it not for the unfortunate fact that praise of the martyred hero is so often accompanied by denigration of his successor. Which, because of the contrast between the two men, gives rise to the suspicion that what Europe loved most in President Kennedy was the style and elegance and intellectual distinction which were essentially European. For, on the American scene, John F. Kennedy was far from typical. Virtually his whole experience of life was east of the Alleghenies where his tastes and interests were engaged. Except for his political journeys, and his war service, he spent little time, was but little involved, in the wide heartland of America. On the other hand, whatever their relative claims upon history, President Johnson, quintessentially American, is the one who, increasingly, represents what Walter Lippman has called ‘the prudent majority’ of his countrymen. It is irony to have to add that, despite the unique stimulus he imparted to the Presidency and to the whole machinery of government, President Kennedy’s domestic and foreign programmes had, at the time of his death, virtually ground to a halt, while it is Lyndon Johnson who has clothed in action his predecessor’s promise to ‘get the country moving again’.
For somewhat similar reasons, it seems to me unprofitable, often ‘counterproductive’, in the American phrase, to place undue emphasis nowadays on friendship and special relationship within the Commonwealth. The winds of change which have blown these last years, and not only through Africa and Asia, have lain bare the dry and brittle roots of much cherished doctrine. To accept this is not necessarily to conclude, as some have done in this country, that the Commonwealth has become ‘a gigantic farce’ kept going by hypocritical politicians. Nor is it even necessary to agree with the Prime Minister of Australia that, for many of its members, the Commonwealth has become merely ‘functional and occasional’ to be exploited at convenience and at other times ignored.
It is obvious enough that the Commonwealth cannot recover nor achieve any meaningful degree of political cohesion. Nor does it seem likely that our economic relations will become much closer. In essence, all that can be expected is that we should retain, and possibly even develop, our habits of communication and informal consultation; perhaps too that, through our association, we can soften and divert some at least of the excesses of resurgent national ism. It is clear, however, that the degree of our intimacy, one with another, will vary and that different practices will apply in the wide variety of political and economic conditions which exist in our membership.
It seems to me that the course of wisdom in this matter is for us of the ‘old’ Commonwealth to make the genuine, and painful, effort required to jettison the old concepts, and the old terminology. Whatever the future of the Commonwealth, it can no longer be centred on London, nor, for the great majority of its members, clustered round the monarchy. Nor can it be regarded any more as an ‘English’, even a ‘British’, institution. In my own country, which, over the years, has greatly profited, materially and other wise, from the Commonwealth connexion, public enthusiasm for the Commonwealth as such is not unlimited. French Canada is disposed to see it principally as a link to Britain, and as such reminiscent of the colonialist past—a chief reason, ironically, why a minority of older ‘English’ Canadians continue to cherish it.
It may be, as a Nigerian put it recently, that the principal asset which membership in the new Commonwealth can confer will be ‘the quality of listening to each other with forbearance’. It may be that the essential justification for the continuance of our association will still be found in the means and the incentive it can provide for a common search for understanding between nations across the barriers of history and geography, race and culture. If so, we had better mend our ways, some of us, and give more reality to the process of quiet consultation wherein our practice tends to fall short of our profession. I suppose that next month’s meetings of our Prime Ministers in London will provide one more test, perhaps the severest yet, of our boasted will and capacity to adapt our association to new realities.
All of this is not to say that there is no room for cultivating friendship between governments and peoples, no purpose to be served in seeking to improve understanding between nations. Quite the contrary. Indeed, it is my conviction that we of the Atlantic nations—the United States, Britain, and Canada especially—have need to make greater efforts still—and we are here engaged in such an undertaking—to establish and consolidate firm common ground from which to move forward together. I believe, however, that our efforts are likely to prove more fruitful if, within the framework of history and geography and ethnic association, we address ourselves, in friendship and frankness, to the identification and reconciliation of our differences, rather than to vain repetitions based upon the demonstrably false assumption that we all think alike. It is by such pedestrian means that, in my judgement, we are most likely to be able to exploit most effectively the great and diverse assets we severally possess and, in so doing, co-operate most constructively with other nations in the incredibly complex task of human survival.
© The Ditchley Foundation, 1964. All rights reserved. Queries concerning permission to translate or reprint should be addressed to the Communications Officer, The Ditchley Foundation, Ditchley Park, Enstone, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire OX7 4ER, England.