The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
CANADA is one of the few countries with an unexplored frontier, luring the pathfinder into the unknown. This frontier, with its inevitable effect on the life and habits of the Canadian people, is, however, no longer the West. "Go North" has replaced "Go West" as the call to adventure. Robert Service once called the Canadian North the "land where the mountains are nameless and the rivers run God knows where." By now most of the mountains have been christened (one was even re-christened a short time ago as Mt. Eisenhower) and it is known where most of the rivers run. But there is a great deal yet to be learned, and a far greater incentive to learn it now than ever before.
Not long ago this vast Canadian Arctic territory was considered to be little more than a frozen northern desert, without any great economic value or any political or strategic importance. Many thought it might as well be left to the trappers of the fur companies or those wandering stoics of the North, the Esquimaux, who have shown us how easy it is to live and be happy on a nicely balanced diet of blubber and caribou meat. We know better now. Canada, like Russia, is looking to the North as a land of the future.
The reason is obvious. The war and the aeroplane have driven home to Canadians the importance of their Northland, in strategy, in resources and in communications. We should no longer be deceived by the flat maps and "frigid wasteland" tales of our public school geographies. The earth remains round, and the shortest routes between many important spots on it lie across the Arctic ice and over the North Pole. The shortest air line from New York to Tokyo crosses Hudson Bay; that from San Francisco to Berlin, or from New York to Chungking, goes over or near the Pole. These routes are as practicable and as safe as those in many settled temperate areas. The flying weather is normally fine; and air navigation will become easier as weather stations are established. The North West Passage of legend and history will soon be a normal flight.
A large part of the world's total Arctic area is Canadian. One should know exactly what this part comprises. It includes not only Canada's northern mainland, but the islands and the frozen sea north of the mainland between the meridians of its east and west boundaries, extended to the North Pole. The 1944 Arctic Manual of the United States War Department in its description of the Canadian North follows the usual practice of dividing the territory between the Western and Eastern Arctic. It defines the former as the Arctic mainland coast from Demarcation Point to Boothia Peninsula and the islands to the north. The Eastern Canadian Arctic is defined as the mainland coast from Boothia Peninsula to Labrador and the islands to the north. Canada is responsible for the administration, the security and development of this territory and its inhabitants. We realize now -- more than we did before the war -- the responsibilities and the opportunities that attach to our ownership of this vast area.
Even before the war Canada took her Arctic responsibilities seriously. The well-known Canadian ship Nascopie made its annual voyages, with Canadian officials, scientists and explorers. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have ranged far and wide. Their motor schooner, the St. Roch, is the only vessel ever to have travelled the northern route between Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in both directions, or to have made the whole North West Passage in one season. The "Mounties" have made many land expeditions for exploration and survey, some of which, though merely part of the day's work as far as the men who undertook them were concerned, were epic in their adventure and achievement. One of these northern land patrols a few years ago covered 1,093 miles by sleigh and dog-team in 53 days. One lone constable in 1944 made a journey of 3,500 miles by dog-team.
Government posts have been established hundreds of miles beyond the Arctic Circle where the Mounties, in addition to being counsellors, friends and medical advisers to the Esquimaux, represent about a dozen different kinds of officialdom. They are called on to assume customs and immigration duties, to collect income taxes, to accept applications for naturalization, to act as postmasters, mining recorders or coroners, to pay bounties for shooting wolves, to register vital statistics, to issue rations to destitute Esquimaux and Indians. These official duties, now performed at 22 Arctic posts (one of which is less than 750 miles from the North Pole), may, in some of the more northerly ones, be more or less nominal, but they have official and international significance. When a stratosphere liner of the future lands somewhere south of the Pole in its voyage from Europe to Asia, its passengers
will find a Canadian flag, a Canadian Government station, and probably a notice stuck somewhere warning the passengers that under Order-in-Council 7496, Section 3, Sub-Section 12, they will be liable to fine or imprisonment or both if they do not extinguish their camp fires!
The Canadian Government, while ready to coöperate to the fullest extent with the United States and other countries in the development of the whole Arctic, accepts responsibility for its own sector. There is no reason for sharing that responsibility except as part of any regional or general international arrangement for coöperation and control which may be worked out within the framework of the charter of the United Nations. During the war the United States Government asked permission of Ottawa to establish certain weather and emergency installations in upper Frobisher Bay and Cumberland Sound on Baffin Island, as well as air bases at Coral Harbor on Southampton Island and Cape Dyer on Baffin Island. This permission was, of course, granted, but as a war measure on a temporary basis, subject to the right of Canada to replace the stations, and to the stipulation that all permanent facilities with respect to the air bases, having been paid for in full, should become the property of Canada after the war.
The war -- as wars do -- has forced the development of the North. During the last six years great advances have been made and an increasing interest shown in those areas in both Canada and the United States. After Pearl Harbor, the two Governments undertook a series of far-reaching defense measures in the Canadian Arctic. Most of them are by now well known and have a postwar significance. They have resulted in the Canadian North emerging from the war equipped with communications which, had they not been pushed through as joint defense projects, might have taken decades to complete. The most impressive, because of the vastness of the territory which they serve, are the air routes. Fan-wise, they reach out from the more settled parts of Canada toward the polar regions -- from Edmonton through the Yukon to Alaska by way of the northwest staging route; down the Mackenzie River to Aklavik on the Beaufort Sea; northeast from Winnipeg across Hudson Bay toward Greenland and Iceland; up through Labrador and northern Quebec to the same destinations.
There is also the Alaska (Alcan) Highway, now known as the Northwest Highway System, linking the Canadian airfields on the northwest staging route and running for 1,500 miles through country hitherto known only to the bush flyer and the traveller by canoe and dog-team. This highway is expected to prove an incentive to the exploration and exploitation of a large surrounding territory. Much mineral wealth is believed to lie there, and certain districts have important agricultural possibilities. The tourist, however, would be wise to wait a while before he plans that holiday motor trip to Alaska. The original agreement between Canada and the United States provided that the United States should continue supervision and maintenance of this highway for six months after the end of the war. This period has now come to an end and Canada has assumed full control of the Canadian section of the highway.
Finally, to complete communications with Alaska, there is a fully equipped telephone, teletype and telegraph system which parallels the highway and the air route.
It is not possible to predict with any assurance the specific effect that these new communications will have on the Canadian North over the next ten or twenty years. However, even if we discount some of the more extravagant predictions, the effect certainly will be far-reaching. A tremendous impetus has been given to exploration and development. Bases for research have been laid. Man's knowledge of weather and soil and living conditions in the Canadian Arctic has been significantly increased. A whole new region has been brought out of the blurred and shadowy realm of northern folklore and shown to be an important and accessible part of our modern world.
In all these wartime projects there has been a remarkable spirit of coöperation between Canada and the United States. There has been a wholehearted and complete sharing of resources and rights. The staging route, for instance, was constructed by Canada, while most of the expense of the highway was met by the United States. Much of this coöperation has been effectively directed by the Canada-United States Permanent Joint Board on Defense in which the representatives of the two Governments have worked with the informality, intimacy and mutual understanding characteristic of the relations between the two countries.
This wartime coöperation will continue now that the war is over. Nor will it be complicated by any misunderstandings or doubts as to what rights, if any, are given by the ownership to installations and facilities constructed during the war in Canada by the American Services. Apart from the Alaska Highway, for which special arrangements were made, Canada has arranged to repay the United States for all such war projects which represented construction having any permanent value. The sum of $75,000,000 for certain specified defense installations has already been paid. As for the rest, appraisers representing each Government will set a fair value and Canada will pay that amount. This is a wise solution for what might have become a vexing problem. There is no question now as to ownership and control of bases and such things, which might give rise to misunderstandings between the two countries. On the contrary, there is a clear understanding by the United States that Canada has complete ownership of and responsibility for everything within her borders, while ready and anxious to coöperate with the United States to the fullest possible extent in everything that pertains to the development and security of the Arctic regions.
The official coöperation between the two countries in the Arctic has recently been supplemented and reinforced by the formation of a private body, the Arctic Institute of North America, with a Board of Governors consisting of eminent citizens of both countries. The Institute, whose general purpose is to act as a coördinating center in North America for scientific research pertaining to the Arctic and Sub Arctic regions, has already drawn up a comprehensive program of desirable scientific investigations in this field. Such a program and such an institute should act both as a spur and a guide to the two Governments.
Canada has no desire, however, to coöperate exclusively with the United States in Arctic questions. It is in Canada's interest, and in the general interest, that each northern nation should coöperate with every other in all Arctic problems. Though much has been accomplished, a great deal remains to be done. It will take much longer and will not be done so well if nations work separately. If the fullest use is to be made of the resources of the northern regions, there should be a pooling of scientific data and a coördination of research and experimentation. All the polar nations can learn from each other and thereby advance the knowledge and resources of mankind. For this reason Canada desires to work not only with the United States, but with all the Arctic countries -- Denmark (for Greenland), Norway and the Soviet Union -- in exploiting to the full the peaceful possibilities of the Northern Hemisphere. Particularly is this true of the U.S.S.R., which is well ahead of the rest of the world in the development of its polar areas and which, Canadians are beginning to realize, is their neighbor across the North Pole.
Here, as elsewhere, however, coöperation is a two-way street and requires give as well as take by all the countries concerned. A policy of exclusive and isolated Arctic development by any one country in an area which, in this age of atom bombs and jet-propelled planes, is of such strategic importance will create suspicion in the minds of all the others. There is already an increasing, and in some of its manifestations, an unhealthy preoccupation with the strategic aspects of the North; the staking of claims, the establishment of bases, the calculation of risks, and all the rest. For no country have these faint stirrings of unhallowed but all-too-familiar fears a greater or more sinister significance than for Canada. Our country, we are inclined to boast, lies athwart the airways of the future across the top of the world. That is true, but it should give us cause to worry about how those airways are used, because they join the two greatest agglomerations of power in our world, the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A.
There is another boast in Canada -- our undefended border with our southern neighbor. We want to be able to have an undefended border "down North," too. This, however, depends, in the last analysis, less on coöperation between the northern countries on Arctic matters, important and desirable as that is, than on coöperation generally between the Great Powers in the United Nations. Fear and suspicion engendered, say, in Iran, can easily spread to Great Bear Lake above the Arctic Circle in Canada and bedevil economic developments there. There is now no refuge in remoteness. So far as Canada is concerned, she does not relish the necessity of digging, or having dug for her, any Maginot Line in her Arctic ice. Peaceful development in coöperation with all the northern nations is Canada's sole desire. In that development the Canadian accent is on resources and research, not on strategy and politics. It would be tragic if fears and suspicions made us alter that accent against our will.
A graphic illustration of Canada's increasing interest in her north country has recently been given in what is known as "Exercise Musk Ox." The Canadian party conducting this exercise traversed 3,100 miles of desolate north country in 80 days by snowmobiles, and was supplied from the air. It is hoped that much information of value to Canada and to other countries has been obtained on air navigation in polar regions; on air supply techniques; on the best types of air equipment, and their maintenance under Arctic conditions; on living and working in the open under such conditions. Canadian Government civilian officials, research workers and scientific personnel were with "Musk Ox," and representatives of the North American Arctic Institute coöperated.
Whatever may be said of this enterprise by the sensation seekers, it was undertaken by the Canadian Government primarily to learn lessons about the Arctic that could be applied to the general civil development of those regions. It is a further step in their peaceful economic progress. Behind "Exercise Musk Ox" and other similar ones is the desire to uncover and utilize the resources, especially the mineral resources, of these lands, by discovering how men can best live and work up there. We know now that there is great wealth in the Land of the Midnight Sun, and that there are ways of making that wealth available. That, again, is primarily due to the conquest of the air.
There was little use discovering gold or oil or radium in the Canadian Arctic thirty years ago. You could not get the mining machinery in or the ore product out. Aviation has changed all that. Whole mining plants are flown in and the refined ore is flown out. The northern skies are humming with activity; smoke is coming from northern chimneys; adventurous settlers are moving in. In the year before the war, 1938, Canadian aircraft carried more than 26,000,000 pounds of freight by air. This figure is microscopic by wartime standards, but it was then twice as great as that of any other country. A good proportion was heavy mining equipment. With the forced development of war and the possible profits of peace, the search for new wealth now goes on vigorously.
It is known that there is gold. One mine at Yellowknife, by Great Slave Lake, many hundreds of miles from the end of steel, has produced $13,000,000 of ore since 1938, though operations had to be slowed down during the war. There are also lead, copper, tungsten, and oil fields which may prove to be among the greatest in the world.
Above all, there are great deposits of radium and uranium ores, the rights to all of which, discovered and to be discovered, have been reserved to the Canadian Government. Some of the uranium that has been used, and much more that will be used, in the development of atomic energy comes from a Canadian mine well within the Arctic Circle, 1,500 miles beyond the railway end. The discovery and construction of this mine, Eldorado, reads like fiction.
About 45 years ago two young Canadian geologists and explorers noticed on the shores of Great Bear Lake traces of pitchblende, the source of radium and uranium. This did not at the time arouse their particular interest, however, because there was no way of getting at it. But they made a report on it to their Department in Ottawa, as is the habit of officials. Two or three decades later a prospector and mining engineer found and studied that report in the Department of Mines' library in Ottawa. He grasped its importance and headed north with a companion for Great Bear Lake. The companion was stricken with snow blindness. While he lay with bandages over his eyes, his friend made short daily trips from the tent to look for the mineral wealth which he knew existed somewhere on the shores of that remote lake. On one of these trips he found a heavy strange black-covered rock stained with orange, red and yellow. He knew it was the precious pitchblende. When his companion recovered, they brought some of this rock back to civilization. It was pitchblende with a radium content four or five times as high as that ever discovered before, and with a high content of silver and copper as well. Capital was secured; an expedition was fitted out; supplies and a complete mining equipment were flown in; a smelter was established where the ore could be reduced to radium concentrates; river steamers were built to bring those concentrates out of the north by water in the summer (this was done by air in winter). When they reached railhead, 1,500 miles away, they were taken by train another 4,000 miles or so where they could be refined into radium and uranium. A few years after the first discovery of this mine, it had produced enough radium to break the world monopoly price from $75,000 to $25,000 a gram. Recently this development became of vital importance for the destructive purposes of war. It can also, if man retains any vestige of sanity, be of vital importance for the healing purposes of peace.
The snowy wastes of the Canadian North have many more mineral secrets of that kind to yield. These secrets are being yielded. Development is proceeding. Population is increasing. Progress will continue, for life in those zones is far from unbearable. Indeed the northerner will tell you that the Arctic is a grand health resort. Certainly the weather in the Mackenzie Valley is much less severe than corresponding parts of North Siberia where there are already thriving communities. It has also been said with authority that the climate of the Canadian North West in the circumstances of today is less of a handicap to settlement than was that of the Red River Valley in the last decade of the nineteenth century.
The Canadian Arctic is, however, no country for weaklings and its economic development will test the finest qualities of the men of the North. Though the northern frontiersmen today are as sturdy and tough as those of earlier times, their habits are, shall we say, less picturesquely rough and crude. A few years ago a visitor at Fort Norman was interested to see a freight aeroplane land and discharge several cases. They were not, however, cases of rum or six shooters or ammunition. They were cases of lettuce! He reported that the sturdy miners and trappers who had been hanging about followed the lettuce in great excitement to the local supply post, and when the cases were opened, they indulged in a regular debauch. In spite of this trend toward lettuce salads, there is no doubt that the settlers now in the Canadian Arctic and those who will follow them "down North" will provide a solid and sturdy foundation for the growth and development of that increasingly important part of Canada.
It is for the Great Powers to decide, by their policies and their plans, whether that development can be conducted in an atmosphere of friendly coöperation between all the Arctic nations, and with a resultant benefit to all, or whether the Northern Hemisphere is to become an area of national rivalries, fears and ambitions. Canada will certainly do its best to ensure the former, for to no country would the consequences of the alternative be more disastrous. In 1946 there is no isolation -- even in the Arctic ice.
Canada, however, is conscious of the limitations on her own ability to translate these peaceful desires into realities. Here, as elsewhere, the hope for the future lies in the ability of the Great Powers, and of all other powers, to work together within the United Nations.