WHEN Americans ask their Canadian friends, "When are you people going to join the Pan American Union?" they are often surprised to discover that Pan Americanism is not regarded as a matter of immediate importance. Many persons north of the border feel that there are few if any reasons for Canadian entry into the Union, and many reasons against it. Those who look upon such action as desirable or inevitable are in a minority. Since this is an unexpected response, which puzzles and somewhat distresses Americans who have taken a different attitude for granted, the personal view of one Canadian who has been interested in the subject for many years may be useful.

It is unnecessary to say that if Canadians are opposed to their country's membership in the Pan American Union, the attitude betrays no lack of cordiality toward the 21 states which compose it. With the greatest of these we are on terms of intimacy and friendliness which reflect the feeling of all Canadians; the word "foreign" is rejected on both sides of our common frontier. Canadians know much less about the nations of Latin America, but we should like to know more and to establish closer contacts with them in many spheres of mutual interest. Our expanding diplomatic representation in Central and South America is an earnest of this. Canada's attitude toward the Inter-American System is not the measure of her goodwill toward its members, but simply of a conviction that the concord can best be maintained and extended by her non-participation in the mechanism of the Pan American Union.

The friendly and sincere suggestions that Canada should join the Union invite an appreciation of the cordial motives which prompt them, but their terms also call for careful analysis. Rhetoric and reality are too often confused in human affairs, and the field of international relations provides no exception. When Canada is asked to join the Pan American Union and thus complete the "continental brotherhood," or when the proposal is made in the name of "hemispheric solidarity," the phrases call for dispassionate examination. As slogans inviting the nations of the Americas to collaborate in defense, or as a warm appeal for international friendship, they must be welcomed; but as descriptions of fact they have little meaning.


What degree of unity do all the nations of the Americas possess? Certainly they all reflect the influence of the environment of the New World on their national life. But there seems little or no basis for anything that can properly be called "hemispheric unity." Twenty-one American nations severed their political links with Europe and have similar revolutionary backgrounds; but Canada is an important exception to this, for her independent status has been acquired within the bounds of a world-wide Commonwealth. The attitudes of the American Republics toward Europe have, in the past at least, had much in common, but their unity of outlook has not been "continental." There are striking cultural differences between the nations of North and South America, nor can the western hemisphere be regarded as a unit in a geographical sense. North and South America are, it is true, linked by an isthmus, and although there is little or no traffic along that strip of land it gives the illusion of geographical contact, because of men's odd habit of thinking that only land is a connecting element. But if Canadians visit South America they must travel by water or air; Canada is farther from most of South America than from Western Europe.

It is hard to attach much meaning to such a phrase as the "American concept of life" when it is applied to the American nations as a group. In economic practice and political life the western hemisphere presents a varied picture indeed. All its nations proclaim democratic principles, but it is unfortunately true that in parts of Latin America the word is taken for the deed in this respect. Canada has much more in common both culturally and politically with her sister nations of the British Commonwealth, and with the democratic states of Europe, than with the South American continent. We belong to the northern hemisphere rather than to the western, for in the northern half of the globe are both Great Britain and the United States.

In the past, the Inter-American System has not by any means represented the unanimous sentiment of the Americas toward the problems of world security. After the outbreak of war in 1939, the representatives of the American Republics gathered in Panama, not to announce their solidarity against Fascism but to declare "their unanimous intention not to become involved in the European conflict." Had Canada belonged to the Pan American Union at that time, she could not have accepted that decision. In Pan American addresses there is often an underlying premise that the organization speaks for the whole hemisphere. But in addition to Canada and Newfoundland, the populous British West Indies, other British colonies, and French and Dutch colonies (whose abandonment is now demanded by certain Latin American spokesmen with less understanding of their position than was shown by President Monroe 125 years ago) are not members of the Inter-American System.

It has often been suggested that Canada could not join the Pan American Union and still remain a member of the British Commonwealth, but that, of course, is entirely untrue. Commonwealth relations are so flexible that Canadian entry into the Union would present no constitutional difficulty. Sometimes, however, although it is admitted that Canada is free to join the Union, it is suggested that London would put subtle pressure on her to prevent such a step. This would never happen. London would not express any views on such a subject. As a matter of fact, it never once came up for discussion, so far as I can recall, during the decade I was Canadian representative in London. In my experience, the British grasp of Canadian problems and viewpoints has been unfailingly understanding. In short, London has consistently recognized the independent existence of Canada not only in terms of the letter but of the spirit as well.

Some of our neighbors, living as they do under a different system of government, find it difficult to understand the Canadian position as a sovereign state within the Commonwealth, enjoying complete independence, but linked by a common Crown with the United Kingdom and the other British countries. The less knowledgeable still ask whether we pay taxes to London or whether the British Parliament exercises some control over our foreign policy; and even in the United States there are many who assume the answer to both questions is "yes." Canadians themselves are somewhat responsible for this confused thinking, for we have done less than we should to describe the situation clearly. In South America it is natural that knowledge of Canada and her institutions should be even less precise, and this is reflected in Pan American circles. Canadians have noted that friendly references to Canada made in moments of "hemispheric" enthusiasm do not seem accompanied by a corresponding understanding of Canadian institutions. At the Inter-American Conference in 1938, when consideration was given to the problems of minorities in South America, the following statement was included in a resolution: "The system of protection of ethnical, language or religious minorities cannot have any application whatsoever in America where the conditions which characterize the group known as minorities do not exist." They do exist in Canada; we have a minority of this kind. Its place in the nation is protected under our Constitution. Again, in the Declaration of Neutrality at Panama in 1939, it was stated that "the peoples of America have achieved spiritual unity through the similarity of their republican institutions." Canada would seem to have been omitted from the list of "the peoples of America," for she does not possess republican institutions.

But this is by the way, although such considerations are not entirely irrelevant. If so little is known of Canada's Constitution, it is not strange that the attitude of Canadians toward the Pan American Union should be misunderstood. It does not seem unnatural to Canadians, however, to look on the Union as an organization with many useful achievements to its credit, and yet not to feel closely concerned with its activities. The subjects which occupy the attention of the organizations in the Pan American system and the conferences held within its orbit are important for the states living more or less in contiguity, some of which are less advanced in their development than others. That they should deal on an international basis with such matters as trademarks, sanitation and hygiene, consular procedure, patents, highway construction, labor relations and international law is useful. Canada, however, has long had her own standards in such matters. The United States is the only American nation with which we must take joint action on such things, and with her we are always able to make satisfactory bilateral arrangements. Moreover, Canada can always be represented at a Pan American conference when this is thought desirable, and she is free to adhere to the resultant conventions when she wishes.


There are two subjects of practical importance which may seem to call for Canada's membership in the Inter-American System. One of these is trade. It is said that Canadian membership would lead to an extension of our foreign commerce. But this view is held largely by those who are without business experience. There is, indeed, no reason to believe that membership has accounted for expansion of trade. Canadian commerce with the 20 countries of Latin America is very modest in volume; before the war it was not even 3 percent of our business abroad. Some Canadian commodities, moreover, compete with those of Latin America. There has been a sizeable rise in the volume of Canadian trade with this area in the last few years, but the total involved is still very small. Canada's efforts to increase it will be best served by dealing directly with the countries of Latin America rather than by attempting to develop markets through contacts formed at meetings of the Pan American Union in Washington and elsewhere. Indeed, the Union has itself emphasized that inter-American trade is largely promoted privately.

The other subject calls for the closest attention, and is now of paramount importance -- defense. Canada's relation to the Pan American Union under this heading must be considered both in terms of advantages and responsibilities. The question is not only, "Would we benefit from membership?" but, "Have we a duty to join?" When the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, signed at Rio de Janeiro in September 1947, was debated in the United States Senate in the following December, one Senator, who cast the solitary vote against the pact, said, according to the report, that "at the present time Canada is in the position of getting a free ride. She has benefits but no obligations." The criticism was effectively answered by a Senatorial colleague, and the critic informed of the satisfactory joint arrangements existing between Canada and the United States on the subject of continental security.

The assumption by Canada of very definite obligations relating to the defense of the Americas dates from August 1940, when the United States and Canada established their Permanent Joint Board on Defense, in accordance with the Ogdensburg Agreement. By the terms of the Agreement, the Board was "to consider in the broad sense the defense of the north half of the western hemisphere." On February 12, 1947, governmental statements were made simultaneously in Ottawa and Washington to the effect that the collaboration between the United States and Canada in the interests of security which was initiated in 1940 would be continued under postwar conditions. The Agreement under which both nations undertook to coöperate in defending "the north half of the western hemisphere" thus obliges Canada to share in the defense of an area extending from northern Greenland to the mouth of the Amazon. Canada and the United States are indeed more closely knit for purposes of defense than any of the other states in the western hemisphere. Should aggression ever threaten this continent, Canada's responsibilities will be apparent and well-defined. "Hemispheric defense" is, of course, a misleading phrase; it was originally a byproduct of the widespread belief that continental isolation guaranteed security. The atom bomb should have disposed of that old and persistent misconception. The security of the western hemisphere depends not on geography but on effective international organization.

In this connection, what of the Pan American Union in relation to the United Nations? Save in one or two instances, it was not successfully related to the League of Nations. The architects of the United Nations, however, wisely provided for regional security pacts under Chapter VIII of the Charter, and the Inter-American Treaty of 1947 was dovetailed into the world security system as envisaged in San Francisco, taking advantage of the articles under the heading "Regional Arrangements." It was agreed ". . . that an armed attack by any State against an American State shall be considered as an attack against all the American States and, consequently, each one of the said Contracting Parties undertakes to assist in meeting the attack in the exercise of the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations." More recently, the world has seen another regional security agreement signed at Brussels by the representatives of five nations in Western Europe. This treaty also is not only in harmony with the Charter of the United Nations but has been fitted into its structure. "If any of the high contracting parties," so runs Article IV, "should be the object of an armed attack in Europe, the other high contracting parties will, in accordance with the provisions of Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, afford the party so attacked all military and other aid and assistance in their power."

When the Charter of the United Nations was first published, the reference in its text to regional security pacts may have seemed to possess almost an academic flavor, but during the last three years, as hopes for such a universal system of security have faded and the plan itself has been all but destroyed by the corrosive influence of Communist power politics, such regional arrangements have assumed steadily increasing importance. If the nations of the Americas are committed to their joint defense, and an important group of the states of free Europe is similarly united, it may be said that we have at least two islands of security in a world-wide ocean of doubt and danger. But it is not an undue simplification of the matter to say that the security which these islands enjoy will be only relative security until there is a bridge between them -- in other words, until we accept the full implication of a joint arrangement under which a threat to one of these areas will be regarded as a threat to the other. That means nothing less than that the Americas must underwrite the safety of Western Europe, and that Western Europe must assume a reciprocal obligation. Such an interlocking of regional security arrangements would offer an escape from the impasse with which the United Nations is now confronted. A significant statement was made by the Prime Minister of Canada when, speaking in the House of Commons in Ottawa on March 17, 1948, on the Brussels Treaty of Mutual Guarantee, he said:

This pact is far more than an alliance of the old kind. It is a partial realization of the idea of collective security by an arrangement made under the Charter of the United Nations. As such it is a step towards peace, which may well be followed by other similar steps until there is built up an association of all free states which are willing to accept responsibilities of mutual assistance to prevent aggression and preserve peace.

Referring to the Canadian attitude toward this Treaty, Mr. Mackenzie King continued: "The peoples of all free countries may be assured that Canada will play her full part in every movement to give substance to the conception of an effective system of collective security by the development of regional pacts under the Charter of the United Nations."

If regional pacts are to provide the basis of an effective system of world security, they must look beyond the boundaries of their regions. The Pan American movement was cradled in isolationism and reared in that unstable faith; it was the primary motive which led the South American states to organize themselves in a group in the nineteenth century. In both world wars Pan Americanism showed its isolationist traditions. In the First World War, only eight Latin American Governments declared war on Germany. In the Second World War, victory was almost in sight before four of the South American nations undertook to enter the conflict; and four others abstained from declaring war. The greatest of the American nations, however, has renounced isolationism, and, after the most profound mental revolution in her history, has matched her power with a sense of responsibility, knowing that civilization cannot survive without all that she can contribute to its welfare and stability. It is now to be hoped that the Latin American partners of the United States will broaden their thinking accordingly, and that American regionalism will be built into the foundations of a system of world security.

With all this Canada is deeply concerned, and it is undoubtedly the wish of her people that she should play her full part. But Canada can fully discharge her responsibilities in all the fields with which the Inter-American System is concerned without becoming involved in the machinery of that system. Unnecessary embarrassment would result from her membership. Numerous issues have arisen as recently as at Mexico City in 1945 and at Bogotá this year on which the Latin American Republics were ranged on one side and the United States, equal in population to all of them, on the other. Such questions have often been related to subjects in which Canada has no immediate interest: the avoidance of irrelevant problems cannot be regarded as an evasion of responsibility. As for inter-American problems which are truly relevant and which involve Canadian interests, we find that they center about our bonds with the United States. Canada has a much closer relation with the United States than has any other nation. She can serve a more useful rôle in inter-American affairs by maintaining this relation than by attempting to subordinate it to the diverse requirements implicit in membership in the Pan American Union. Friendship with all of Canada's sister nations in the Americas, our knowledge of their life and theirs of ours, will be best promoted by our sincere efforts to foster mutual understanding in ways which seem to us most effective and appropriate.

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  • VINCENT MASSEY, Canadian Minister to the United States, 1926-1930; High Commissioner for Canada in the United Kingdom, 1935-1946; author of "On Being Canadian"
  • More By Vincent Massey