IN an address on the foundations of Canadian foreign policy at the University of Toronto in January 1947, the Right Honorable Louis St. Laurent, now the Prime Minister of Canada, made the following statement concerning the attitude of Canadians to their foreign policy: "If there is one conclusion that our common experience has led us to accept, it is that security for this country lies in the development of a firm structure of international organization." At that time Mr. St. Laurent was Secretary of State for External Affairs. Anyone who holds this office, and indeed any serious-minded student of foreign affairs in Canada, must concur in his judgment, for it is based upon considerations in the political and economic life of Canada which make it almost axiomatic.

On many occasions members of the Canadian Government have expressed the hope that the United Nations would work out quickly and in detail procedures by which peace could be maintained through collective action. There was disappointment in Canada when differences amongst the Great Powers delayed this development, but the Canadian Government continued to be anxious that the United Nations should proceed with its main task. At the opening of the General Assembly in September 1946, for example, the leader of the Canadian Delegation said:

Canada therefore urges that the Security Council and the Military Staff Committee go ahead with all possible speed in the constructive work of negotiating the special agreements and of organizing the military and economic measures of enforcement. It appears to us that it would be in the interest of all members of the United Nations to see the Security Council equipped and ready in fact to enforce proper decisions for the maintenance of world peace and also to see serious consideration given to the reduction of national armaments so that the productive capacity of the world thus conserved may be used for improving the living conditions of all peoples.

In early 1947 there was still reason to hope that the idea of universal collective security, so important in the minds of Canadians, might be realized before long, and on a basis more secure than had been the case when the experiment had previously been made in the League of Nations. Today the principle to which Mr. St. Laurent gave expression remains constant in the formulation of Canadian foreign policy; but evidence during the past two years has led to the sober realization that collective security of this kind will be more difficult to achieve than had been expected.

Even as the Charter was being signed, the evidences of disunity within the membership of the United Nations were present. This disunity has now led us to the point where we must frankly and honestly admit that our hope of gaining security through the United Nations, although we do not abandon that hope, is not one which will soon be realized. We have been led to this conclusion partly through developments within the United Nations itself and partly because of the menacing state of affairs which has developed in the world, and which the United Nations is clearly not capable of meeting in its present condition. Merely to name some of the principal issues before the United Nations which remain deadlocked shows at a glance the extent of the danger: how to control atomic energy; how to establish military forces under international control; how to secure Greece against attacks from her northern neighbors; how to establish a rational plan for disarmament. All these involved questions not only threaten peace but lead to gnawing fear and insecurity, particularly among the less powerful members of the United Nations.

Nor is the situation more encouraging in the Security Council. On issues which divide the Great Powers, it is frequently impossible to take decisions because of the operation of the veto. On the other hand, the permanent members of the Security Council may, if no one of them dissents from a proposed course of action, move the Security Council to swift and radical action in matters which affect the interests of smaller Powers. A contrast between the handling of the Balkan question and the Indonesian question gives a good example of the difficulties which face a Power of middle rank in endeavoring to work out a consistent policy in relation to the Security Council. Greece's northern neighbors, because they enjoy the protection of a powerful sponsor, cannot be touched by the action of the Security Council. The Dutch, on the other hand, whose friends amongst the permanent members of the Security Council are more conscientious about the way in which they use their voting privilege, find themselves in a much more exposed position during the discussions of the Indonesian question. Similarly, the difference in attitude amongst the Great Powers towards truce resolutions, depending on the part of the world to which these resolutions apply, has been a cause of serious misgiving to less influential members of the Council. In the meantime, these members, these smaller states, find themselves in the presence of an aggressive political theory, Communism, supported by all the resources of a powerful totalitarian and militaristic state.

The expansion of Communism cannot be regarded merely as the natural emergence of a particular political ideology in certain European countries. It has come to mean the concentration by the U.S.S.R. of power so great, and exerted in so unscrupulous a manner, that, in states which border upon the Soviet Union, Communism can be imposed upon the people in defiance of their real desires. Further, this power is now centered in a nation which, in almost every organ of the United Nations, has made it clear that it will have its own way or no way at all. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the U.S.S.R. thinks of its security only in terms of the armed forces it can itself muster, the territory it can control or influence, and the confusion of purpose it can engender among those who oppose its policies. Any security that might be offered by the United Nations to the U.S.S.R. on top of this will be welcome, but will not occasion any abandonment of the original Soviet attitude or any move towards accommodation with other viewpoints.

The Canadian Government has not been alone in its concern and misgiving over these disquieting developments. The first concrete result of the western world's growing sense that its way of life was threatened was the conclusion of the Brussels Pact in March of last year. In Canada it was observed with particular interest that the pledge given by the Brussels Powers went beyond the conventional exchange of military guarantees. Starting with the promise of mutual support in event of an armed attack, the signatories to the Brussels Pact agreed also to take steps in order to create and perfect a coördinated defense organization and coöperate in social and economic fields for their common good, and in order that they might not through weakness or disunity seem to offer an easy prey for an aggressor. Commenting on this characteristic of the Brussels Treaty, Mr. Mackenzie King, who was then Prime Minister of Canada, said that it was "far more than an alliance of the old kind." He went on to make the following comments on the agreement for Western Union: "It is a partial realization of the idea of collective security by an arrangement made under the Charter of the United Nations. 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."

A discussion in the Congress of the United States, which took place during the same period, led to the adoption of the Vandenberg Resolution which was part of the same pattern of development. Public interest and approval shown for the Brussels Pact and the Vandenberg Resolution made it clear that in the western world a movement had grown, both in governments and among peoples, for greater unity in the face of danger. This development in Western Europe and the United States had its counterpart in Canada. Throughout 1947 and 1948 many discussions took place, in Parliament and in the press, concerning the attitude which Canada should adopt towards the dangers that beset the western world.

From all these discussions, both in Canada and elsewhere, there emerged the proposal for an association amongst the nations of the North Atlantic community. The growth of this idea has been a good example of the way in which in democratic communities political leadership finds its best expression. Public concern over the failure in the postwar world to achieve security was general. So also was the conviction that peace and freedom can be secured only if those who love both peace and freedom pool their resources and stand together. These general ideas were interpreted and given precise form by the governments which represented the peoples of the western democracies. They were also made concrete in the negotiations for the North Atlantic Pact, which were undertaken in Washington during the latter part of 1948.

The negotiations themselves have been an equally good demonstration of the way in which foreign affairs are conducted in democratic countries. The exploratory and noncommittal meetings in Washington, in which the terms of the treaty have been worked out, have been secret. The participants in the preliminary discussions and the governments which instructed them have been free from day-to-day public comment on the details of the negotiation. For this reason, the process of mutual accommodation by which the most generally satisfactory result possible could be reached has gone forward without the pressures which invariably arise when the early stages of international negotiations are conducted in public. Honest differences of opinion, when they occurred in the afternoon, did not become sensational world headlines in the six o'clock editions. There is nothing more difficult for a democratic government to abandon than a headline. The negotiators and their governments were spared this difficulty. At the same time, however, the general purpose and tenor of the discussions have been well known to the public, and each of the participating governments has been able to test public opinion in its own country as the agreement was being formulated. As a final check on its judgment concerning the wishes of its people, each government will take the treaty before its own legislature for searching debate and final decision. In many respects the preparation of the North Atlantic Alliance has embodied an admirable combination of confidential diplomacy of the conventional style with free and open discussion of the general principles under consideration. It will be an open covenant, privately negotiated, publicly debated and decided.

Even before the precise terms of the North Atlantic Treaty have been revealed, its general characteristics have been made apparent to the public. It has been possible, therefore, for Canadians to estimate the extent to which the proposed treaty will fit within the general framework of Canadian foreign policy. For this reason, the support which Canada has given to the proposal for a North Atlantic Alliance has been increased and strengthened by the general conviction that it is in no way inconsistent with any other commitment or with the general aims and purposes of Canadian foreign policy.

The North Atlantic collective system, in the first place, will form part of a structure for the preservation of peace, and will therefore be in keeping with the aims and purposes of the United Nations. In engaging in such a pact, the member states will base their action on the "inherent right of individual or collective self-defense" recognized in Article 51. In accordance with the other provision of that Article, they will not enter into engagements which would "in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security." Measures taken by nations which sign the Pact will be reported to the Security Council and, when the Council is prepared to assume its full responsibilities as the universal guardian of security, then the arrangements embodied in the North Atlantic Pact will no longer be needed.

The proposed North Atlantic Alliance may prove to be an important step in the development of a chain of collective security pacts which will girdle the globe and underwrite the universal security aims of the United Nations. It will overlap but will not duplicate the Brussels Pact. One of its members, the United States, will also be a member of the Inter-American System. Two of its proposed members, Canada and the United Kingdom, belong to the British Commonwealth, which, although not bound by formal commitments, has nevertheless proved in the past half-century to be, in effect, one of the most successful systems for collective defense and coöperative action the world has yet seen, when there is a threat to world security as great as that embodied in the German aggressions of 1914 and 1939. The United Kingdom has special international responsibilities which, although they are not assumed by all members of the Commonwealth, are nevertheless of importance to them. The defense of its colonial territories and its agreements with other nations outside the Commonwealth on matters of defense involve the United Kingdom in a security system which is spread over a large part of the world and which will be a factor in the development of security on a universal basis. In the Pacific, two members of the Commonwealth, Australia and New Zealand, have entered into their own defense understanding. They have, therefore, a regional security system of their own as well as their association with the Commonwealth and their general commitment under the Charter of the United Nations.

Amongst these groupings, the North Atlantic community effectively meets the needs of Canadian foreign policy. In contrast with the Pan American Union, for example, it reflects political, economic and cultural interests which in the history of Canada have been of importance in the growth of its freedom and security. These interests also are more generally shared by other members of the Commonwealth of Nations, in which Canada is determined to maintain her membership. The North Atlantic grouping, moreover, is the association which most directly corresponds to the need which Canada has for increased security, because Canadians, perhaps more than any other people in the Americas, consider that the safety of their country is bound up with that of Western Europe.

All these plans should be viewed as part of a general pattern for world security, which can be progressively developed within the framework of the United Nations. The unity of this system might well be strengthened at once by as simple a device as a provision that each association should each year make a report on its activities to the General Assembly of the United Nations.

The growth of regional security groups of this kind, coöperating closely together, calls to mind developments of an earlier age, when nations began to form out of provinces and states, as pressures from below and from outside seemed to make such a development necessary. It may be that an effective international organization to keep the peace on a universal or almost universal basis will in this way emerge out of regional associations in which, at the present stage, states can work together for security and progress more responsibly than they can in a larger looser body.

Whether the ultimate objective of an effective world organization is achieved in this or in some other way, there is no reason why the formation of a North Atlantic union now should hinder or defeat our efforts, in spite of all obstacles, to make our present United Nations work as effectively as possible. This regional Pact -- all regional Pacts -- should supplement, not replace, the Charter of the United Nations.

All the efforts at universal security which have been made up to now will be continued. The Assembly will explore issues and try to reconcile contending views. The various functional agencies, working in every sphere of international life, will continue to build from the groundwork of coöperation in day-today matters a structure of international administration. The Security Council will continue to be the main instrument for the peaceful settlement of international disputes. The United Nations will lose no time in making use, for the good of mankind, of any improvement that may come in relations between the U.S.S.R. and the western world. Meanwhile, it offers the means by which any desire for an improvement in these relations can be put into effect immediately, and with a minimum of formality.

Finally, the proposal for a North Atlantic agreement should fulfill the desire of the Canadian people to make some positive contribution to the maintenance of peace. It is not enough merely to arm ourselves against danger, or to proclaim our abhorrence of totalitarian and reactionary Communism. We must also make sure that the North Atlantic Pact does not ever in any circumstances become merely a screen for narrow suspicions and fears or an instrument of unimaginative militarism. The hopes which Canadians have that this association of states will in the long run serve the best and fullest purpose of mankind were clearly stated by Mr. St. Laurent in an address in September last:

Now a collective arrangement of this kind has positive as well as negative values. It can make for prosperity as well as security. It has in it the ultimate hope -- and the possibility -- of establishing freedom, order and welfare over a wide area. Under present conditions that seems to be our best formula for peace; the concentration of an overwhelming superiority of moral, economic and physical force on the side of those who do not wish to use force, but are resolved to do so together if the necessity is forced on them. If we can bring this about, it may then come to pass that the forces of aggression, respecting our power for war and convinced of our will for peace, will abandon their mad designs, dismiss their unjustified suspicions, and begin to coöperate with others without requiring that they become mere satellites. Any political association on other than a universal basis in this shrinking world cannot be an end in itself, but only a means to an end. The end is that set out in the Charter we have all signed, the erection of a structure of international coöperation and understanding, in which all men of every creed and race and color may exist together in peace and prosperity.

These are high aims. They are also a guarantee that we shall not fall into the old error of thinking that intricate alliances and military schedules are a lasting guarantee of peace or that they constitute the proper means to attempt a rapprochement between hostile Powers.

In all its important characteristics, therefore, the proposed North Atlantic Treaty is consistent with the principal aims of Canadian foreign policy as they have been formulated over the past generation. In one respect, however, the Alliance will be for Canada, as for the United States, a new and revolutionary departure. Up to the present the Canadian Government has, in time of peace, never recommended to Parliament that Canada undertake the precise and formal commitments of an Alliance such as the one proposed.

The Canadian people are perhaps better prepared for this new stage in the development of their foreign policy than the people of the United States, because of Canada's participation in the work of international organizations between 1919 and 1939. For Canadians, too, the vulnerability of the North American continent to the shock of political earthquakes in other parts of the world has been more apparent, because of the fact that they were immediately involved in the wars of 1914 and 1939.

Since the outbreak of the last war, the rôle of the North American continent in world affairs has increased so greatly, and the dangers of disunity have become so generally recognized, that Canada is now prepared to accept the new aspect which the North Atlantic Treaty will give to the conduct of her external relations. The people of Canada will, when the time comes, take this decision deliberately and in full knowledge of what it means. Once they have taken it, they will be prepared to accept their share of the responsibility in the new alliance, though within the measure of their resources, and as part of plans agreed upon by all and according to which each member of the group assumes the tasks for which it is best qualified. In this way they can make an effective contribution to building and maintaining the peaceful world they so greatly desire.

The North Atlantic Alliance will not only be a pooling of resources, but it will also provide means for the collective working out of plans which are acceptable to all its members. For this purpose, it will be necessary to establish effective agencies on behalf of the states which have signed the agreement. Through these agencies, they all can take part in determining how the resources which have been built up in common can be used for their mutual benefit and protection. This is one of the conditions which will make it possible for a country of the size and strength of Canada to participate fully and freely in the agreement, for it gives to Canadians the assurance not only that they will share the obligations of the group, but also that they will share the responsibility for determining how these obligations shall be met. On no other basis could Canada -- or indeed any other self-respecting nation -- sign the Pact.

The North Atlantic Pact is designed solely to secure peace and promote progress. The first objective -- peace -- seems infinitely and immediately desirable as threats to that peace appear. Security, as it has been said, is the ideal of the insecure; and at present we are all insecure. We seek to put force behind peace and freedom now, so that later they can be maintained without force. Until that later time is reached, however, we must be on our guard against developments which may suggest that we can now lower our guard. The real test of our Atlantic Alliance will come if and when the threat to peace seems to recede and we are allowed to see that silver lining which the Iron Curtain is said to possess.

In the past, alliances and leagues have nearly always been formed to meet emergencies and have dissolved as the emergencies vanished. It must not be so this time. Our Atlantic union must have a deeper meaning and deeper roots. It must build up habits and desires for coöperation which go beyond the immediate emergency. By ministering to the welfare of the peoples of its member states, it must create those conditions and desires for united effort which make formal pacts unnecessary. Threats to peace may bring our union into being. Its contribution to welfare and progress will determine how long it is to survive.

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  • LESTER B. PEARSON, Secretary of State for External Affairs of Canada; Canadian Ambassador in Washington, 1944-46; Canadian representative at many international conferences, including the San Francisco Conference of 1945
  • More By Lester B. Pearson