IN THAT momentous redistribution of world power now taking place, Canada must be classed with those nations which have gained rather than lost in stature. Her increased importance exemplifies the shift toward a system of international affairs founded on centers of authority removed from western and central Europe. For Canada has undergone a far-reaching diplomatic revolution. In some respects this is admitted and proclaimed by her leaders; in other respects it is concealed. Canada is one of the few countries among the United Nations in which the prewar helmsmen of the ship of state are still at their posts. They are in fact steering a new course, but since they are loath to confess that their seamanship ever was at fault, they prefer to describe it merely as accelerated progress along the old one. They can put it in such terms because external affairs are seldom major issues in Canadian politics and neither politicians nor officials have been judged in Canada, as elsewhere among the democracies, on their prewar records.

But the evidence of Canada's new position in the world is unmistakable. When lend-lease is suspended, General de Gaulle, Premier T. V. Soong and Lord Keynes do not fail to include Ottawa in their North American quest; the headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization are established in Montreal; the first conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations meets in Canada under a Canadian chairman; Canada is the largest contributor of supplies and third largest contributor of money to UNRRA; and when the atom is split she emerges as a partner with the United States and the United Kingdom in that historic enterprise. All these are signs of a break with a past characterized between the wars by her futile boast at Geneva that Canadians lived "in a fireproof house, far from inflammable materials." They are in striking contrast with the steady attempt of her spokesmen to pull rather than sharpen the teeth of the Covenant; with the ambiguities of their policy over the rape of Manchuria; with the repudiation of their own Canadian representative when he proposed oil sanctions against Italy in 1935; with the soothing language employed by the Prime Minister, Mr. Mackenzie King, in face of the plain facts and wiser counsels after his visit to Hitler in 1937; with the hope of isolation through appeasement which Ottawa cherished during the era of Munich.

September 10, 1939, the day Canada declared war on Germany, was the turning-point. Acting formally a week later than the United Kingdom (just as she acted before either Britain or the United States after Pearl Harbor) she did so to show that she entered the conflict of her own accord. But she waited no longer. Gone were the fine-spun theories of those who might have played into the hands of the enemy with their parochial concept of Canada as a nation owing no duty to herself or others outside North America. The people of Canada, standing in 1939 where they stood in 1914, took command. And then after Dunkirk from 1940 to 1941 when, against the German onslaught, the nations of the British Commonwealth held the fort almost alone, Canada was literally one of Britain's principal allies. How Canada and the rest sustained Churchill's Britain at that juncture was overshadowed subsequently by the attack on Russia and the United States. But the presence before and after Dunkirk of Canadian troops in the United Kingdom and the quick shipment from Canada of men, arms and foodstuffs helped steel the British to resist and reinforced, at its supreme crisis, the cause of humanity. For when Britain most needed allies, if freedom were to survive, Canada, as an ally of Britain, was second to none.

While mobilizing raw material and industrial resources on a huge scale, Canada raised and equipped in large numbers armed forces of her own. Not even another quarrel between English-speaking and French-speaking elements over conscription could substantially hamper a maximum effort. Out of a population of less than 12,000,000 people, 1,031,000 were enrolled in one or other of the three Services. The main protector of the North Atlantic convoy route, Canada became third among the United Nations in naval power. Every man in the Royal Canadian Air Force, in the Royal Canadian Navy and, before December 1944, in the Canadian Army overseas, was a volunteer. The contribution of Canada toward the conquest of Italy and northwestern Europe was a notable one. She was fourth in air power herself and a host of her sons also served with the Royal Air Force. From the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, established on Canadian soil and run mostly by Canadians, flowed a stream of graduates to her own and other air forces. At the crucial, early phase of the war Canada, in the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the airdrome of democracy.

Meanwhile, from a semi-agricultural country devoted to primary raw material industries she converted herself almost overnight into an arsenal of manufactured war supplies. At El Alamein it was the timely arrival of mechanized transport from Canada which enabled Montgomery and the British Eighth Army to carry the day. Among the top-flight Anglo-American coórdinating agencies, Canada is a member of the Combined Production, Raw Materials and Food Boards. The world's second greatest exporter during the war, she now may see her exports halved. But having once exhibited her productive capacity, she will never be content to sink back to prewar levels.

The export of her war supplies was financed in a number of ways. A decade ago Canadians would have scoffed if told that they could transfer a billion dollars' worth of goods as an outright gift to another country. In 1942, when the United Kingdom's ability to pay had fallen behind her need for supplies, that was done. Canada did more. On May 20, 1943, her Mutual Aid Act was passed. Under it, during the next two years, 2.360 billion dollars of further supplies were allocated on grounds of strategic need to Britain, the Soviet Union, China, France, Australia, New Zealand and India, while 1.892 billion dollars in other kinds of financial accommodation were also provided. To Britain alone Canada furnished per capita as much as the American program gave everyone. Mutual Aid being her own variation of lend-lease, Canada could have received but did not ask for reciprocal assistance; she herself, dispensing rather than consuming help of that sort, drew no lend-lease at all from the United States. She paid for her own American imports by the manufacture of war material and equipment -- exports to the United States amounting in 1944 to 1.444 billion dollars, imports from the United States amounting to 1.447 billion dollars. And after lend-lease came to a halt, Canada was the only Power besides the United States which could cushion some of the shock by means of fresh arrangements with Britain and others.

To what does all this add up? On the stage of world affairs, Canada since 1939 has been playing a very much bigger part. From the period of Dunkirk, when Canadian forces and supplies helped Britain to weather the worst of the German storm, it was plain that Canada's rôle was no longer that of a minor Power; under the impact of war she had risen to a new stature. Her relatively small population and lack of colonial possessions prevent her from being a major or super Power. But her natural wealth, the capacity of her people, the strength she has exerted and the potentialities she has displayed show that she is not a minor one. Henceforth in world politics she must figure as a Middle Power.

Equally clear, before the start of the Moscow-Teheran-Yalta-Potsdam sequence, was the fact that while the initiative in the realm of political security must be that of the Great Powers, Canada would almost be one of them when Europe had to be fed and rehabilitated, world trade revived and better standards of life furthered everywhere. In the committees that plan the economic future of mankind she must occupy a seat as near the top as her economic weight in each case decrees. The Government of Canada adopted this view of functional representation in July 1943, and took over the general Middle Power idea on the eve of the San Francisco Conference. And, having accepted the Charter of the United Nations more wholeheartedly than she subscribed to the Covenant of the League, Canada is more prepared to live up to it.

II

Her spokesmen have had to act upon the full logic of her own altered situation in a changing world. But they less willingly concede what their new policies also imply in terms of the facts of power everywhere else. Since Versailles all peoples have learned, if we have learned anything, that between national sovereignties the 1919 premise of formal equality contains within itself the seeds of its own dissolution: that it may pass from paralysis to anarchy and from anarchy to subjugation by those totalitarian régimes which deny any sort of equality, individual or national, to others. For right without might proved impotent. Peace by power is therefore being tried. And it is the paradox of peace by power that while under it there is technical inequality in the direction of international affairs, it offers more actual equality for large and small alike in safety and survival, through a less abstract approach to security. What the Middle Power idea does, in brief, is to adopt the conclusions of realism and extend them. Since major Powers are differentiated by their greater functions from the rest, the Middle Powers ask that they be distinguished from the lesser ones by the same criteria. A voice in decisions should correspond with strength in enforcement. If responsibility must lie where power dwells, a useful synthesis of power and responsibility ought to be achieved at an intermediate level of international activity.

That, at all events, was the meaning of the debate at the San Francisco Conference over the allotment in the United Nations Organization of the rotating nonpermanent seats on the Security Council. As between small and Middle Powers, the latter felt that they should have preferential treatment. This was quite apart from the dispute over the Great Power veto, against which Dr. Evatt of Australia led the attack, or over the question of amending the Charter in which the compromise adopted owed much to Canadian efforts. Canada won her point. Article 23 which enumerates the five permanent members of the Security Council also grants special representation to the Middle Powers: "The General Assembly shall elect six other Members of the United Nations to be nonpermanent members of the Security Council, due regard being specially paid, in the first instance, to the contribution of members of the United Nations to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the Organization, and also to equitable geographical distribution." The stipulation is a noteworthy one.

But what if Canada were not on the Security Council when it was reaching an enforcement decision which would involve her considerable manpower and her even more considerable industrial and natural resources? Backed in particular by the Netherlands, Canada also elicited on this "no vote, no fight" issue some right to a prior hearing. "When the Security Council has decided to use force," states Article 44, "it shall, before calling upon a Member not represented on it to provide armed forces . . . invite that Member, if the Member so desires, to participate in the decisions of the Security Council concerning the employment of contingents of that Member's armed forces." That is to say, an unrepresented member may discuss at the Council table how its forces are to be used; but it may not refuse their use. As it happens, however, a Middle Power has more chance under Article 23 than a small Power of being a nonpermanent Member of the Security Council with a full vote on all matters when any such contingency occurs. The validity of Canada's Middle Power concept is thus recognized; at the same time the efficient operation of the Security Council under Great Power control is preserved.

The war could not be won nor can the peace be enforced without the lead of the Great Powers. But Canada contributed importantly to the military victory, and she has uttered a protest against being deprived of a commensurate share in the designing of a new world settlement which she will have to help defend. Having played her part in the subjugation of Italy, she reminded the Council of Foreign Ministers when it met in London that she would have views to express on the draft treaty as a whole. And later during September 1945, the Canadian Prime Minister told Parliament at Ottawa that in the great decisions in the general peacemaking Canada should have "effective participation." This claim, a plea for reason and justice, presupposes a world in which the rivalries of Great Powers, and the struggle for power itself, can be modified. In the hierarchy of power a Middle Power may manage to extort more privileges than small Powers; within it, nevertheless, there are handicaps under which it, too, may labor -- disabilities which might recede but may not vanish short of a metamorphosis in the very nature of politics, national as well as international, in the spirit of man himself.[i] For the structure of peace, realism argues, depends on the security of the Great Powers; the security of the Great Powers, universalism retorts, depends on the structure of peace. And if between these extremes there is some middle ground, none may be better suited to find it than a Middle Power.

III

What will be the effect of Canada's new stature on her relations with Britain? At the time of Confederation (1867) it was suggested that she be named not the Dominion but the Kingdom of Canada. That title would help to banish confusion now. In loyalty to the Crown, in organic ties, in mode of government, as an equal partner of the British Commonwealth of Nations, she remains a Dominion. But she is more than that. For a Dominion is regarded as a comparatively minor Power with a modest task to perform. Canada's task in recent years has been far from modest. In 1931 the Statute of Westminster was drawn up to put Britain and the Dominions on the same level in law. But before its enactment a celebrated Report of the 1926 Imperial Conference announced that, while they were equal in status, they were not universally equal in function. In other words, despite their legal equality, Britain and the Dominions could not pretend to operate on the same plane in general world politics. And what the 1939 war did in Canada's case was to narrow the functional gap between her and Britain; it brought Canada forward as a champion in her own right of the liberties of mankind.

Yet her support of a more centralized direction of Commonwealth policies, as urged at intervals for half a century, has been deemed impracticable. In 1945 the San Francisco Conference again indicated that, while consultation between Commonwealth Governments is eminently proper, the likelihood that they will speak on all international affairs with "a single voice" becomes more rather than less remote. Canada submitted no views of her own when the Council of Foreign Ministers first discussed the question of Trieste and the Italo-Jugoslav boundaries, but other Commonwealth countries were in disagreement. Yet it is significant that at the end of September 1945, when alarm deepened at arbitrary proceedings in the London Council, they all stood together in demanding that they be allowed to present their ideas at preliminary rather than concluding stages in the peacemaking. On details, and as regional interests require, each Commonwealth country may go its own way; on broad principles it is quite as natural for them to gravitate toward the same outlook. Certainly the increased functions of Canada in world politics are those not only of a Middle Power but of a Britannic Power of middle rank. And in a body as flexible as the British Commonwealth, just as current policies need not be unanimous, there is no reason why the relative positions of the partners must be stationary. For while the senior partner, Britain, may not be as powerful economically as she once was, a junior one such as Canada may be less junior than formerly. Their free association persists.

In advocating a Middle Power classification, Canada has encountered sympathy inside and outside the Commonwealth. Dr. Evatt of Australia, whose resistance to Big Five domination serves small as well as intermediate countries, went to San Francisco with a similar concept; Field Marshal Smuts of South Africa expressed understanding of Canada's attitude at the prior Commonwealth meeting in London. And that the others concur may signalize the resumption of a creative process. In hammering out Commonwealth relationships, Canada has been the chief modern innovator. Over the years, through pressure mainly from her, self-governing Commonwealth members attained independent control of their external as well as their internal affairs: a blend of liberty with unity under a common allegiance which is the central feature of the Commonwealth. For though the Middle Power idea reflects added vigor overseas, it entails no impairment of Commonwealth bonds. And while it constitutes an affirmation of growing national power, yet that affirmation is made by Canada within the historic framework of the larger British grouping to which she belongs and in accordance with the latest, the most fundamental, of world trends.

The British Commonwealth, then, contains not one but a number of Powers varying in size and rank. And if within the Big Three the United Kingdom is weaker than the others, the Commonwealth partnership in which she is first among equals should strengthen her hand. As a power factor in diplomacy, this is reinsurance that should not be minimized. Britain as a Great Power did much to sustain the civilization of the west as Canada visualized her stake in it -- the world order for which she twice fought. And if the maintenance of Britain as a Great Power was a national interest of Canada's to be vindicated in war, it is one she would not wish to have cast heedlessly aside in the making of peace.

IV

What about her relations with the United States? Canada's diplomatic transformation is bound to be affected by the even more profound one which her great neighbor has experienced. After 1919 a partially isolationist Canada was often said at Geneva to be an unacknowledged mouthpiece of the United States; the danger of cross-purposes between herself and the United States while the latter was withdrawn from world affairs and the other English-speaking peoples were not had to be avoided. All that has changed. Washington today is more likely to stride ahead than lag behind. And as the Americanizing influence of the radio, movies, mass-circulation journals, best-seller books and postwar travel are more potent in Canada than ever, the Canadian public, if it looks on world affairs more and more through American spectacles, will do so within a new and broader American perspective.

As a partner of the British Commonwealth and as a close neighbor of the United States, Canada may on occasions still mediate between branches, Pacific or Atlantic, of the English-speaking peoples. Her insistence at the Imperial Conference of 1921 that the Anglo-Japanese Alliance be dropped is probably but the best-known instance of a cardinal maxim of her foreign policy. Yet before she could take that line she had to iron out serious differences with the United States. As a matter of fact it was when Britain yielded to Theodore Roosevelt over the Alaskan boundary, so as to preserve this century's nascent Anglo-American friendship, that Canadians, in resolving on control of their own foreign relations, went far to formulate a contemporary principle of the Commonwealth.[ii] Politically, their connection with the British Commonwealth underpins their national independence against an incessant economic and cultural pressure from the south. Diplomatically, their capacity as a Middle Power is enhanced by being more at home with Americans and British than either of them are with each other. But London and Washington do not need Ottawa to keep them in constant touch. Within their triune coóperation Canada acts less as an honest broker and more, because of her intrinsic importance, as a principal.

A dramatic illustration of that was furnished by the advent of the atomic bomb. The uranium employed to make the bomb came from the Arctic pitchblende deposits of Canada's Great Bear Lake; some of her scientists worked on this problem as on the radio bomb; she shared much of the fateful secret with the United States and Britain; together with them she first discussed its future disposition. Would others covet the territory where the precious ore is mined? The only threat uttered was that of an irresponsible American newspaper. A more authentic reflection of American policy with its settled, collaborative bent is the proposed development of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence seaway and hydroelectric scheme. Following Dunkirk, the United States and Canada established a Permanent Joint Board of Defense. To exploit the economic resources of the entire far northern region they also have a Canadian-American Planning Project. Canada's traditional military liaison with Britain has thus evolved into a strategy which can either be dual or triple, and to top it off there is the joint technique of the Combined Chiefs of Staff.

Before the annihilating efficacy of rocket projectiles or of a single atomic bomb was revealed, those who predicted a clash between Russia and the United States scanned their globes and prophesied that the air battles of the future would rage in Canadian skies. But if the politics of Bedlam are dispelled and peace reigns as the ultimate realism, Canada's central position should bring her profit rather than loss. In a saner, more harmonious order she could be at the heart of the world's airways. Across her northland run the Great Circle air routes (the northwest route to Alaska and beyond, as well as the course over the North Atlantic to Britain), the shortest that exist from the United States to Europe and Asia. Direct services from Europe to Asia and Asia to Europe may also cut across her skies; and her own civil aviation will expand by leaps and bounds. Canada has become a Middle Power in the economic realm even more than in the diplomatic sphere. But it is geography which has capped the process -- which, in the age of air transport, puts Canada at the air center of global communications between the leading Powers of Europe, America and Asia.

Does Canada also have a special interest in Latin America? At the inter-American meeting in the spring of 1945, Chile proposed that Canada be invited to join the Pan American Union. This step would require an amendment to its constitution so that states other than republics might belong. But the United States Government has always been diffident about Canada's entry into the Union.

Some Canadians, English-speaking as well as French-speaking, would like Canada to join. But what advantage could she derive from it? Does Canada wish to be committed by a regional pact, besides the universal San Francisco Charter, to the defense of Latin American Republics or have them thus committed to her defense? Until Pearl Harbor they stood aloof from the struggle in which Canada had risked her national existence; as a safeguard of general peace or as a factor in her own security the value of this particular combination has yet to be demonstrated.

There would, moreover, be a touch of irony in Canada's entry into the Pan American Union if she adhered thereby to a regional organization which now operates through a permanent secretariat -- that is, through a fixed, centralized mechanism of consultation such as Canada herself has done most to oppose in intra-Commonwealth relations. Nor should she join the Pan American Union if she is to be brought in as a tacit make-weight for the others against the American colossus of the north. To be a champion of Latin Americans in summer storms of no concern to her might do harm to a vital Canadian interest -- her friendship with the United States. On the other hand, she could not, as a matter of pride, permit herself to be little more within the Pan American Union than Washington's unresisting rubberstamp. Independence in foreign policy is not upheld by gratuitously mortgaging it. With Middle Power Canada enjoying a higher rank and exercising a new breadth of movement in world politics as a whole, it would be odd if she were to revolve unnecessarily within an orbit determined either by the United States or by the nations of the southern hemisphere.

It is permissible to wonder whether, among the more ardent Canadian proponents of the Pan American Union, there are not some who are fleeing from their now discredited prewar isolationism to a postwar, hemispheric semi-isolationism. Even in mileage Canada is nearer to Europe than to South America. So remote a mass of land -- unless the poorest geopolitics were to obscure the richest history -- can never match that to which the sea and air give better access. From the Anglo-Russian or Franco-Russian alliances, for whose regional aims she has twice sacrificed so much, Canada abstains; under what compulsion of major policy, simple geography or common ideas should she discriminate regionally in favor of a Pan American security pact? In the domain of culture, investment and trade, Canada has a growing interest in Latin America. She has no special interest there which she does not or will not have elsewhere. Her relationship with Latin America is wholly unlike her partnership in the British Commonwealth and her entente with the United States.

V

But be that as it may, the Canadian people, after so rapid an advance abroad, must now accustom themselves to a less casual treatment of external affairs in their public life at home. Until of late English-speaking Canada has been a curiously provincial society; much of the prewar isolationism manifested by its statesmen, officials and professors was merely their own provincial mentality projected on a larger world stage. French-speaking Canada, many of whose sons were wont to admire the political theories of Mussolini, Salazar, Franco and Pétain, has had a worse insularity to overcome. As limitations such as these have diminished, however, the mind of the nation seems to have kept pace with its bigger responsibilities.

To discharge them more democratically the machinery for the conduct of foreign policy will be improved. The Prime Ministers of Canada, alone among the chief executives of nations of her size and stature, have always retained the External Affairs portfolio themselves. They may have done that, and wished to soft-pedal constant discussion, out of fear of divergencies between French-speaking, English-speaking and other elements; nevertheless Canada, which pioneered equality of status in the Commonwealth and sponsored the Middle Power concept, has been more backward in this respect than Australia. The appointment of a separate Minister for External Affairs now having been promised, it may not be too long delayed. There is need of a Cabinet Minister who, divesting himself from the rest of the nation's business, can concentrate on this paramount sphere; who, in place of subordinate officials or even in place of the Prime Minister himself, can be relied on always to represent Canada at Commonwealth and international gatherings or carry out other missions abroad. The country lacks a member of the government who will expound foreign policies at frequent intervals to the people outside Parliament, as well as their representatives within. And since emphasis is neither put on questions of foreign policy at elections nor reward offered for exploring them in Parliament, ambitious young politicians have had scant incentive to master them.

It being thus taken for granted that Canada's diplomacy is, as it were, secretly conducted, foreign policy becomes a mystery of bureaucrats. No Prime Minister could guide Canada through six years of a vast war effort, with its domestic strains and stresses, and at the same time devote himself unremittingly to the study of complex issues elsewhere. The scope and influence of External Affairs officials has, as a result, increased enormously in the fashioning of Canada's expanding foreign policies and over other related aspects of government. Ottawa, moreover, is a small capital city, cut off, more than Washington used to be, from the larger, vital centers of the nation. And this in turn accentuates the natural tendency for an élite from a few departments and agencies to carve out a close, interlocking official world with values set and reputations created by standards of its own.

The drastic revision of government policy to which, since 1939, they have had to adapt themselves gives an air of paradox to the exceptional rôle of some of Canada's diplomatists. The seniors among them were selected or approved by the late Dr. Oscar Skelton, formerly Under Secretary of State for External Affairs, and it has never been intimated that they were apt to resist his pronounced North American continentalism or run counter to those social resentments against Britain and the British to which a coterie of intellectuals in Ottawa and on university faculties has been prone. One test of judgment for appointed as for elected officials is the advice they tendered during the years of semi-isolation and quasi-appeasement. About that more will be known if Parliament directs that Canada, like Britain and the United States, shall publish her diplomatic documents on the origins of the war. Meanwhile, the impression that a subtle uniformity of personnel, and therefore of views, has been imposed over the years is strengthened by the fact that there is never a report of differences of opinion in the Department of External Affairs on matters of principle and high policy, such as have so often and so wholesomely been ventilated in the American State Department and the British Foreign Office. On the rare occasions when specifically Canadian external policies are in the news, a number of Ottawa correspondents and radio commentators tend, more than their London and Washington brethren, to echo rather than examine. And for all these reasons the positive function of Middle Power Canada in world affairs has yet to be subjected to that endless scrutiny by Parliament and public opinion which is an essential of full representative government in a democracy as vigorous as hers.

But defects in machinery can be adjusted. The will of the Canadian people has initiated Canada's diplomatic revolution and their energies must see it through. Geographically, Canada is near the crossroads of the Big Five, a circumstance which can be put to good account; diplomatically, no country apart from these five exercises more weight than she within the victorious coalition. Middle Power Canada surprised herself and others by what she could do in war. In peace she should be able to do proportionately at least as much.

[i]Cf. Lionel M. Gelber, "Peace by Power." New York: Oxford University Press, 1942, p. 10, 67-69, 143.

[ii]Cf. Lionel M. Gelber, "The Rise of Anglo-American Friendship." New York: Oxford University Press, 1938, p. 162-66.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • LIONEL GELBER, recently retired from the Royal Canadian Air Force; author of "The Rise of Anglo-American Friendship" and "Peace by Power"
  • More By Lionel Gelber