CANADA'S place in the world has been utterly transformed within less than a generation. Indeed, there is hardly any exaggeration in saying that in thought and feeling the transformation has been going on for barely a decade.

The new era, in which Canada's place is quite different from any she previously occupied, was brought into being in 1939. But through the war and the first postwar years no one could tell with confidence what were temporary conditions and what were fundamental changes. We all took time to adjust, mentally and emotionally. It was as late as 1950 that a distinguished historian and diplomat, George P. de T. Glazebrook, concluded an essay on the historic factors in Canada's external relations with these words: "National maturity brought no fundamental change in the interests of Canada in world affairs or in the principles on which her policy had been based. The change consisted rather in a growing appreciation of the necessity of assuming responsibility for the pursuit and maintenance of interests and principles already deeply embedded in the country's historical development."

The continuity emphasized in those words is real enough. But recent years have made Canadians more conscious also of great changes in the environment in which their embedded interests and principles must be pursued. The changes are too obvious to need listing here. Our problem is to assess how exactly they have produced the new place Canada is coming to occupy in the world.

We can best define that place, and at the same time indicate the problem it creates in Canadian politics, by starting with a proposition that is plainly true but to the truth of which many Canadians are emotionally resistant. It is this: the first, essential interest of Canada in the world today is the security of the United States; that takes overwhelming priority over everything else in Canada's external relations.

This is a revolutionary statement. One does not have to go far back in Canadian history to a time when the United States was the unfriendly neighbor; the border might be unguarded, but the United States was nevertheless the potential danger, the one possible danger to Canada. Most of Canada's short history has been one of divergence from the United States, not of an identity of interest. Even when tension between the two countries had almost disappeared, Canada as a member of the British Commonwealth still had little in common, in world politics, with a United States that was isolationist. This remained true through the interwar years, though Canada had fully established her power to pursue her own foreign policy independent of the United Kingdom. In the 1930s Canada was powerfully touched by the same sentiments that produced isolationism in the United States and that elsewhere led to the breakdown of collective security in the name of "appeasement." Nevertheless, when war came, Canada's rôle was as clear to Canadians in 1939 as it had been in 1914.

Shortly before, Mackenzie King as Prime Minister had expressed with rare eloquence a nation's agony of soul: "The idea that every 20 years this country should automatically and as a matter of course take part in a war overseas . . . that a country which has all it can do to run itself should feel called upon to save, periodically, a continent that cannot run itself, and to these ends risk the lives of its people, risk bankruptcy and political disunion, seems to many a nightmare and sheer madness." But for more than two years, in 1939-41 as a generation before, Canada expended her blood and treasure on the great struggle while the giant nation to the south stood by sympathetic but inactive.

No such relationship as existed then is conceivable now. Canada's place in the world, the governing factors in her foreign policy, have been changed by a varied set of circumstances, circumstances so powerful that any one alone would have upset Canada's old rôle; in combination they are revolutionary. Four must be mentioned.

There is, first, the fundamental transformation of the Canadian economy involved in the increasing development of its raw material resources--development primarily by United States capital and primarily for the United States market.

Second, there is the comparative lessening of the United Kingdom's rôle as a world Power and, incidentally, as a market for Canadian exports.

Third, there is the change in warfare, which makes possible a direct attack on the United States by thermonuclear weapons and which means that there are only two great Powers in the world. No combination of middle Powers, not even with Britain included, has the military power to determine whether there shall again be a full-scale war. The issue lies absolutely in the hands of the American and Soviet Governments. And Canada is the country, the only country, that lies on the air path between Russia and the United States. Canada's northland is the site of defenses essential to the United States in modern war. If such a war occurs, it is entirely out of the question for Canada to stand aside.

Fourth and last--though first in time and in importance--there is the United States' abandonment of isolationism. This is the other side of the coin of Canada's involvement in the defense of the United States. It means that, just as it is inconceivable for the United States to be engaged in a major war without Canada's participation, so it is also inconceivable--as long as the United States is the leader of the free world's coalition against Communist expansion--that Canada will again be involved in a war, or indeed in any major line of policy which might be carried to the point of military action, except in partnership with the United States.

That is the measure of the intimacy of the alliance. As I write it is 23 years ago to the day since J. W. Dafoe, at that time Editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, delivered at Columbia University a lecture in which he talked of "the possibility of an understanding or even an alliance" between the United States and Canada; and he added: "something like this may indeed be necessary for the preservation of that North American civilization which is our joint possession." In 1934 there were few people on either side of the border to whom such words had much significance, and even Dafoe would probably have been amazed if he could have been told what intimacy of relationship was soon to be developed not merely in war but in the succeeding peace.


Such are the circumstances that have created Canada's new place in the world. But what, then, is this place? What is this vaunted growth in the importance and influence of Canada? What real influence can there be if the essence of Canada's rôle lies in her interest in the security, and therefore her dependence on the power, of the United States? What real importance has Canadian diplomacy if it must stick close to that of the United States in all things? Is the real truth about Canada's new place in the world simply that Canada has become a quasi-protectorate of the United States? It is all very well for the Canadian Minister of External Affairs to figure large at the United Nations and at other international conferences, but does he really amount to more than the chore-boy of the United States?

These are questions that are not often spoken in Canada. The decent reticence of pride inhibits them. But they are not less present, in the mind of anyone who thinks about foreign policy, for being unspoken. Unspoken, that is, as questions about the objective situation: they can come out very readily in politics as an indictment of the Canadian Government by its critics--the implication being not that Canada's place in the modern world makes her a satellite of the United States by nature, but that the Government, by deficiency of will or of wit, chooses it to be so.

They are, I think, false questions, in the sense that they rest on an unreal view of the world we live in. But the asking of them underlines the real paradox of the modern Canadian nation. It is also the key to much in the developing trends of Canadian politics that may over the next few years startle and worry and even embitter our American friends.

To discuss this, it is necessary first to broaden the picture. The world will be a good place for Canadians to live in if, but only if, the United States is powerful and at peace. Take that away and nothing else can serve our national interests. But while American security is thus a necessary condition of the world being what Canadians want, it is not a sole and sufficient condition. A world in which only the American continent was secure against aggression would be a highly unpleasant world to live in, even if it were stable. Whatever our own security, we would not be happy if freedom and democracy were further weakened in Europe, or if the nations of South Asia lost hope of creating free societies. Nor would we be safe, except in the most shortsighted view. The most perfect radar lines, the most devastating thermonuclear weapons, would not indefinitely guarantee our security if the great nations of Europe stood helpless before Communist infiltration or any other sort of decay.

This is as true for Americans as for Canadians. But in opinion in the United States there are some powerful tendencies towards a modern form of continental isolationism based on the theory that North America can be made a fortress which is impregnable in the sense that any attack on it would produce such devastating retaliation that attack is out of the question. In this view, the United States needs no allies except Canada and should not waste its resources helping Europe or other areas overseas.

Few Canadians believe that this view will ever be dominant in Washington, but it can from time to time exercise a modifying influence of some significance for United States policy. Admittedly, the influence is to be seen more in the words of various United States politicians than in any American actions, but the words are enough to be pretty demoralizing at times for the other members of the North Atlantic Alliance.

It is Canada's good fortune that among us the viewpoint of continental isolationism is almost entirely absent. The importance of having the free nations abroad as friends is more firmly fixed in the minds of Canadians than of Americans. For this, three reasons can be suggested. One is historical. Canada as a new country looked for leadership overseas, and especially to Britain, far longer than her neighbor. And through the medium of the Commonwealth the connection still remains more intimate, not only with Britain but also with the other Dominions.

The second reason is economic. It is true that since the war Canadian trade has become more orientated towards the United States, and this tendency will grow stronger with the years. The old triangular pattern of trade--by which Canada's exports to Europe paid for the excess of imports over exports in trade across the border--has been replaced by a new pattern in which Canada's trade deficit with the United States is largely covered by U.S. exports of capital to Canada. Though Canadian prosperity is thus increasingly linked with that of the United States, nevertheless Canada is, and will remain, far more dependent on overseas trade than the United States. The wheat trade, for example, is not what it was in comparative importance, but it still represents an important segment of Canadian activity that must look east across the Atlantic and west across the Pacific, but never southward within the continent, for its market. Canada can never afford to ignore her economic relationships outside the continent.

These historical and economic reasons for Canada's concern about the North Atlantic Alliance are not, however, decisive in themselves. There is a third motive at work, and it is even more important to Canadians. It is our political survival as an independent nation. We are conscious what a junior partner Canada would be if she were alone with the United States in a close alliance for purely continental defense. This feeling has nothing to do with anti-Americanism as it exists in Europe and elsewhere overseas. Canadians, especially English Canadians, know the Americans too well for any such sentiment to be widespread. Except in moments of exasperation, Canadians are fully aware that they could not ask for a friendlier and more considerate giant to live beside. But the friendliest of giants cannot help the fact that Canada seems small to him. He cannot be blamed if sometimes he barely notices how Canada is affected by his actions, still less if he fails to understand how Canada feels about them.

On the other side of the equation, therefore, it is not evidence of unfriendliness towards the United States that Canada dislikes the thought of being too much alone with the giant. She prefers it to be a party, sensing safety in numbers. I am not trying to cast Canada in the rôle of an innocent young girl and the United States as an old man with possibly improper intentions. That would not be at all an accurate picture of either the national characters or the diplomatic representation involved. The point is simply that the United States is too big, and Canada relatively too small, for us to want the relationship to get too cosy without having other friends along--including, preferably, some who are smaller than Canada. That helps to create a useful optical illusion. Size is always comparative. Canadians feel that they look a bit bigger to the eyes of the giant, and certainly feel a bit bigger themselves, if there are some countries even smaller than Canada playing in the same bloc.

It is in this connection that there arises, in my view, the one serious mistake made in Canadian foreign policy during the postwar years. It is one for which responsibility rests perhaps more with the military chiefs than with the diplomats. Canada should, I think, have insisted on treating northern defense--the DEW line, and so on--as a NATO function. The northern rim of the Atlantic area is not merely a Canadian frontier. It stretches from the Aleutians to Spitzbergen, and it is a line vital to the safety of all the free nations. It should be looked on as a northern command within the North Atlantic Organization; to symbolize this, the manning of the defenses should embrace contingents from, at least, Norway, Denmark and the United Kingdom, as well as the two North American countries. From the viewpoint of the Pentagon and of Canadian National Defense headquarters in Ottawa, this would have been a pointless complication, but from the viewpoint of Canada's external relations the failure to make the military men adjust themselves to political needs is highly regrettable. That failure, however, makes it all the more important to emphasize in other directions the importance to Canada of her European partners and also of her Asian friends.

What I am talking about here is clearly something apart from our basic motive for involvement in the North Atlantic Alliance. Canada has played, and is playing, her part because we believe that it would not be safe, or even in the end possible, for us to stand aside from events in Europe. That basic consideration applies to the United States and Canada equally. But why is it more steadily apparent to all sections of Canadian opinion than it is to all sections of American opinion? My point now concerns the reason for that difference. We should not assume that the reason lies in superior virtue or intelligence on the Canadian side. Nor does it lie, as some Americans seem to assume, in Canada's surviving "imperialist" tie with Britain. It lies in the fact that, in addition to the general benefit, there is a particular benefit to Canada in having the European Powers in the partnership with us.

Far from being related to Canada's membership in the Commonwealth, this attitude is the product rather of Canada's growing nationalism. And as such it is an attitude that will strengthen rather than weaken if economic or other circumstances tend over the years further to loosen Canada's direct connection with "the old country."


We have looked now at the reasons why, though her relationship with the United States takes priority over everything else, the Western alliance as a whole is so important to Canada. We come to the other side of the coin--Canada's importance to the alliance.

That importance springs from the very fact which often makes many Canadians inclined to kick against the pricks. It springs, that is to say, from Canada's complete dependence for security on the power of the United States. The relationship is not entirely one-way. It means also that Canada's coöperation--in defense, in trade, in many political arrangements--is of considerable value to the United States. It means that the United States can absolutely rely on Canada whenever affairs come to a point of crisis. Canada's rôle is assured. Without this assurance, Canada could not possibly claim what she often exercises--a say in the affairs of the Western alliance far out of proportion to her military importance.

This is the truth that is not understood when people say: What's the point of it all? Canada's foreign policy can't really depart in any essential way from United States policy, so why bother? Such cynicism ignores the simple point that in the modern world no one is really on his own. The old concept of national sovereignty retains little meaning. The freedom of action of every country is sharply limited. Canada's perhaps does not amount to much more than the freedom, while sitting under her big neighbor's umbrella, to offer some gratuitous advice on how to hold the umbrella. But the point is that we offer the advice, and get away with it. We even have the advice heeded sometimes, though really there is nothing more annoying to most holders of umbrellas. This rôle requires, and is going to require increasingly, a great deal of tact. It could not be attempted at all, however, but for the simple fact that the way the umbrella is held is so particularly important for Canada. That establishes our right and creates our obligation to concern ourselves with the general policies of the United States and of the free world as a whole.

All the Western nations depend for their security on the power of the United States, but Canada is the one among them whose fate is most directly and intimately linked with that of the major partner. It is this that gives Canada a special place, a special concern, a special responsibility, over and above any of the other allies of the United States. Canada is the most involved of all. On that basis, and that basis alone, she has a special influence in the counsels of the alliance.

It has become customary to talk of Canada's rôle as that of a middleman; she can interpret America to Britain and Britain to America; she is the hinge, to use a famous phrase, between the new world and the old, especially between the United States and the United Kingdom. This is a concept with some reality to it, but also with the dangers always inherent in half-truths.

A middleman by definition deals impartially with both parties. A hinge can be separated from both the things it holds in flexible union. On this point, the analogy breaks down. In the last resort Canada can be separated, though with enormous damage to all concerned, from her allies across the seas; she cannot be separated from her alliance with the United States. The bond of mutual interest and mutual security is now closer than can be represented by the screws which hold a hinge. If the analogy must be pressed, it would be more accurate to describe Canada not as the hinge but as that part of the North American structure to which the hinge with the rest of the free world can be most securely attached. The special influence of Canada rests on the fact that she is not the United States but she is of North America.

This is a situation to which, it is true, not all Canadians are reconciled. The sentiment of the British connection, of Canada's membership in the Commonwealth, runs strong and will continue to do so. But few people outside Canada--and especially few people in Britain--realize how large a part in Canada's inter-Commonwealth relationships is played by the sense of special friendship with its Asian members, and particularly with India. And India is hardly to be identified in diplomacy with the United Kingdom. The idea that, because of the Commonwealth, Canada is still some sort of British satellite surely was finally disposed of by last year's Suez crisis.

It is important not to be confused in this matter by the political controversy in Canada over the Suez question. The Opposition groups--their newspapers more than the politicians themselves --made some play with the charge that the Government let Britain down. Pro-British sentiment is strong enough for politicians not to pass up the opportunity of making some gesture to it. But the significant thing is that the Opposition groups have not pressed the charge with any vigor. The truth is that Canada's attempt in the United Nations to liquidate Britain's Suez venture with a minimum of hard feelings, and thereby to repair the Anglo-American alliance, commanded the respect and agreement of Canadian public opinion at large. That Canada's rôle was so well played was an accident of personality. With a Minister for External Affairs less able than Mr. Pearson, the rôle might have been more negative and indecisive. But it is inconceivable that Canadian policy could have been fundamentally different in purpose, whatever the political party in office.

In the Suez crisis Canada exercised a greater influence on a major diplomatic issue than has ever been hers before. That this is the shape of things to come is made clear by the aftermath of Suez and especially by the changes in British defense policy which have followed. Those changes involve a recognition that Britain's resources do not allow her to play as large a rôle in defense and diplomacy as she has previously attempted to sustain. Since the war this effort has overstrained Britain. Now her rôle within the Western alliance is being lessened.

Hitherto, the United Kingdom has dealt with the United States as if Britain were the one ally in some degree comparable in power and importance to the United States itself. That was the basis of the "hinge" theory about Canada. But in the thermonuclear age, of course, no Western nation is really comparable with the United States. Even Britain is separated from it by so wide a margin of power that Britain is now closer to the middle Powers than to the United States. Even the greatest of the foothills is still a foothill beside the mountain peak. Britain is thus losing something of the prior position that she has hitherto occupied among the allies of the United States.

As that happens, Canada's sort of prior position becomes much more important to her and to the other free nations. That position is based not on comparative power but on the special closeness of Canada's relationship with the United States. Canadians are the people among all the allies who can talk to the Americans as fellow North Americans, and yet who can also see the United States from outside, as one of the smaller Powers. She has a special part to play in speaking for them to the United States, and in interpreting the United States to them.

There are still many people, in Canada and overseas, who will say that this sounds well but means nothing in practice. It is all very well for Canada to see herself as an intermediary but why, if she is so closely and so avowedly bound to the United States, should anyone pay any attention? The answer is partly that in fact attention is paid, even if for no better reason than the straightforward friendliness of the United States.

That is a real and powerful reason. But there is also another. Canada's dependence on the United States does not mean that she lacks bargaining weapons. If they are needed, she has them. Their basis is this: the ability of the United States to get on well with Canada is the first and most direct test of her ability to get on well with every other smaller Power. The point was once well put by someone who said that Canada is the world's hostage of American good intentions. Canada is of good repute in the free world. If Canadians said that they were being browbeaten by the Americans, if they said that their interests were being seriously prejudiced by the United States, the world's sympathy would lie overwhelmingly with Canada. The world sees Canada as a country very like the United States and as accommodating to the United States as any free nation. If the Americans could not get on well with Canada, with whom could they get on well? Who could trust them? Who could remain convinced that American imperialism is a myth that not even the Kremlin really believes?

In short, good relations with Canada--the good relations of discussion and coöperation, of some real give and take in policy-- are a primary interest of the United States. The bargaining weapons thus put in Canada's hands are far from negligible. They are, on the contrary, quite powerful enough to be damagingly abused if a Canadian Government were so minded. In practice, they are merely the silent evidence that Canada has indeed a rôle of importance to play in the policy-making of the Western world.

As long as this is true--as long as it never comes to a tussle in which Canadian-United States relations generate real heat-- the only country for which Canada's new place in the world creates real difficulties is Canada herself.


It is only ten years since Mr. St. Laurent, then Canada's Secretary of State for External Affairs but soon to become Prime Minister, defined the principles of Canadian foreign policy in a famous speech. The first principle he laid down--ahead of all the absolutes of the rule of law, political liberty, the acceptance of international responsibilities--was that external policy should not destroy national unity. In the temper of these times, that may now seem a strangely negative approach. The Canada whose national unity has sometimes hung by thin threads is of the past. Over the last decade a sense of nationality, a consciousness of common interests and aims at work among Canada's diverse races and across the enormous breadth of her thinly-peopled land, has grown to a maturity and strength that no one could have counted on before.

But this Canadian nationalism is, in timing, rather a strange growth. Under the forcing influence of war and of the postwar boom which has made them confident, Canadians have become nationalists during precisely that period which is distinguished in world affairs by the extent to which individual national sovereignties have been qualified. The coöperation of allies in the age of the hydrogen bomb and the intercontinental missile is far too intimate for sovereignty in the traditional sense to retain much reality. The peculiarity of Canadian nationalism is that it has grown, and Canada has become important, at the very moment we have all become conscious as never before of the dependence of each country on the rest.

Intellectually, that is easy to grasp. Intellectually, there is nothing difficult about the paradox of Canada's new place in the world: that Canada's inability to have a foreign policy different in any essential way from United States policy is not the end of responsibility and influence; on the contrary, it is the basis on which Canada can exercise a quite special responsibility and influence in making policies common to the Atlantic community. But while, intellectually, that is straightforward enough, emotionally--and therefore politically--it is a tough one.

The direct manifestation of the emotional problem is this: attitudes which from across the border may seem like anti-Americanism (though, one can fairly confidently hope, of a mild kind) may for a time at least be the readiest expression of Canadian nationalism. At best, this will put some difficulties in the way of an external policy appropriate to Canada's new place in the world. But in any event there will be no need to regard the situation too pessimistically. The difficulties that may be created for Canada's national policy by a degree of emotional unrealism about our relations with the United States are, after all, merely the contemporary evidence of a fact of long standing. Canada is, by history and by geography, a difficult country to run. That has not hitherto prevented it from being, for the most part, remarkably well governed. There is no reason why this should be less true in Canada's new external relations.

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  • TOM KENT, Editor of the Winnipeg Free Press; formerly Assistant Editor of The Economist, London
  • More By Tom Kent