The Diplomacy of a Middle Power

JOHN W. HOLMES, president of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, received his early training in diplomacy as a member of the Department of External Affairs and was Assistant Undersecretary of State from 1953 to 1960. Prior to that he was Acting Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations.

John W . Holmes

IN AN age impatient of the nation-state, bewitched by the idea that multinational agglomerations are the way to salvation, a country of Canada’s size must justify its existence. Why should it not abandon nationalism and sovereignty, the begetters of war, give up the struggle of three and a half centuries, and bask in the advantages of continental union? The reason for existence could be the simple attachment of Canada’s citizens to its traditions, institutions, and the rough beauty of its landscape. There are, too, the enormous advantages of not being a great power in a nuclear age. These are not enough, however, for a moralistic people whose heritage is rich and whose relatives — the Commonwealth, France, the United States -all believed they had missions. Canadians yearn for an identity and a purpose, modest but unique, in the community of states.

One purpose Canada can serve a world threatened by tribal anarchy is to prove that state and nation are not necessarily conterminous, that people of different cultures and languages can coexist within a single sovereignty. It is not the same lesson as that of the United States, that divers peoples can be melted into a successful nation with one official language. Noble as that example has been, it is less applicable than the Canadian experience to new countries which must embrace distinct tribes and clans as founding members within the framework of one effective state. It is a mission of which Canadians themselves are inadequately aware, although they are groping toward awareness in the present debate over how they themselves can, after two centuries, continue to make a go of it. In the meantime it is a question whether the figure they cut in the world encourages or discourages other multicultural states.

Another mission, of which there is greater awareness, is that of being a constructive middle power with its own function in the world community. It is a role to which Canadians have been aspiring since they emerged during the last war as the strongest of the lesser powers in the alliance. They had rid themselves of their colonial timidity, and their classic international function as a bridge between Britain and the United States, always more apparent to rhetoricians than historians, had been exposed as gratuitous by the wartime partnership between London and Washington. In casting off their inhibitions, they have become bored with being regarded as a eunuch state. They were realistic enough at San Francisco in 1945 to accept the priority of the great powers in security, but they insisted that the relationship between capacity and status be extended as a principle to differentiate between middle and small powers as well. For the status of middle power they were prepared to pay with their particular capabilities. They threw themselves into the manifold activities of the United Nations, inspired by idealism and by a shrewd realization that this was the arena in which a middle power could show its mettle and come out from the shadow of the great powers in whose reflection it did not wish to bask exclusively.

The role Canada found was sought after; it was also thrust upon the country. Canadians needed it for their own fulfillment; fortunately, it made sense. It turned out in the nuclear age, paradoxically, that although the authority of superpowers was enhanced, there was also a greater-than-ever requirement for countries whose influence rested less on military strength than on intelligence, diplomatic skill, access to powerful friends, flexibility, diversity of association, and international sex appeal. Paradoxically also, it was the lack of interests beyond their region which involved Canadians, once they had served on the UN Security Council and had established themselves in high diplomacy, as dispensers of good offices between Jews and Arabs, Dutch and Indonesians, Laotians and Laotians. Remoteness from the scene of trouble, which had been an argument for isolation in the days of Mackenzie King and the League of Nations, led Canada, in the world of the United Nations, into duties onerous but not unwelcome.

In times when virtue had come to be associated with weakness, a country with more square miles per citizen than almost any other in the world was given credit for having no imperialistic aims and considered worthy, therefore, to be trusted by those new countries whose dissensions among themselves and with the great powers caused most breaches of the peace. Canadian political leaders and diplomats have had a touch in dealing with anticolonialists; the good opinion is not unmerited. The experience of growing up happily within a benevolent empire and commonwealth, long exposure at close hand to both the insensitivities and the benignities of great powers, and an incapacity to do much harm have helped Canadians to get along with Arabs, Asians, and Africans-whose regard can make or break a middle power.

Of course, the middle power cannot afford to forfeit its influence on the decisive powers. The major Western powers recognize in principle the value of middle-power diplomacy, although they are often exasperated by the waywardness of its practitioners. They resent an implication that they are less pure in heart than those powerless enough to act as intermediaries — and rightly so. Canadians, despite occasional flights of sanctimonious fancy, see their function as complementary to that of their great allies and compatible with loyalty to the Western alliance. They are quick to bridle at arrogance in NATO or the UN but less dedicated in principle than they once were to challenging the pretensions of great powers. The great powers, they know, are often excluded from the role of honest broker by their power and their global involvement, as well as by the tacitly recognized requirement to prevent their direct military involvement in places like the Congo, Gaza, or Cambodia lest controversies escalate. Furthermore, it is the pressure of the great powers in the background which provides the final suasion.

Many so-called middle-power operations, the UN peacekeeping forces for example, could have neither beginning nor end if larger powers did not provide transport and facilities in the first place and then keep threatening to do more if things should get out of hand. These are cooperative enterprises in which each country has its function, some because they are powerful, some because they are not, some because they have special influence over the disputants, and others because, whatever their commitments elsewhere, they can be neutral in the affair under consideration. This concept of functionalism of nations, developed by Canadian diplomats when the new world order was being shaped at the end of World War II, is at the core of Canada’s view both of its own place in the world and of the variegated pattern which should obtain in relations among states. It clashes with the views of those who see the pattern in simpler terms of great powers and small powers, committed and uncommitted, East and West, black and white. It is an approach not always congenial to Washington, London, or Paris, hardly ever to Moscow.

A REPUTATION for intermediary diplomacy was acquired by Canada, and in particular by Lester Pearson, a diplomat now turned Prime Minister, at San Francisco over the Palestine issue in 1947 and, later, on other subjects which even involved negotiations affecting the United States and China. This experience led to specific obligations in international peacekeeping. Since 1954 Canada has had a serious and irksome responsibility as a member of the tripartite Control Commission set up by the great powers at Geneva to supervise the truces in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Canada was selected as the most acceptable Western middle power to balance the Poles, with the Indians as chairmen. It was an early recognition of the paradox that Canada, though closest of the allies to the United States in geography and culture, has a record of more independent thought and action than more distant allies. So unquestioned is the mutual commitment of the North American partners that Canadians often feel more assured in their diplomacy than, say, Australia or Germany.

The fact that the United States would not sign the Geneva agreements of 1954 on Indochina — Mr. Dulles’ policy of innocence by nonassociation — has cast Canada for a decade in a position in which its solemn obligation to be a judicious international agent has been difficult to coordinate with its national interest in the maintenance of United States strength and influence. The present crisis in Vietnam illuminates the dilemma of a conscientious middle power. Not to embrace enthusiastically the American cause is to risk the displeasure of an aroused neighbor. On the other hand, to abandon discretion would be of less positive value to the United States than to continue the frustrating task of maintaining agreements which, however much they have been violated, the United States itself wants to reaffirm rather than abandon. This is not only thankless diplomacy, it is also professional, sophisticated diplomacy, and not easy to explain to a warm-blooded electorate which feels more comfortable taking sides. It is less exhausting to be a middle than a great power, but it is ticklish.

The climax of this middle-power diplomacy came in 1956 when Lester Pearson was in the best tactical position to propose a solution for the Suez crisis. Typically, it was put forward without condemning any parties to the dispute. Aside from Canada’s reluctance to accuse its two mother countries of aggression, it had learned that a requirement for the intermediary role is a minimum of rhetoric and a maximum of energetic diplomacy, most of it quiet

-a habit which has sometimes led allies to suspect laxity in the faith. Canadian forces played a leading part in the first United Nations Emergency Force, which was led by a Canadian general, and since that time Canadians have been included in every United Nations operation of the kind — in Lebanon, the Congo, West Irian, Yemen, and Cyprus. This military obligation, considered marginal ten years ago when Canadians were called to Indochina, is looked upon now as major in significance although not in the numbers involved. It confirmed certain directions in Canadian diplomacy and has assisted Canadian military planners toward the new concept of the country’s strategic role adumbrated in a historic white paper in the spring of 1964. The white paper, while reaffirming tlie priority of NATO and continental defense, foresees wider functions for which there must be greater mobility.

To accord with Canada’s worldwide diplomacy, its military forces must be equipped to move swiftly into situations where they are required by NATO, for United Nations purposes, or, if the occasion requires, in association with the United States or members of the Commonwealth. Despite this increasing interest in international peacekeeping, Canadians are not happy with the improvisations required when the UN moves into a crisis. The uncertainties and inadequacies of the mandate given the force in Cyprus have induced a more critical attitude in Parliament to obligations cheerfully accepted in the past. There is no disposition to withdraw. However, Canada is engaged in initiatives to work out, in collaboration with other countries which provide standby forces for the UN, more effective procedures and authority for UN operations. It is characteristic of Canadian diplomacy that the government is seeking to do this by consolidating and building on what has been achieved within the terms of the Charter and practices sanctioned by the UN rather than by challenging the Russians in a hopeless effort to set up the philosopher’s dream of an international force.

CANADA has never accepted the theory, advanced by some of its own citizens among others, that an effective middle power must be nonaligned. Canada was a founding member of NATO and has fulfilled its modest obligations to that organization. NATO provides for the more effective defense of Canada, and by maintaining troops in Europe, Canada is entitled to some voice in the affairs of a continent that has twice drawn it into bloody sacrifice. It is also enabled to play its part in a multilateral organization where there is, or seems to be, more room for maneuver than in a simple bilateral relationship with a giant.

Canada accepts, with some uneasiness, the strategic implications — more favorable than unfavorable — of sharing a continent with the most powerful nation on earth. It collaborates in continental defense because it wants to play its part in a mutual enterprise. It is aware also of the risks of being a weak flank of the United States. Its share in continental defense as well as in decision-making is far from equal to that of the United States. It engages in arrangements which are supposed to provide for joint decisions, both bilateral and through NATO, recognizing that since the United States controls the military machine, Canadian influence is bound to be limited, but that, the process of decision-making being indefinable and unpredictable, it is better to be an insider than an outsider. However little Canada expects to sway United States intentions in moments of crises, it can hope for some participation in formulating the directions of allied policy. It cannot abandon its right to be consulted.

At the time of the Cuban missiles crisis, there was a tempest over the failure of the United States to consult Ottawa, but majority opinion was appeased by Ottawa’s approval of the action taken by President Kennedy, in spite of Canadian reservations about the wisdom of United States policy toward Cuba. The present anxieties of Europeans over the decisive role of the United States in the alliance affect Canadians only indirectly. Situated as they are, thev have little need to worry lest the United States disengage itself from their defense, and they have a trust in the ultimate soundness of American policy that is not shared in Europe. Their attitude, nevertheless, is conditioned by the quality of the man who may press the trigger. Confidence in the ultimate decisions of the United States, strong in the time of President Kennedy, was shaken by the reminder, after the revolution in the Cow Palace, that the United States could be governed by a man with views at variance with those of most Canadians.

The policy of trusting American leadership, however, is one for which there is no easy alternative, because Canadians cannot disengage themselves from the consequences of United States decisions. They can preserve their right to disassociate themselves from peacetime policies of which they disapprove so that they may be free in their diplomacy to counteract what they consider American wrongheadedness. Being inevitably involved with the United States in wartime does not mean being inevitably committed to U.S. policies in peacetime. It may, of course, be doubtful whether Canadian opinion under the barrage of American mass media could long retain views diametrically opposed to those of a Washington administration. It seems unlikely, and yet public support of the policies of both Liberal and Conservative governments in maintaining diplomatic relations with Cuba and trading with Communist China are evidence of stubborn resistance even on issues over which Americans teel strongly. Canadians are, nevertheless, more susceptible to the tactful forbearance which has characterized official Washington’s attitude to Canadian heresies in recent years than to the rough treatment that might be expected from a more nationalist regime.

DESPITE Canada’s acceptance of the priority of the United States in its international life, traditionally and instinctively it seeks other associations as well. In diversity is strength. Both the United Nations and NATO permit Canada to play its part as a unique entity rather than as junior partner on a crowded world stage. It has been an architect of the contemporary Commonwealth, multiracial and interregional, and has found in its association not only with Britain but also with India, Nigeria, and other powerful voices of the developing world contacts which have assisted and shaped Canadian diplomacy. Canada’s endeavors to hold the Commonwealth together have not always endeared it to the British Conservative government, faced as it has been with hard-core colonial problems in Africa and an organization it no longer controls.

By aligning themselves with the Asian and African members over the Suez issue in 1956, over the policies of South Africa at the Prime Ministers’ meeting of 1961, and again, over Southern Rhodesia at the meeting of July, 1964, Canadian prime ministers, both Conservative and Liberal, prevented a division on racial lines which would have torn the Commonwealth asunder. For Canada this interest in the Commonwealth, to which about 90 percent of its economic aid is directed, is part of its diplomacy of strengthening middle-power relations rather than a simple gesture of attachment to Britain.

As an expression of its own biculturalism, Canada has begun to extend its aid to French-speaking as well as to Commonwealth countries and has shown a special interest in these areas. The present government has also set out to improve official relations with France, often strained by divergent attitudes on world problems. There remains a wide gap between French and Canadian perspectives, and English Canadians tend to share the prejudices of Britons and Americans against Gaullisme. French Canadians are Canadian rather than French nationalists and do not insist on aligning Canadian with French foreign policy, but they want closer contact with Paris if only to counteract the excessive influence of Washington and London on Canadian external relations.

French Canadians and many English Canadians would like to participate also in the Organization of American States, as an addition rather than an alternative to present alignments. It has been said that Canada did not join Pan-American organizations first because it was not asked, and then because it was. The United States, up to the time of Sumner Welles, thought Canada would be an imperial agent in the pure republican atmosphere of Pan-America. Later, when Washington changed its mind and was looking for a fresh force and a collaborator in economic projects, President Kennedy tactfully but publicly popped the question in Ottawa, thereby inadvertently giving the impression that Canada was wanted as an ally. Canadian opinion on this subject is divided, but few argue that Canada should join the OAS to add a guaranteed vote for the United States.

Those who oppose entry consider that a country of only 20 million people is already overcommitted in its worldwide diplomacy or question whether a figment such as the “Western Hemisphere" gives Canada more community of interest with South America than with other continents. They are concerned lest the OAS provide an additional forum in which the United States and Canada could clash. While prepared to differ with Americans on international issues when necessary, Canadians realize that they live more equably if these occasions are kept to a minimum. Those who favor entry into the OAS include most French Canadians, anxious to increase Canada’s Latin as distinct from AngloSaxon associations, and many other articulate Canadians who take seriously the proposition that Canada, the middle power, can apply its healing diplomacy in all the world’s trouble spots.

Meanwhile, the difficulties in which Canada would be involved as a member were brought home by the OAS meetings in July. If Canada had been a member, it would have had to align its policy toward Cuba with that of the United States or join Mexico in isolation, for Canadian convictions on how to cope with Castro have been closer to those of the dissenters than to those of the United States. There is little disagreement in Canada with the view that Latin America is a crisis area in which Canada must show more interest. Whether it can act more effectively inside or outside the OAS is the question. The Secretary of State for External Affairs, Paul Martin, admits he favors joining, but the Cabinet is divided. The United States, at any rate, deserves credit for broad-mindedness in welcoming a member unlikely to be docile.

Over Cuba, Canada has not, as Washington implies, been the odd man out. It has been in agreement with most members of NATO. It abhors the extension of Communism but shares the prevailing Western European skepticism of the efficacy of breaking diplomatic relations and imposing embargoes. Its views are no doubt conditioned by its being much more dependent on world trade than the United States is, but they are consistent with its traditional attitude on the way to deal with Communism, views which differ from what is normally orthodox in Washington. Canada maintains its embassy in Havana and carries on a not very lucrative trade with Cuba out of conviction rather than greed or indifference.

On the other hand, where the stakes seem higher, it has refrained, in spite of its convictions, from embarrassing the United States by recognizing the Peiping regime-although Canadian spokesmen and public opinion are growing increasingly restive on this issue. Canada has taken advantage of recent opportunities to sell grain to mainland China in quantities which have had important economic and political consequences. While principle in such circumstances can be affected by self-interest, there is no doubt that the majority of Canadians (63 percent by the latest Gallup poll) believe it is proper to conduct such trade, and that it is improper to deny food to the needy, whatever the color of their masters’ philosophy.

Americans do not like this, and there is always the danger that if Canada flouts United States feelings too far, an ill-disposed Congress would take a harsh view on the many economic questions affecting Canada. Canada is vulnerable to the risk of economic reprisals even though the United States administration is too decent to threaten them. It is not without calculation that Canadians constantly draw to the attention of Russians, Egyptians, or other skeptics the admirable restraint of their neighbor. The vigorous independence of Canadian foreign policy may be tiresome for Washington, but it is proof for the world that the United States is morally superior to its great-power antagonists.

Canada is no longer, as in 1945, the third most powerful of the Western allies, in spite of the phenomenal growth of its resources. There are now more countries on the world scene, and there is more maneuvering for the center of the stage. Canada today is one of the more elderly countries in the United Nations, although Canadians persist in talking about and excusing themselves on the grounds of raw youth. Troubled by a feeling of premature decline, they are in a period of adjustment. Youth is a haunting thing for nations as well as for persons, particularly when a country such as Canada matures late, has a crowded and relatively successful adolescence, and is pronounced middleaged before it has become accustomed to the pattern of youth.

Some of the malaise which affects Canadians today in grasping for a useful role in world politics is nostalgia for the few years ago when they seemed to cut a more considerable figure. When a nation has the bloom of youth and has not been around longenough to step on toes, it can achieve diplomatic success which becomes progressively more difficult to get away with. Now Canada must settle down to earn respect, constructively but less prestigiously than in the past, expecting less tolerance from large and small powers, friends as well as antagonists. Its sober Northern conscience and rich experience should stand Canada in good stead, as should the understanding of generous neighbors such as the United States Assistant Secretary of State for International Affairs, Harlan Cleveland, who, speaking recently in Ottawa about the development of UN peacekeeping, gave credit to “the prophetic and practical quality of Canadian vision, Canadian will, and Canadian follow-through.”