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Banner: First Among EqualsLouis Stephen St. Laurent banner

Consequences of the Cold War for Canada: speech to the Canadian Club in Toronto, March 27, 1950


I entitled my speech: "Canada�s Role in the Cold War", even though it may actually have been more accurate to entitle it: "Consequences of the Cold War for Canada". Whichever it may be, I begin my subject by first of all pointing out the danger harboured in using the expression "the Cold War".

The expression, I fear, gives certain people the impression that we are in the preliminary phase of open war. In truth, your goal is first to prevent a "hot" war, then to do everything in our power to put an end to the Cold War itself. It is necessary to accept that this will not be an easy task. We cannot count on our will being achieved in the near future or due to an unexpected bombshell.

As long as a certain mutual confidence does not reign between the nations, we will not have true and sustainable peace. Yet, the events have shown that this confidence can only be born of a sincere and radical change of attitude on the part of Soviet Russia towards the other countries of the world. Such a change cannot happen overnight, if it is to occur at all during our lifetime.

In the interval, which may last many years, the free world must think about maintaining its own security with its own forces. We will have to maintain it using military strength greater than anything we could ever have anticipated in peacetime up to now. But that is not what I want to emphasize today.

Actually, what is important, to my way of thinking, is to prove to the world that our free democracy is better than the communist regime, that it offers a better lifestyle, that it is based on a vigorous economy and industry, that it offers abundant material goods and that its nature is such that it inspires in men the confidence that allows them to live side by side in harmony. If we can prove all this to the world, in the long run our adversaries will indeed see that it is wiser to "live". They will come to this conclusion when they see that if they provoke a war, they risk losing it. But, when all is said and done, we will only be victorious when the peoples on the other side of the Iron Curtain understand that their regime, as opposed to ours, cannot meet either the material or spiritual needs of humanity.

Under the threat of military aggression, peaceful nations must maintain a sound military defence. It is, however, necessary that we not limit ourselves to defending our acquired positions, something that would not be a constructive endeavour. It is also necessary to reinforce our economic, political and social life and improve our democracy.

To make a positive contribution to the Cold War, we have to understand the principles that are at stake. Some people take the position that the Cold War stems from the economy, that it is a battle between private enterprise and State monopoly; for others, it belongs in the political realm and it is a conflict between democracy and dictatorship; others, placing it on the philosophical plane, see it as a battle between spiritualism and materialism; lastly, for others, the Cold War is a religious war between those who believe in a universe controlled by God and those who support systematic atheism.

The Cold War is all this and even more. I see it as a conflict in which two concepts of human society are radically opposed: in the first, the State is the absolute and uncontested master of every aspect of every subject�s life, while in the other, the State is the servant of the citizens, having as its role to meet their common political needs while leaving them free to organize other aspects of their life themselves.

In a nutshell, we could say that the Cold War is a conflict between totalitarianism and liberty. It was not very long ago that we were all talking of all-out war. Well, I think that the Cold War is a kind of all-out war, which requires using all our resources, even though, in the Cold War, we are fortunately able to employ these resources in a more constructive manner than in an actual war. If the Cold War really is an all-out war, Canada�s participation obviously becomes a question of the greatest interest, not only for the government, but also for each citizen. In truth, everyone is most highly interested in the ultimate goal, which consists of securing safety for our regime of freedom and the real guarantee of sustainable peace for those who truly desire peace, which is, to my way of thinking, for the vast majority of men and women in all countries.

For a while after 1945, we were hoping to find international security through the United Nations. The residents of Canada and other free countries now know that the only real hope for security in the near future resides in a combination of economic and military efforts and in a common resolution to stand together against aggression from any nation that might be bold enough to launch an attack.

That is the immediate goal of the NATO alliance. Since Canada signed and ratified the alliance, I have had the opportunity to travel the country from coast to coast. The people everywhere expressed their complete approval of our country�s participation in the NATO alliance. The understanding and the unity shown by Canadians at this time gave me great joy. It is a promising beginning, but the path that will lead us ultimately to security promises nevertheless to be long and difficult.

We all know that signing the treaty was only the first step. All the members of the North Atlantic community of nations must collaborate in implementing the treaty and in providing the present and future troops it requires. It is incumbent upon each signatory to decide how much it needs to devote to military defence. The decision as to the extent and nature of the expenditures that we must meet to ensure our national security is, without doubt, one of the most difficult that the Government has to make. We could probably allocate all of our national revenue to defence without necessarily being protected against any attack.

I do not believe that anyone in the country is contemplating the possibility of arming Canada in such a way that it could single-handedly fight against a major power. Like all the free nations, we must endeavour to establish the best possible balance between the two following needs: on the one hand, the immediate need for arms and troops, and on the other, the need to maintain and sustain the manpower required not only at the military level but even on the industrial and economic level. That is certainly a difficult balance to strike.

I imagine you have all heard of Mr. Vannevar Bush, the great American thinker who was in charge of his country�s scientific research during the last war and who led the work which resulted in the production of the atomic bomb. Mr. Bush recently published a work entitled Modern Arms and Free Men. In it, he deals, in a manner which pleased me greatly, with the problem that attaining our objectives poses in this Cold War period.

What proportion of a nation�s resources need to be allocated to defence? Answering this precise question, Mr. Bush warns us that the Cold War will probably last a long time. He adds that as long as we are strong enough to withstand a first shock, the deciding factor will be the endurance we demonstrate and the efficiency with which we demonstrate the superiority of our political and social institutions. One passage, that I wish to quote today, particularly impressed me. Here is how Mr. Bush expresses himself:

" There is more than one way to lose the race (to security). It has only existed a short while, but already we are feeling it. We could lose it, as any lengthy race can be lost which depends on man�s endurance, by either achieving too little, or by expending our energies too soon. There will be little benefit to us in accumulating bombs and airplanes if our administrative and industrial regimes collapse. The race we are waging will be long and difficult; we are better to prepare ourselves for a sustained effort and to use our resources wisely."

Let us remember that we are aiming first at preventing the Cold War from becoming an armed conflict. On this subject, allow me to quote Mr. Bush once again. On the possibility of avoiding an armed conflict, this is what he states near the middle of his book:

"We will be able to avoid armed conflict by maintaining our power at its maximum. We will be able to avoid it by remaining opposed to it, with all the realism and all the firmness required. We will be able to avoid it if we know how to maintain the efficiency of our democratic system. We will even be able to avoid it completely because, if the power of the free peoples holds it at bay for one generation, we will then be able to build a new world, free of the scourge of the great wars. To achieve this goal, we must weather an unprecedented test; this will be the test of the sincerity of our belief in human dignity and liberty; it will be the test of our ability to conquer selfishness and small-minded motives, and of our ability to use all our power in such a way as to ensure that our regime functions effectively in the interests of all."

That is an opinion I think we can all share, and which encourages me to believe that the Cold War is a kind of all-out war demanding the constructive mobilization of all our resources, including our moral resources.

To win the Cold War, it will not be enough to devote a considerable portion of our total resources to military defence, the production and the perfection of armaments. That might be enough to avoid defeat. But avoiding defeat is not the same as winning the war. For we free nations to win the victory, we must show, to our constant satisfaction, the superiority of our institutions and our way of life. We will then have to rally to our cause the hundreds of millions of Asians and Africans who, indifferent and confused for the moment, are leaning towards neither one side nor the other in the Cold War. And, lastly, we must demonstrate to the millions of other people who are behind the Iron Curtain that Communist Imperialism is synonymous with slavery and that we are really the champions of liberty and peace.

Our military contribution to the cause of ultimate security is important; we are not disregarding this. I feel, however, that Canada has another great role to play in the Cold War and this role, about which I now wish to speak, is not military. This is a role we are going to play using the special assets we have in Canada and that I am mentioning right away. First, we share with the Americans this happy continent, which, comparatively speaking is still less vulnerable to direct attack than any other civilized region on the globe. Next, we have exploited resources, which, in relation to our population, are only surpassed by those of the Americans. In addition, our unexploited resources are even more extensive. Furthermore, we have a highly developed population whose average level of ingenuity and resourcefulness is very high.

All these elements help form an industrial and economic potential that, in spite of the relatively limited number of our population, places us immediately after the major powers in the world community. The result of this for Canada is a special obligation to contribute to the economic power of the free world.

Something just as important, our political and social institutions have been able to withstand the most difficult tests. Our people have demonstrated enough insight to realize that the interests and responsibilities of the nation extend well beyond Canada�s borders. They are ready to assume these heavy responsibilities and cope with them effectively.

Canada has made rapid progress; it has gone far. People of my age have no trouble recalling the time when few Canadians were concerned about what was happening outside the country. There is no doubt that we were moved by some extraordinary events such as the Spanish-American War, or the Boer War, but prior to 1914, Canadians never suspected that they might have certain responsibilities on the international front. Furthermore, those among us who wanted such responsibilities were few and far between.

After 1919, we felt that the great role we played in the course of the First Great War gave Canada the right to be heard at the international level. However, the increasing gloom on the world stage between the two wars provoked a withdrawal in a great number of our compatriots and made them hope to avoid the consequences of events they could not understand. I am convinced that, today, most Canadians are convinced that they will be unable to escape the consequences of world events. This is why they are not seeking to shirk the responsibilities which become their lot.

One of these responsibilities consists of maintaining within Canada itself a free and sound regime in which the State remains our servant and does not become our master, a regime which ensures the ongoing exploitation of our resources and in which industrial power serves to build a constantly growing military potential. In fulfilling this responsibility we will play a major portion of the role that has fallen upon us and the purpose of which is to win the Cold War. The voluntary citizens� associations such as the Canadian Clubs have an important role to play in the life of a free and sound nation. One of the great sources of our vigour and our vitality comes from the fact that, to act, we do not wait for the Government or the State to tell us what must be done.

But there is another source of liberty and vitality in our country. It is our federal regime with its provincial and municipal administrations, free from any central direction and free to act within the framework vested in them by the constitution. Let us say in passing that, in my opinion, our country�s health and vigour is based as much on the way our local institutions fulfil their obligations as the way in which we in Ottawa look after political problems of a more general nature.

There are few of our institutions that have as great a role to play in our society as our educational institutions and especially our universities. In the totalitarian State, teaching is made up of propaganda and indoctrination; the very survival of free nations depends on the freedom of research. Luckily, our constitution and our traditions too have provided safeguards for educational freedom and there is no freedom to be cherished more deeply.

It is a historical fact, it seems, that the totalitarian State cannot tolerate any form of religion; it demands for itself both religious and political allegiance. On the other hand, religious freedom  -  or maximum church freedom  -  is the characteristic trait of a free and sound nation.

On the subject of liberty, allow me to say again that I am one of these �unrepentants� who still believe that free enterprise is essential to a sound nation. I believe that liberty is necessary in order to provide a choice of activity for enterprise; but I also believe that entrepreneurship and even audacity are necessary to achieve the greatest development of the vast resources of a new country such as ours.

By advocating free enterprise, I do not mean that the governments do not have the responsibility, and to a great extent, to stimulate economic activity and to contribute realistically to social well-being. But I do believe that social security, or social insurance as I prefer to call it, may, like any ordinary insurance, be a stimulant rather than an impediment to enterprise. I am convinced that the duty of the federal government and of provincial and municipal governments is to do everything they can to improve social well-being and maintain conditions favourable to the success of business, thereby ensuring a high level of employment and prosperity. But we have always said that it is up to private enterprise to maintain the largest portion of the hiring. Any government would be very ill advised to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

You are perhaps saying to yourselves that I have somewhat digressed from Canada�s role in the Cold War. In reality, I am not digressing at all. I do not believe that totalitarian communism has ever really had a hope of managing to dominate the world by attacking it directly with weapons. In fact, the Communists firmly believe that, sooner or later, an economic crisis more serious than the previous ones will engulf the capitalist world, which will then collapse under its own weight. That is the great day they are waiting for. Totalitarian communism is not relying solely on the military power of its satellites; on the contrary, and there is an author who expressed it well, the specific advantage of local communists and their secret agents in the free countries.

This Fifth Column poses one of the most difficult and troubling problems for all of the free nations.

In actual fact, it presents two distinct dangers. If an open war broke out, the enemy�s henchmen established among us might perhaps be able to cause us irreparable harm at the outset. This is why the free nations cannot allow themselves to overlook the most minor reasonable precaution for tracking down any secret agents who might exist among us and for ensuring that they are rendered harmless. This implies some good sleuthing performed by experts. As a general rule, there is an advantage to giving all possible publicity to public affairs; however, wide publicity certainly would not facilitate and might seriously compromise the work of the police in its pursuit of the enemy�s agents. Even more, we must take the greatest care to ensure that we do not allow the introduction into our free communities of the methods and attitudes of the Police State, which are perhaps the most terrible of all the horrors of totalitarianism.

In the words of a certain type of intellectual, communism takes the form of social doctrine and it has a certain attraction for those who are unable to make a distinction between the results and promises of communism. By promising to correct injustice and put an end to poverty, communism can successfully rally fifth columns in all the corners of the world where it has taken root. We, however, have no reason in my opinion to fear that communism receives substantial support in Canada as long as our country remains a favourable and promising country for all our citizens, without distinction of origin or profession.

That is why I say that maintaining entrepreneurship, maintaining prosperity, a high level of hiring, as well as constant growth in social well-being, rank among our most powerful weapons in the Cold War. To these material advantages we must add, it goes without saying, a passionate faith in our free institutions. The vigour and the liberty of our national way of life are the foundations for playing our role in the Cold War. But we must also take into consideration that Canada is a great trading nation. Canadians depend more on trade than the citizens of any other nation. Also, we are particularly interested in the economic rehabilitation of the countries ravaged by war, especially the United Kingdom and the countries of Western Europe where our surplus production has always found its best overseas markets.

Canada has already contributed in a very large part to the economic recovery in Europe and it is still contributing to it. It is our personal interest, that is understood, which drives us. Certainly, we want to ensure markets in England and in Europe, but the stronger the economies of these countries are, the more they will be in a position to oversee their own defence and the more our military security will grow. The Cold War is not limited, in actual fact, to Europe and the North Atlantic. It is, I repeat, an all-out war from which no part of the world is safe.

At this moment, the immense continent of Asia is being tortured by the Cold War. It is also in the midst of experiencing one of the greatest upheavals in all its history. Hundreds of millions of people have become increasingly aware of their poverty even as they were obtaining their independence.

Such terrain seems fertile for the communism whose propagandists overlook nothing for convincing the peoples of Asia that their political and economic salvation lies in adhering to this doctrine as a remedy for their numerous and pressing problems.

Of course, the leaders, such as Mr. Nehru, India�s Prime Minister, and the other statesmen who steer the destinies of these great countries, know that if such a panacea were applied, the fragile liberty they have been enjoying for only a few months would be destroyed and replaced by a much more ruthless form of government than that which they experienced under so-called European Imperialism.

In the face of the destructive forces now at play in Asia, we must try to demonstrate that in the Western world we possess the real solution to the problem and that it is from us and not from Soviet imperialism that economic and social progress are to be expected. Canada has constantly expressed the desire to join the other free nations in helping the Asian nations embark on the path to real independence and true progress. By sharing with them our experience and our knowledge in the economic and industrial domains, we in the Western world can help them in many ways to establish methods and plans for making the work of their millions of inhabitants more productive and bringing their standard of living closer to ours.

We should be willing to listen to the impressions the Honourable Mr. Mayhew shared in the House of Commons on March 13, upon returning from his trip to Mysore, where he attended the International Labour Organisation conference, and to Colombo, where he participated in the meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and other representatives of the Commonwealth countries. I am quoting the following excerpt on page 708 in Hansard:

M. Harris (Danforth): While the Minister is thinking about Colombo and the places that honoured him at various times, would he perhaps say something encouraging for the indigenous people of Colombo, concerning the comparison of their standard of living to ours and the aid that Canadians are prepared to grant them.

The Honourable Mr. Mayhew: I hope that nothing I have already said or might say in the future may in any way insult these people. It is even the contrary that is true... We hear a great deal of talk about the immensity of the task that consists of ensuring a better standard of living for these brave people, who are so industrious... It is necessary to remember that neither India nor Ceylon,-- this is moreover the case for all the southern Asian countries,-- are lands with a single harvest. They can easily, on condition that water is not lacking, reap three, four, indeed, in certain areas, even five harvests per year, ...

Whoever in Canada or the United States thinks of using a tractor, a large combine harvester or a heavy wagon is thinking of something they do not know there; furthermore, these machines would not fit the bill, since the arable land is divided into plots of three, four or five acres. One family cannot readily cultivate larger plots if it must take from them three or four harvests in the course of the year.

I should perhaps share my observations with the House. In terms of irrigation,-- and my remarks are above all true of Egypt,-- we observed these people drawing water from the river with buckets then carrying it to the top of the bank and pouring it into an irrigation ditch. In certain cases, an inclined plane carousel is used to pump the water. Others use the ancient Archimedean screw method... According to this method, a man turns a handle and thereby brings ups a small quantity of water. A pump such as we see everywhere in Canada would probably allow the irrigation of twenty times more land than these people can irrigate with the tools they are using.

We can therefore see that the problem is neither gigantic nor spectacular. On the contrary, it could be addressed in a very simple manner. There would be justification for encouraging these people, for making them aware of whether our modern implements might not be of some use to them. These are new countries that are starting to live again under the direction of new leaders. They are progressing at a rate that commands the respect of all and demands very little encouragement.

Lastly, there is, for us Canadians, another more intangible way, I believe, to help win the Cold War. I have tried to stress that it is important to strengthen all these institutions, which, in contrast to the monotony and uniformity of the totalitarian State, bring wealth and variety to the life of a free nation.

Our nation has another element of diversity because it is based on the association of two races and two cultures. The political union of Upper and Lower Canada occurred in 1840. In the beginning, it was an unhappy and unpleasant union, but it is from this first union that the more immense union, the Confederation, was born. Today, we of Ontario and Quebec can look back on more than a century of political association between those whose mother tongue is French and those whose mother tongue is English. Into this first association we have admitted thousands of other citizens from most of the countries of the world. I believe that our past has saturated us with a spirit of tolerance right to our very core and has thereby given us the exceptional potential for understanding other nations and collaborating with them.

The concept of the Atlantic community is in itself consistent with the Canadian way of life because the Atlantic community is a voluntary association. It is a common endeavour agreed to by free peoples who are seeking to ensure their collective safety by combining their economic and social power, as well as their political and military energies. We hope that the great Atlantic community will not only ensure our safety but will also bring the solution to the problem of the relations that are to exist between the great nations and their less powerful neighbours. The alliance must not be solely negative and defensive; it must not be content to be �against� something. We hope that the North Atlantic Treaty will increase harmony and collaboration between the nations participating in it.

Over and over again, I have stated elsewhere that sustainable peace and harmony between the nations can only be achieved if the nations of the world attain the same spirit of collaboration as that which unites the two groups of Canada.

It is through this great factor that we have been able to build the Canadian nation. Today, we are a united people facing a world in search of unity, and what is most striking is that this world is wrestling with a problem of ethnic differences, linguistic differences and cultural differences, which is undoubtedly presented on a much more immense plane, but which, in essence, resembles the very same problem we were facing at the beginning of our life as a nation.

Today�s world therefore needs this special political harmony that we have achieved at home and the spirit of unity that drives us. It is not bold to hope, I believe, that our country�s example and the attitude of the Canadians responsible for managing our foreign affairs may contribute to the arrival, on the international level, of the spirit of unity and collaboration so essential to the power and the security of the free world.


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Translation of: St-Laurent, Louis. Les conséquences de la Guerre froide pour le Canada. Ottawa : Division de l'information, Ministère des affaires extérieures, 1950. 8 p.


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