- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 9 Dec 1954, p. 107-121
- Buchan, Honourable Alastair, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- A journalist's report; a personal interpretation of the trend of American policy. The change in the world scene over the past two and a half years since the speaker last addressed the Empire Club. Problems then and now. The development in the last two months or so, of a greater sense of unity and identity of interest in the West than has existed since the late forties. The western alliance. The beginning of the disappearance of the distrust which had been growing among the allies of the United States about the aims and intentions of the Republican Administration. Regard for President Eisenhower and Mr. Dulles and Admiral Radford by the end of last summer, and more recently. Consequences of the activities of Senator McCarthy. The sense of alarm and anxiety during the first half of last year, and a review of the incidents that fed it. Reasons for the dramatic improvement in allied relations in the second half of the year. Background as to the reasons for the Eisenhower-Dulles attitudes, and their change. A brief history of events, back to the 1952 Presidential election. The crucial point of "atomic stalemate." The influence of Sir Winston Churchill in Washington at the end of June. Criticism against President Eisenhower in the American press and in his own administration during the past 18 months and reasons for it. Indications of change over the last three months to a policy of acceptance of co-existence with the Soviet bloc; the most significant concerning relations with Communist China. A description of two relevant incidents with China. The choice the President has had to make between maintaining the cohesion of the Western alliance and maintaining the unity of the Republican party. Problems still to be faced with regard to the Soviet Union.
- Date of Original
- 9 Dec 1954
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- Full Text
"THE UNITED STATES AND CO-EXISTENCE"
An Address by HONOURABLE ALASTAIR BUCHAN Washington Correspondent, "The Observer"
Thursday, December 9th, 1954
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. James H. Joyce.
MR. JOYCE: Within the space of less than 15 years the United States has emerged from isolationism to assume the responsibilities and many of the obligations of world leadership. This position was not sought after, but rather was thrust on that nation by world circumstances.
Just how well the United States has met its responsibilities--despite the isolationist sentiment of many of its people--is a matter of record.
Just how vital the continued acceptance of these responsibilities is for the British Commonwealth and the other free nations of the world will be discussed by our speaker today, the Honourable Alastair Buchan.
Third son of the late Lord Tweedsmuir, who was a most distinguished and beloved Governor-General of Canada and Honorary President of this Club from 1935 to 1940, the Honourable Alastair Buchan was born in England in 1918. He was educated at Eton and Oxford, came to Canada in his late teens and later completed his education at the University of Virginia in the United States.
For six years, from 1939 to 1945, he served in the Canadian Armoured Corps in England and North-West Europe.
From 1948 to 1951 the Honourable Mr. Buchan was assistant Editor of the Economist and since then he has been Washington correspondent of "The Observer" of London.
Those of us who had the pleasure of hearing him speak to this Club in March 1952 on "Washington Through British Eyes" know just how eminently qualified he is to tell us today about "The United States and Co-Existence".
MR. BUCHAN: It gives me the very greatest pleasure to be back with you again, and I am most grateful for your kind invitation. I have so little belief in my drawing powers as a public speaker that I am thrilled beyond measure when I am asked to inflict my views for a second time on a body such as yourselves who have already been through that painful and halting performance once. But I have other reasons for gratitude to you besides mere native conceit. I have so many ties with Canada that I welcome every opportunity to come up here, and most particularly to Toronto which--whatever uncharitable remarks your sister Canadian cities may make about you--remains very firmly my own favourite.
What I would like to offer you today is not a speech but something more in the nature of a journalist's report. Since I have the great good fortune to speak only for myself, I would like to put forward what is a personal interpretation of the trend of American policy. I know it is an unwise thing to do. Though it is nearly twenty years since I first visited the United States, I know that my knowledge of the country, my intuitive and inherited feeling for the country, is not nearly as great as yours, and that for an Englishman, or even a Scotsman to talk about the United States to Canadians is a rash thing to do. Nevertheless with your indulgence I will stick my neck out the length of a giraffe's.
In the two and a half years since I last had the priviledge of talking to you, the world scene has assumed a very different pattern. By comparison, the problem then seemed a simple one: the principal job on hand was to win the war in Korea, to build up the strength of the NATO forces in Europe, and to push our rearmament programmes as far as was consistent with sound economic policy. Since then so much has happened and so fast that it is hard to recall events in their proper sequence or significance. The first Republican president in twenty years was swept into office, Stalin died and was replaced by the subtler and more devious Malenkov, Communist China emerging from the first stages of her internal revolution became a world power to be reckoned with. First the Soviets and then six months later the United States exploded hydrogen bombs, the Indo-China war ended in unhappy and uneasy armistice, and the European Defence Community fell apart to be replaced by a looser formula for German rearmament. For a while during the early part of 1954 the rigidity of American policy created strains within the Atlantic alliance, so severe that it looked-at the time of the Geneva Conference-as if it might break up altogether.
Yet, paradoxically, out of this confused and confusing pattern there has developed in the last two months or so, a greater sense of unity and identity of interest in the West than has existed since the late forties. The western alliance has given itself a shake and gathered its skirts. out of the mud. Six months ago-at the time of the negotiation of the Indo-China armistice in Geneva--Sir Anthony Eden was being heavily criticised in the American press, and only a little more discreetly within the Administration itself, for trying to appease the Communists. Now he receives generous and unstinted praise for his initiative in finding in the London and Paris agreements an alternative solution to the defunct European Defence Community. Four months ago M. Mendes France was regarded with the utmost suspicion in Washington as a sly and unpredictable man who would probably make his own deal with the Russians. After his recent visit there, it was clear that there were no substantial differences between the American and the French approach to the question of eventual negotiations with Russia.
At the same time, the distrust which had been growing among the allies of the United States, about the aims and intentions of the Republican Administration, has begun to disappear, it seems to me, in recent months. I think it would be no exaggeration to say that in Britain and Western Europe--and in Canada too--President Eisenhower by the end of last summer--after eighteen months in office--had come to be regarded as a high-minded, well-intentioned but ineffectual President. Mr. Dulles, his Secretary of State, and Admiral Radford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had come to be regarded as dangerous men who were too ready to contemplate the idea of "preventive war". On top of the marked decline in American prestige which the activities of Senator McCarthy had caused everywhere in the free world, there was a general feeling that the making of policy in the United States was in dangerous hands. This was true not only of professional anti-American factions such as the followers of Aneurin Bevan in Britain, nor of the neutrals who refuse to identify themselves with the West in any case like Mr. Nehru, but also of ordinary sensible people everywhere in the free world.
This sense of alarm and anxiety was fed during the first half of last year by a number of incidents which normally would not have aroused the fears or resentment they did. The failure of the Administration to persuade Congress to liberalise legislation on tariffs and agricultural quotas was a keen disappointment to both exporters of industrial products such as Britain and agricultural products such as Canada. Mr. Dulles's unwise attempt to bully France into ratifying the EDC by the threat of an "agonising reappraisal" of America's commitment to Europe was deeply resented there--the more so as it was an empty threat, since Western Europe remains as strategically vital to the United States as it ever was. His speech of last January 12th in which he outlined American policy as being based on a capacity for "massive retaliation" was followed by the explosion a month or so later of a hydrogen bomb, an explosion which an eyewitness said was so stupendous that it was almost out of control. This turned resentment into alarm; and partly accounted for the fact that no allied government was prepared to consider armed intervention to save the situation in Indo-China, lest it lead by Mr. Dulles's definition to an atomic war. The upshot was that by midsummer of last year the United States was very seriously isolated from her allies.
Since then the solidarity of the Western alliance has improved, as I have said, beyond recognition. President Eisenhower and Sir Winston have made speeches in recent weeks stressing the impossibility and unthinkableness of total war in the hydrogen age, on the necessity of finding a modus vivendi with the Soviets while not relaxing our own armed vigilance--speeches so similar that they might have been written by each other. The governments of Britain, France and the United States have without much difficulty agreed on a common attitude to fresh four power talks with Soviet Russia but only after the London and Paris agreements on German rearmament have been ratified by the various parliaments and have gone into effect. There is even a much wider area of agreement on the Far Eastern policy than has been the case for several years, as the Eisenhower Administration refuses to be drawn into conflict by the provocative sallies of Communist China.
What produced the bickerings of the first half of the year, and the dramatic improvement in allied relations in the second half? The answer to my mind is a very simple one. The improvement is due to the fact that President Eisenhower decided, sometime during the summer, first, that the facts of the atomic and hydrogen age ruled out the use of total war or even the threat of total war as instrument of policy; or that in the words of General Gruenther, the NATO commander, "co-existence was the only alternative to co-destruction"; and second, since this fact was not as clearly accepted throughout his administration as he felt it should be, that he must assert his own authority more directly. The earlier months of discord were due to the fact that the United States had recognised the impossibility of total war a year or more later than its allies, most of whom have had a more direct experience of the effects of total war. It was prepared to take risks which they were not. To any European or Commonwealth statesman who had seen what the comparatively amateurish bombardments of the second war had done both physically and psychologically to Coventry, or Antwerp, Glasgow or Hamburg, Lille or London, the concept of a war in which bombs with 25 to 25,000 times the destructive power of ordinary high explosive bombs was truly terrific. When it became known in August 1953 that the Soviets had exploded a thermonuclear bomb, it became crystal clear in every allied capital save Washington that henceforth total war was to be avoided at all costs. Even total victory in a war in which the Soviets possessed the hydrogen bomb would not in any measure make up for the damage done to the structure of the civilised world. The accumulating evidence of the dangers of widespread radioactive fallout to human life and reproduction have shown that it would endanger civilisation itself. Henceforth the emphasis would have to be on finding some way by which the Communist and the free worlds could live together without blowing the planet, which they jointly inhabit, to smithereens.
If men like Mr. St. Laurent, Sir Winston Churchill or Dr. Konrad Adenauer saw this so clearly a year and more ago, why did it take so long for men as farsighted as Mr. Dulles or as sensitively humanitarian as President Eisenhower to perceive the same thing and translate it into policy? The answer seems to me to come from a mixture of reasons, part political, part strategic, part historical.
If you cast your mind back to the Presidential election campaign of 1952, you will recall the bitterness with which foreign policy was then being discussed. It was dominated by the shadow of the Korean war which had stirred up very strong passions in the United States. For one thing--and something which we are often inclined to overlook, certainly in Britain if not in Canada, the United States sustained very heavy losses in Korea: some 100,000 wounded and 24,000 killed; far higher in proportion to population than any other western country. For another, it was a very frustrating war from an American point of view in that it did not end in victory but in a drawn line. Limited or local war was an absolutely un-American experience. With the possible exception of the war of 1812 all her wars had been wars of total victory. This sense of frustration in American opinion was all tied up with the still unhealed wound to American pride that was made by the loss of China to the Communists. These feelings manifested themselves in various ways; in resentment with the allies, particularly with Britain for having prevented the United States from deploying its full strength in Korea by using atomic weapons or by bombing China itself; in a feeling that the catastrophic turn that events in the Far East had recently taken must be someone's fault, that it must be the result of treason in the American body politic. The one feeling found its hero in MacArthur, the other in McCarthy and McCarran. Although it would probably be wrong to judge that the American people themselves were in a belligerent mood two years ago, since the most popular of all General Eisenhower's campaign promises was that he would end the Korean war, it is true that the most loudmouthed politicians did feed on this sense of public frustration and demanded an implacable attitude towards the Soviet world.
At the same time, the Republican party, coming to office after twenty years in opposition, was under the urgent political compulsion of proving that it had an entirely different approach to foreign policy from the Democrats. They had derided the policy of "containment" as being merely a negative policy which entrenched Soviet Russia in its control of its own people and the satellites. The Korean war, the most effective positive gesture of United Nations solidarity yet made became "Truman's war" and so on. As a result instead of the period of national and western consolidation we had hoped for as a result of the election of so great a figure as General Eisenhower, we had instead a period of lamentable confusion. In January of 1953 a so called "positive" American foreign policy was unveiled which in the catchwords of the time consisted of "taking the wraps off Chiang", "liberation" of the satellites, "psychological offensive" against Russia and a warning to Western Europe that it must "unite or else", the "or else" consisting of vague threats of the withdrawal of American military aid and troops from Europe. You will recall the consternation which that policy created throughout the whole free world.
This situation was complicated, it seems to me, by the fact that the American public was determined never to fight another war like Korea again--a muddy and murderous slogging match on the ground with only limited success, while at the same time the preponderant voices in the new Administration were those of big businessmen who honestly believed that the end of the Korean war meant a return to "normalcy", that is lower taxes which could only be effected by a reduction in the military budget. In consequence the temptation to look for cheaper and easier ways to contain Russia were very strong, by reliance on air and naval power alone and by a reduction in economic aid or so called "giveaways" to Europe and Asia. The outcome of this was the theory of "massive retaliation".
Finally, there was the strategic factor. The Atlantic alliance, and the unquestioned American leadership of it, was created in the days when the United States alone possessed atomic weapons. Ever since the summer of 1949 when Russia exploded her first atomic bomb, it became inevitable that she would one day match the United States in her capacity to obliterate her enemies. Though she started much later and has now a stockpile which may be only one tenth or one hundredth the size of the American, if ten atom bombs will cripple the eight largest cities of the United States plus London and Paris, the difference in total resources is irrelevant. When in the summer of 1953 it was clear that the Soviets had set off a hydrogen bomb, the American superiority began to diminish dramatically. No one knows how many hydrogen bombs the Russians now have, or how many the Americans have for that matter; but in the judgment of people who are well informed in these matters the only decisive superiority which the United States now possesses is in her greater ability to deliver the bomb, that is a superiority in long range aircraft. It is considered unlikely that this lead will be held for more than another two or three years, so that by about 1957 we shall have reached the period that Senator Knowland has called "atomic stalemate", the time when the United States and Russia can destroy each other.
Different people have drawn different conclusions from this fact. To most Europeans and Canadians as I have already suggested and perhaps to some people in the Kremlin, the approaching stalemate rules out the use of atomic weapons, at least other than those tactical weapons that would be used against troops on the battlefield rather than against cities and civil populations. But to many of the higher strategists in the Pentagon, this approaching loss of American strategic superiority did represent an intolerable conception. It meant and means that the vast expenditure of money, brains and ingenuity which has gone into the Atomic Energy programme and into the building of the Strategic Air Command would be neutralised, providing neither a deterrent to aggression nor a sure defence of North America. In consequence there were a number of advocates, probably a small number but certainly influential, who entertained the idea of "preventive war". The idea was never anything so crude as making an unprovoked attack on Russia or China to destroy their atomic capacity, but rather that the United States should not shrink from accepting a military challenge in the next three years even if it meant all out atomic war. It was this line of thinking which lead at least one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to advocate an American airstrike on Dien Bien Phu when it was on the point of collapse last April, even if it meant that Russia would take up the challenge against the United States.
I have recited so much that is now past history and which is well known to you, in order to point up the contrast between the first year or eighteen months of the Eisenhower administration and the situation that exists now. I cannot sufficiently emphasise the difference in policy and in atmosphere between now and six months ago in Washington.
By the spring of last year the bankruptcy of the Republican Administration's attempt at a "tough" foreign policy had become painfully apparent. Because of the fears that it had raised among the allies of the United States, Mr. Dulles's call last March 29th for a policy of "united action" to arrest the deteriorating military situation in Indo-China fell upon deaf ears in London, Ottawa, and Canberra. In the light of his thesis of "massive retaliation" against local aggression coupled with the explosion of an American hydrogen bomb which the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission admitted could devastate a city the size of New York, it was not surprising that the allies were not anxious to align themselves with a risky policy of intervention in Indo-China. There followed the complicated misunderstanding between Mr. Dulles and Sir Anthony Eden about the creation of a South East Asian regional security pact before the Geneva negotiations had begun, followed by the debacle of American diplomacy when Mr. Dulles withdrew from the Geneva Conference and the United States refused to be a signatory to the armistice agreement.
Then something began to happen of which the signs were only gradually apparent. Sometime between the end of June and the middle of August, President Eisenhower, it is clear in retrospect, began to see the appalling harm that his subordinates were doing-rattling the atom bomb. For my own part I am prepared to date his thinking from the long private conversations he had with Sir Winston Churchill in Washington at the end of June. The first sign of his new thinking was at a press conference in Denver on August 11th when he scouted the idea of a preventive war as unthinkable because of the mass destruction it would cause. Then as the mid-term election campaign began to pick up momentum his speeches in support of Republican candidates were centered around one theme--the peaceful intentions of the United States, and the fact that there was in his own words "no alternative to peace". In speech after speech during the election campaign he went out of his way to stress the achievements of the Republican Administration in the cause of peace, and to rule out total war as an instrument of American policy. There is no doubt at all that this change of emphasis in American policy stemmed directly from the President himself. In Sir Winston Churchill's words he had "looked into the abyss"; he had reflected in the solitude of his summer headquarters in Colorado, on the awful implications of atomic war and had seen that the fact that the United States seemed ready to contemplate such an eventuality, was having an immensely harmful effect upon her relations with her allies and with the uncommitted nations of Asia.
It is no secret that President Eisenhower has been very much criticised in the American press and even in his own administration during the past eighteen months for his indecisiveness and unwillingness to make the Administration and Congress bend to his will. The truth is, I think, that the President feels himself quite inexperienced on many of the problems which he has to face, particularly in domestic affairs, and therefore relies heavily on the advice that he is given. Many of the mistakes that he has made such as the handing of the public power issue and his absurd reference to the Tennessee Valley Authority as "creeping socialism" can be traced back to bad advice tendered to him rather than to his own judgment. But on this central issue of peace and war he feels that he can dispense with the experts and the advisers; as an old soldier he knows his own judgment is better than those of his advisers.
During the last three months the signs that the United States was preparing to accept the fact of co-existence with the Soviet Bloc, in fact, if not in name have begun to accumulate. One of the first signs was the substitution of the policy of "good partnership" with Britain and the other European countries for that American "leadership" which was held to be essential in Washington when the imminence of war was taken as the starting point for policy. In the new atmosphere created by the abandonment of the previous "tough" American policy, the creation of an alternative policy for German rearmament was arrived at in late September at the London and Paris agreements with comparative ease. It was nothing so trivial as an improvement of personal relations between Mr. Dulles and Sir Anthony Eden. It sprang from a definite American decision to let the European nations find their own solution to collective security in Europe, a decision that could not have been taken unless the imminence of war in Europe had been discounted.
Another sign of the acceptance of co-existence is that Washington's opposition to East-West trade has virtually disappeared. Another was that strategic planning was put on long term basis and ceased to be based on the assumption that there would be a year of maximum danger, 1954, 1957 or whatever it might be. Yet another is the new emphasis on economic rather than military aid to the underdeveloped countries in Asia.
But the most convincing signs that the Administration was altering the emphasis of its policy were those concerning its relations with Communist China. At the beginning of November an American B29 was shot down off Japan. There were many Senators who wanted the United States to make some form of reprisal or other, but the President himself said that the issue was a cloudy one, that it was not clear whether the plane was or was not over Soviet-controlled territory. About the same time it became known that the President had vetoed last September a three-to-one recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that would have called for retaliatory American action against the Chinese mainland if the nationalist held island of Quemoy was attacked.
Last week the President and Mr. Dulles in effect ratified the fact that the China policy with which they took office has now been abandoned. The new Mutual Security Treaty between the US and Nationalist China does not commit the United States to support the Nationalists if they make any move against the mainland. Moreover while the treaty commits the United States to the defence of Formosa and the Pescadores Islands it is most discreetly silent on the question of the other offshore islands which are still in Nationalist hands.
Of equal significance has been the manner in which President Eisenhower has handled the case of the thirteen Americans sentenced to prison by Peking. This is the most glaring and provocative gesture with which Red China has faced the United States; I find it hard to believe the timing of its announcement, coming as it did on the eve of Thanksgiving day, was accidental. It lead Senator Knowland, the Republican majority leader, to demand that an American blockade of the China coast be imposed if they were not immediately released--and in this Senator Knowland had probably a good deal of public support. If the counter-revolutionary policy which the Administration was proclaiming when it came into office nearly two years ago were still in force it would be only too easy to have used the abominable behaviour of Peking as the occasion for a showdown. Yet on November twenty-ninth in Chicago Mr. Dulles declared that a naval blockade of China would only be considered as a last resort after all other international means had been exhausted. Last Thursday at his press conference the President went even further and declared that a naval blockade was inseparable from an act of war. Of even greater significance were his general remarks on the subject. "We must make certain," he said, "that our efforts to promote peace are not interpreted as appeasement ... but we must on the other hand be steady and refuse to be goaded into actions that would be unwise." Thus it seems to be that there is definitely a new emphasis in American policy. The President has had to make the choice between maintaining the cohesion of the Western alliance and maintaining the unity of the Republican party; and he has chosen the former. The split in the party which goes back many decades was vividly illustrated by the vote on the censure of Senator McCarthy when some twenty-three Republican senators voted against censure and some twenty-two for it. Most significant of all Senator William Knowland, the Republican leader in the Senate who strongly disapproves of the President's new and more cautious foreign policy, voted with the pro-McCarthy forces, although he has never shown himself sympathetic to McCarthyism before. It may well be that he will become the rallying point of opposition to the President's new policy with its acceptance of co-existence, and a source of grave embarrassment to him. I should judge that President Eisenhower has accepted this possibility and is prepared for the open opposition of his party's right wing in the Senate . . . particularly since he has the evidence of the election campaign to show him that his own line is not only acceptable to the vast majority of opinion in the country but also extremely popular.
Well, Gentlemen, that is the situation in Washington as I see it. It is an encouraging situation for it means that the unity of the western alliance can now be restored upon a basis of mutual confidence and identity of interest. Now that it is being restored both Moscow and Peking should soon see the fruitlessness of trying to drive a wedge between the United States and its allies.
I do not want to overpaint this picture. Because the United States is now prepared to accept a modus vivendi with the Soviets does not mean that we are going to get it. For instance there is no sign that Moscow is prepared to settle the question of an Austrian peace treaty which would be the most obvious evidence of a desire to relax tensions. Equally there is a great deal of evidence that she has no intention of relaxing her grip over east Germany. Moreover even if Russia is prepared to negotiate a relaxation of tension in the west, all the signs point to the fact that Communist China is still in an extremely aggressive stage of her own revolution and will cause endless trouble in Asia. Nor has the United States any clear idea of what concessions it would be prepared to make to achieve any lasting settlement of East-West tensions.
Nevertheless the fact that American opinion and American policy have now realigned themselves with the feelings and policies of the other free nations does represent a gain in the strength of the West of the greatest possible importance.
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. James H. Joyce.