GAINS AND LOSSES IN THE COLD WAR
An Address by
BLAIR FRASER Editor, Maclean's Magazine
Thursday, October 20, 1960
CHAIRMAN: The President, Alexander Stark, Q.C.
MR. STARK: However much those of us who are parents may decry the advent of the Television Age, we are bound to admit a tremendous value and interest in the news type of programme. To see, as we have all seen during these past weeks, the living actors at the United Nations, whether it be the blustering of Khrushchev or the calm of Macmillan, has been a fascinating spectacle. Equally good have been the commentaries from the journalists on the scene, and among them, our guest today stands in the forefront. When an interesting event occurs we all want to know, "What does Blair Fraser say about it?" And whatever he says is uttered or written coolly, boldly, critically, and with understanding.
On March 15, 1960, our distinguished guest was appointed to the responsible post of Editor of Maclean's magazine. Long recognized as an expert on politics and international affairs, he wrote for many years as Maclean's Ottawa Editor, in which capacity he was one of the magazine's most steady producers of major articles.
Blair Fraser is a Maritimer born in Sydney, Cape Breton, is a graduate of Acadia University, Wolfwille, N. S., and holds an honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law. He first became a newspaper man with the Montreal Herald, switched to the Montreal Star and eventually to the Gazette where he became Associate Editor. He was appointed Maclean's Ottawa Editor in 1943.
Mr. Fraser has just returned from covering not the "great debates" of the Presidential Candidates but the great debate at the United Nations. He speaks to us now on "Gains and Losses in the Cold War".
MR. FRASER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for that very kind introduction. I am emboldened by your reference to television to assume that most of the audience will have learned, via television as well as other media, what I might call the current orthodoxy of North American and Western position in the world. I am not sure that this current orthodoxy will survive the 8th of November, but just for the moment, if you don't mind my restating it, it consists in the main of four points, some of them supplementary, one to another.
One is, Western prestige has never been higher and Soviet prestige and influence never lower.
The second is, that one proof of this is that in the fifteen years of its existence the United Nations has never, until last week, given a favourable vote to any proposition which was supported by the Soviet Union and opposed by the United States and other leading powers of the West.
The third is, that Mr. Khrushchev in his appearance at this really very important session of the United Nations behaved like a child, bursting out into recurrent temper tantrums in the most ungoverned and uncontrolled way and finally, that the reason for this childish behaviour was his uncontrollable rage and astonishment and his failure to be able to influence the decisions of the United Nations General Assembly.
Let us at the outset recognize, the facts which are cited in support of this quadrilateral position are facts. You can cite a list of instances which are perfectly true. The only thing is you have to be rather careful in selecting the facts to support this proposition. If you add a few more, then you tend to be led to somewhat different conclusions.
What I would like to do is run through some of the facts that do support this position, also some of the facts that do, in my viewpoint, show a different and indeed, I would say, an opposite interpretation of our present position. Let us take them one by one.
Let us begin with the personality of Mr. Khrushchev and his alleged susceptibility to uncontrolled, childish, kindergarten temper tantrums. I don't suppose it needs to be recalled that this interpretation is a little implausible on its face. Mr. Khrushchev spent many years working very closely directly under a mad tyrant whom, as we now know, he hated with every fibre of his being. He was able to conceal this hatred not only well enough to survive but survive at the very top of the Soviet hierarchy and, first of all, to win an engagement-a duel to the death, literally--with the most powerful and well armed scoundrel then surviving in the whole world, Beria. And finally he emerged to his present position, as the established, if not unchallenged, director of the Communist half of the world.
It seems unlikely that a man with such a record would be unable to control his temper after what was after all a fairly petty provocation.
Even if we hadn't his record to go on, I would like to recall an incident that took place ten days ago in which he was interviewed in a television programme in New York that ran actually two hours, although the portion broadcast in Canada was abbreviated to only forty minutes. Toward the end of that two-hour interview for which he had no notes and the questions of which were, as far as he was concerned, spontaneous--he hadn't seen or heard them before--Mr. Khrushchev received a note from one of his aides. You may have seen that and if you did, noticed that at that moment his face set in a rather cold expression. One is tempted in retrospect to say his face froze, became rigid with anger. I must confess I didn't think so when I saw it the first time--only later I realized this had been true.
Then came a stage break of ninety seconds. The contents of that note, as you probably know, were a warning that the interruptions in the programme were being used for violent anti-Soviet propaganda-commercials were being substituted by a type of commercial for Radio Free Europe. Since in the studio we did not see this-I saw one after and thought, I must confess, it was pretty crude-reminiscent of the World War One propaganda which made the information task so difficult in the Second World War, because the things which were true in the Second War had been distributed as easily exploded lies in the first one.
However, let that pass. Khrushchev was furious, absolutely furious. At the ninety second break he turned to David Susskind and said, "I have just got a note that you are using the break for anti-Soviet propaganda. How dare you, how dare you invite the head of a state and treat him in this fashion?" He gave Susskind, by all accounts, a really severe dressing down.
Susskind said later, "I thought the programme was over. I thought he was going to rip up the microphone by the roots and leave me to face the camera alone to explain what had happened."
But, no. With five seconds to go, Khrushchev said, "Oh, well, what do I care? I will say what I like ... we will win anyway." And he turned to face the camera as it came alive with an expression of perfect composure and very nearly with perfect control of face and expression he began to say to the American audience, "Thanks very much. It is getting late. It seems to me we have covered most of the ground ... if you don't mind I will take my leave."
Here was a moment when the provocation was real, when we know-we don't have to have it reported to us-he was in an absolute fury, and I would defy anybody without the benefit of hindsight to have detected this really furious anger that was bubbling at the back of his throat when he began to make what turned out to be a long farewell to the television audience.
Well, if Mr. Khrushchev wasn't putting on childish temper tantrums because he can't control his temper, why was he behaving as he behaved? This, to me, is a really good question and I don't presume for one moment to suggest I, or anyone else outside Russia and many people inside Russia, would have an authoritative answer to it.
I think we can reach toward a more plausible answer if we make an effort of imagination which isn't made often enough on either side of the Curtain, that is the effort of imagination that is required to see this scene as it must appear from the vantage point of the other side. I am not speaking about sympathy. We can be as unsympathetic as we like, but let us try to make the effort of imagination, to view this from Khrushchev's perspective. Let us therefore remember, first, what were the political conditions back home from which he emerged to make his visit to New York? It is very difficult to tell what is going on on the other side of the Curtain, but it seems as nearly certain as anybody can be on that subject that there is at this moment a deep and almost violent difference of opinion, a political argument raging within the Communist world. On one side are the fundamentalists, the people who go back to Scripture, to the Old Testament Scripture of Karl Marx and who maintain that of course peaceful coexistence or any form of collaboration with the Capitalist world is impossible -in fact a contradiction in terms of not only will there be war, there must be war, not only must there be war, but the end of that war will be the triumph of Communism, the end of the Communist millenium. This is orthodox Communist doctrine.
Mr. K., in the last two or three years, has been engaged in developing an attractive heresy, a heresy that must be attractive to any normal human being who wants peace, as all normal human beings do. His heresy has been that it isn't necessary to have a nuclear war against the West. Capitalism will collapse of its own wants in the end, no doubt, and our millenium arrive in the end, no doubt. Meanwhile, it is not only possible, it is easy to have a kind of peaceful coexistence with them.
This has been his political stock in trade, and this is the political platform that was pulled out from under him when the U-2 landed in the Soviet Union last spring. We are now told Mr. K. knew all along that the U-2 had been surveying the Soviet Union for four years. That may be so. I won't dispute it. Whether Mr. K. knew it or not, the Soviet people did not know it. The Russian people did not know it.
Here again we are called on for a slight effort of the imagination. It is common knowledge in this country-I don't know how common; it is not secret-that on the radar screens of the Dew Line and the Pine Tree Line, blips appear which are not accountable for at the moment. They have to be looked up later, and it is sometimes found out that an airplane is off course, there is a flock of geese, or a mechanical defect, but there are a number which are unexplained on the radar screen. It is a chronic condition. It is a reasonable inference that some of the unexplained blips are Soviet reconnaissance planes, spying us out, pressing in on soft spots. We can investigate this inference with equanimity and I think the presumably small number of Russians who might have known that there might be foreign aircraft over the Soviet Union might have reacted with that equanimity. It is not quite the same thing to have the aircraft come down at your feet to be known by everybody, friend or foe.
I don't think we would have quite the same equanimity if a Russian plane was suddenly brought down in the vicinity of Prince Albert. That is a reasonable analogy.
So if we remember that politics are politics even in dictatorial regimes, we must realize Mr. K. came to the United States under a considerable emotional compulsion to demonstrate to the folks back home that he was not, as his enemies say, soft on Capitalism. He had to demonstrate enmity. He had to show himself as one man alone, surrounded by enemies, and a Daniel in the den, not of lions but of rats.
If you look at his public performances in that light, it seems to me they become, if not polished, if not well advised, at least credible, at least plausible. That was one objective.
Another objective was to explain the Soviet failure in the Congo. One of the disadvantages of having a theory of history is that nothing happens by chance. If something goes wrong, it is someone's fault, either yours for your stupidity or the faulty machinations of a still powerful but foredoomed sinister enemy. In this case it wasn't simple enough to say the enemy was the U.S.A. The enemy had taken good care not to be there. It had to be the United Nations.
If you take the two factors into consideration I don't think it is difficult to understand why Mr. Khrushchev's first act when he arrived and almost his last act when he left, was to deliver a bitter, ringing, temper-rousing tirade against the United Nations as a supine instrument of American policy, against the Secretary, and the Secretariat in particular, and against the whole phalange or rather, as he would say of the United Nations, the Assembly of Satellites.
Let us assume, for the purpose of argument, this is what Mr. Khrushchev wanted to project to the people of the Soviet half of the world, and on that, will you permit a small digression.
The Soviet half of the world. . . . On the day when Mr. Nixon said that the proof of the high American prestige was that the United States had never lost a vote in the United Nations, it happened by mere coincidence that Mr. Khrushchev addressed the United Nations' correspondents in the delegates' dining room, overlooking the United Nations Square on one side, the East River on the other. Of course, one of the questions put to him was, "How do you justify the attack you are making on the United Nations? It is all very well to attack the United States ... we are accustomed to that ... why attack the United Nations?"
He said, quite good humouredly (I will speak more of that later--he is quite a good humoured man when he wants to be), "Look at the world today. Approximately two billion human beings are now alive. Of that number, approximately one-half live in the Socialist countries. Approximately twenty-five percent live in the neutral countries. The other twenty-five belong in the Capitalist bloc. If you look at this, that twenty-five percent has a massive majority over the remaining seventy-five percent of the world. What would you have us think?" he said.
It is a point. It is a point and unfortunately-that was a Friday and the date is a little confused in my mind now--I think it was the following Wednesday that the Western World managed by its own unassisted ineptitude to provide Mr. Khrushchev with the most perfect text-book example of this thesis that he could possibly wish to have. I know I am boring you by going back, but I would like to go back for a minute to the preposterous day the United Nations Assembly had a resolution put forward by the five neutral countries and that was defeated (God save the, mark) by a minority of thirty-seven countries out of ninety-five, or whatever it now is. The substance of the resolution was simply and wholly innocuous. It expressed the hope of the United Nations General Assembly that the President of the United States and the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union would resume the contact that had recently been interrupted-get together again. The wording was changed so it didn't have to mean a personal meeting, but resume contact. It did, however, insist on saying the "two heads of State" because the states themselves were already in contact.
It is pretty presumptuous for one person to say what ninety-six countries thought, or ninety-five, but honestly, I didn't hear anyone seriously suggest that any country in the world was really opposed to that simple, innocuous proposition, except two. One, the Soviet Union, the other, the United States, were opposed for the same reason, because the individuals mentioned, or present holders of offices mentioned, had already stated publicly they didn't intend to meet each other, except on unmeetable stipulations of their own devising.
So it was a bit of a scolding, if you will, that these two men would be getting from the United Nations Assemblya mild one, but something in the nature of a reprimand.
The Soviet Union's response to this proposition that it did not like, was to abstain from discussion, to abstain from voting, and they instructed their immediate satellites to do likewise. By "immediate satellites" I mean the countries of Eastern Europe. I do not mean the strongly sympathetic countries like Ghana, for instance. Ghana was one of the sponsors and so was Jugoslavia.
It could have gone through on a wave of abstentions with a modest respectable vote in favour; and a zero against. But for some reason, the United States decided it was not acceptable. The reason can only be inferred, but we note the fact that a very important fact of the Nixon-Lodge campaign, or rather the Nixon-Lodge image, is that they don't lose votes in the United Nations. They have the General Assembly, not under control, they have the freely offered and spontaneous and voluntary support of the United Nations General Assembly on practically anything.
Furthermore, this resolution would, if passed, have created a mildly embarrassing dilemma for President Eisenhower because he had already said he was not going to see Khrushchev. Yet here was the United Nations Assembly asking him to do so, so he would have the rather embarrassing choice between ignoring and defying the United Nations Assembly on the one hand, or doing something he had said flatly he wasn't going to do, on the other hand.
The State Department decided to spare him this embarrassment, and they set things in motion to denature the neutrals' resolution. I won't go into all the various means which they tried out, or which were suggested to them. And please don't get me wrong: I am not suggesting for a moment that a squad of American persuaders fanned out in the corridors of the United Nations to twist people's arms or grease their palms to get the proper amount of support. Nothing of the kind, of course.
We Canadians are so fond of thinking of ourselves, and talking of ourselves as mediators, golden hinge pins, honest brokers, and what not, that we sometimes lose sight of the fact that whatever you want to be, the smaller you are the more you want to be it. So there was no lack of volunteers in the delegates' lounge that day, and in the corridors, and in the offices on the upper floors, of people rushing forward with ingeniously devised compromise resolutions that might get a unanimous vote, to the embarrassment of no one.
It turned out that it was impossible to get a genuine compromise that the United Nations felt able to accept. The United States was perfectly within its rights in opposing the resolution if wishing to do so, naturally. But they finally fell back on a device suggested by the Argentine which was legal-one must testify was absolutely legal--accordling to the fine print of United Nations rules. It wasn't any more legal than the fine print in some of the kinds of lease you get in court that you find you can't break, and it went through. It worked. And there was the President of the General Assembly, Mr. Boland of Ireland, a very capable and able man, sitting between Dag Hammarskjold on one side, giving advice, and on the other, Andrew Cordier of the United States, Deputy Secretary of the United Nations, giving him advice, and he himself winding his way with really quite remarkable surefootedness through the legalistic jungle that had been set up for him. And it carried, as I say, by a minority but had been so contrived, and this was the essence of it, that the burden of getting two-thirds for it had been adroitly shifted off the United States and the Argentine, and on the Indians and fellow neutrals.
I won't bore you with the details of how it was done. It was very incomprehensible to ordinary people who only know ordinary manners, and they who thought of procedure can only say it went through and looked and felt like a cheap shyster's trick. It had hardly gone to the vote before everybody concerned with it felt somehow polluted, including the Argentine who had put it forward.
The result of this "masterpiece and this resounding victory" was that every single person in the Western camp came out violently and vigorously annoyed with at least one other nation in the Western camp, if not a whole selection of them. Everybody was mad at everybody that night, and everybody was ashamed.
I am not suggesting, and some despatches had so suggested, that Canada bore any particular burden of guilt in this operation. We didn't, we were just a nation like any other, voting along the line, the party line, or the bloc line, like any other. I don't suppose our delegates and reporters felt any more ashamed than others felt. We were Canadians there and we were watching our delegates shrink shamefacedly through this shabby minuet and we felt pretty sick about it. I, for one, still do.
Mr. Khrushchev had an unexpected bit of documentation to add to his fairly impressive list to prove that the United Nations Assembly did indeed do what was asked of it.
And two days later we came up with the China vote. This is no time to talk about the merits or demerits of admitting China to the United Nations. I think there is more to be said on each side of that argument than either side normally admits in debate. All I can say is this: the so-called moratorium was maintained once more for one more year-the denial not only of the admission of China but discussion of the matter at the United Nations. The suggestion, it ought to be discussed, was defeated by a majority of four, with twenty-six abstentions. Thirty-eight votes to thirty-four, with thirty-six abstaining. A pretty clear notice that this is the last year that will happen.
This raises a very interesting question, looking forward to next year. Mr. K. had already explained as I said the week before, why it was that decisions of the United Nations were not taken perhaps as seriously as they should be in the Communist half of the world, because they were so predictable-as predictable as the end of the T.V. Western. No matter how it may look at the quarter hour, at the end the good guys beat the bad guys. It is not a contest, it is a wrestling match. Next year, the possibility arises--it is only a possibility, yes, only a cloud the size of a man's hand--that the United States might be confronted with a majority decision of the United Nations General Assembly while it has not met the approval of either the American Government or the American people. We then may have our attention drawn to a fact of life which we tend to overlook in this Western side, and that is that no country in the world, the Soviet Union or any other, does in fact accept a decision of the United Nations General Assembly as if it were a law. The South Africans don't accept United Nations decisions about apartheid, or Southwest Africa. The French don't accept decisions about Algeria. Britain, it is true, did accept the Assembly's decision at the time of Suez. I think it is an over-statement to say they did do so with any great degree of happiness, and I don't think that it was the only reason why the Anthony Eden Government drew back from the position it had taken in Suez.
No government gives the United Nations any kind of priority over its own will on a matter it regards as a matter of first importance. That is why I say we shall be confronted with a most interesting and indeed a most disturbing situation when the inevitable happens and the question of China really does come before the United Nations in a serious way.
Well, what should we do, or what have we done about all this? I don't need to state explicitly what I have been stating implicitly all along. I think 1960 has been a year of diplomatic disaster for the West, and the United Nations General Assembly fits very nicely into that pattern with no contrast at all.
What should we do that is different? It is hard to say. All these questions are difficult, none are simple. I have just one suggestion I would like to leave as I close, and it is important to communicate to ordinary citizens as, because I already emphasized, to a very large extent the United Nations General Assembly is a forum directed back at the home population. When our speakers are speaking to the world, as they are fond of saying, they are really speaking to us. What should they have been saying? What should they have been doing? How could we have scored some points instead of losing points in the so-called cold war?
I think anybody at this year's Assembly would have answered without hesitation, the way to make gains in the cold war now in 1960 and 1961 is to forget it, to stop talking about the cold war, to stop trying to recruit so-called allies in this so-called conflict. Let us keep ourselves as strong as we must. Let us disarm as quickly as we can. Meanwhile, let us not go through this amphitheatre of conflict as if harsh words were a substitute for strength. Harsh words from both sides, I am now convinced, are doing nothing but alienating not only the uncommitted but some of the committed, too. It is not yet too late, but it soon may be for the leaders of the world on both sides of this dividing line to stop insulting each other with such professional expertise, to try if they can't singly, if they can, together, tackle the job of bringing the majority of the human race up to the standard of living which they now both enjoy.
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Dr. Harold V. Cranfield.