Empires of the Mind: Canada and the Commonwealth
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 12 Jan 1987, p. 193-205
Ramphal, Sir Shridath, Speaker
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A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada with The Royal Commonwealth Society. A short discussion of the term "empire": what it means, what it meant, what it means to include it now. The connotation of worthy ambition for the word "empire." A brief historical setting of the term "commonwealth" and how it emerged after 1945. Winston Churchill's vision of the post-1945 world. Churchill's recognition of peace through international co-operation: Canada as the trustee of that concept. The present description and role of the Commonwealth. Criticism towards the Commonwealth because of apartheid in South Africa. The response of the Commonwealth. Canada's participation in that response. Events in South Africa. An historical parallel. Canada's important role in the Commonwealth, in NATO, as one of the Group of 7 industrial countries.
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12 Jan 1987
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Sir Shridath Ramphal, O.C., A.C., C.M.G., Q.C., F.R.S.A., Secretary-General of the Commonwealth
Chairman: Nona Macdonald President The Empire Club of Canada


Today I have the honour to host this joint meeting with the Royal Commonwealth Society-a mutual honour for all of us as we begin the New Year-with a most special guest who is an architect in international relations. "The world is a better place because of Canada," said Shridath Ramphal when he inaugurated the Paul Martin Chair at the University of Windsor in 1985.

In like manner, many would say "the world is a better place because of Shridath Surendranath Ramphal, who has been Secretary-General of the Commonwealth since 1975. Membership in the Commonwealth then was 34 countries; today it numbers 49, with the Queen as its sovereign head. Its Secretary-General is considered one of the best connected and most knowledgeable observers of world affairs.

He was born of East Indian parents in British Guyana. His greatgrandmother was an indentured labourer on a sugar plantation, but, as the West Indies grew in independence, so did the Ramphals. "Sonny," his nickname from childhood, became an academic prizewinner; and with a master's degree in law from London University and a Guggenheim fellowship at Harvard Law School, he returned to British Guyana where he became

Solicitor General. Later, when Guyana became independent, he rose to be both Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Minister of Justice.

He headed Guyana's U.N. delegation from 1967 to 1974, and was twice elected vice-president of the United Nations General Assembly. Within the Commonwealth, he was always a leader, attending each Commonwealth summit between 1966 and 1975, when he succeeded Canada's Arnold Smith as Secretary-General. Guyana, which lies between the Caribbean and South America, is the place where Dr. Ramphal hopes he will be able to bring together and strengthen the links between Latin America and the West, and he has been recognized for his efforts by the bestowals of the Order of the Sun by Peru and the Order of Merit by Ecuador. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1970 and received his own country's highest honour, The Order of Excellence, in 1983.

His fellowships are numerous, including that of the Royal Society of the Arts. He holds 14 honorary degrees, from universities in the United Kingdom and the United States and Canada, including one from Canada's St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

His major speeches are published in a book Ore World to Share, and today's speech titled "Empires of the Mind: Canada and the Commonwealth" will be recorded in the 1986/87 Empire Club yearbook.

Dr. Ramphal travels constantly. We are fortunate to have him accept our invitation as he is en route to Ottawa and thence to India where he will deliver the Indira Ghandi Memorial Lecture a week from today. But, in addition to spending time with his wife and two sons and two daughters, he takes time for his hobbies, which are photography and cooking. But now it is time for us to hear from the "master chef' of the Commonwealth: Sir Shridath Ramphal.

Sir Shridath Ramphal

I am told on good authority that The Empire Club's name in no way implies veneration of things imperial. Like the Commonwealth, this Club did emerge from `empire' and, like the Commonwealth, does not disown those beginnings; but both, like the butterfly, adorn the present because of a past transformed. It could not be otherwise.

- But `empire' has another connotation that belongs to all time: the connotation of worthy ambition-ambition not for dominion over others but for outreach towards them. The modern Commonwealth did not emerge from empire until after 1945; the postwar era was also the era of decolonisation. But the process of evolution from empire had been under way for some time, with Canada taking the lead throughout the 1930s. Wartime realities merely quickened the pace; even so, it was truly remarkable how the trauma of that terrible conflict served to make the patterns of the future clear.

On September 6, 1943, World War II was at its apogee when Winston Churchill, receiving an Honorary Degree from Harvard University, spoke of his vision of the future beyond the conflict. His theme was Anglo-American unity; but the wider Commonwealth connection-"the British Commonwealth and Empire" he still called it-was central to his conception of "fraternal association." He spoke of the shared heritage of law, language and literature, of common conceptions of what is right and decent-regard for fair play especially to the weak and poor, a sentiment for impartial justice, a love of personal freedom. "Let us go forward," he concluded in words that have passed into legend: "in malice to none and good will to all. Such plans offer far better prizes than taking away other people's provinces or lands or grinding them down in exploitation. The empires of the future are the empires of the mind."

Churchill was a man of empire but his internationalism, shaped by his long crusade against the weakness of the League of Nations and the conflict he saw looming, overrode imperialist ambition. In fact, he had promoted in the 1930s the most farreaching proposals for international collective security, which he conceptualised as a new Commonwealth of Nations. As we think of the Commonwealth today, it is both intriguing and instructive to recall this yearning for a true comingling of mankind, a global Commonwealth in the broadest sense, that Churchill shared in the 1930s with many eminent men and women. Churchill was President of the British Commonwealth Section of the New Commonwealth Society of the 1930s, one of seventeen national sections of a vigorous international grouping, a coalition of countries in the making.

When, in the Harvard speech in 1943, Churchill spoke of the need for more efficient, more rigorous, world institutions to preserve peace and forestall the causes of future wars, he was responding to the compulsions of internationalism that had long inspired him.

Distinguished Englishmen were early members of the New Commonwealth Society: Lord Tweedsmuir, Clement Attlee and Harold Macmillan.

Predictably, many Canadians were associated with the work or aims of the Society, sharing almost naturally in its yearnings for a new internationalism. Names like Herbert Bruce, R.M. Coates, George M. Wrong and Escott Reid crop up in the Society's records.

Almost a year ago, at the start of the International Year of Peace, which Canada helped the United Nations to declare 1986 to be, the Secretary of State for External Affairs, Joe Clark, speaking in Ottawa, said that "for Canadians, no duty is more challenging than to contribute constructively to peace among nations."

He was acknowledging what the world has long recognised, namely, that the Canadian instinct for peace through international co-operation and for freedom and justice worldwide has evolved into a national ethic, making Canada (without seeking it) a trustee of true internationalism.

Today, the world is a better place because of Canada. There is no higher tribute to be paid; and, though such accolades may embarrass you, it is right that I should speak of them, for the Commonwealth is specially proud of Canada. When Commonwealth leaders come to Canada next October, they will, in part, be coming in honour to you.

Today, it is fair to say, the postwar Commonwealth both fulfills and keeps alive the aspirations for a genuine internationalism towards which the New Commonwealth Society was reaching in the 1930s-a period that in so many ways holds up a mirror to the 1980s. For me, that reinforces the conviction that our modern Commonwealth now fills a crucial need-and might, indeed, be longed for had it not evolved. That evolution, as Her Majesty the Queen, in her Christmas broadcast as the Head of the Commonwealth, said two years ago, "has been one of the most encouraging developments since the war."

I have recalled all this for two reasons. The first is that we are in danger of taking the Commonwealth for granted, of losing sight of the rare value of what we have, of allowing occasional discords to blunt awareness that the Commonwealth's variety is its strength, of ceasing to be sensitive to the need to care continuously for the Commonwealth. The second reason is that being true to its heritage of internationalism has brought the Commonwealth itself under attack from some who see it as a deterrent to their narrow plans and prejudices, and we need to defend the Commonwealth.

It bears repeating, therefore, what we are today: a community of 49 countries held together by the intangible quality of a sense of togetherness. Not togetherness in alliance terms, or even in overall like-minded terms, but one that draws on history and habit, familiarity and shared endeavour. A relationship rooted more in intuition than in logic and sustained not by great expectations but by modest achievements. A community whose variety is now so great that it is a major element of its validity, bringing together countries who play prominent roles in NATO on the one hand and the NonAligned Movement on the other; in OECD and the Group of 77, some of whom are rich and others very poor, some large and others very small, some strong in military and economic terms, others weak and vulnerable in almost every sense.

"A facility for harmonising differences, even contrariness, within the framework of community" might be a functional definition of the Commonwealth. But the emphasis is on the capacity to harmonise. It is that capacity for bridge-building, perhaps more than any other, that gives the Commonwealth a vast potential for the future. The difference, the contrariness even, which is within the Commonwealth, is what is within the world. A Commonwealth capacity for harmonisation is a matter of consequence to the whole international community. It is a high duty, therefore, this preserving and strengthening of the Commonwealth. It is a great service that the Commonwealth can render. It may be only the Commonwealth that can render it.

It is the case also that the world is now aware of the Commonwealth facility and welcomes its endeavours to fulfill its potential. Indeed, in many areas, a frustrated world is looking to us for a lead. Just recently, the West German President, Dr. Richard Von Weizsacker, on a state visit to Britain, said this about the Commonwealth:

The Commonwealth is not against anyone; it is a source of common sense in the world where that quality is sadly lacking. It cannot negotiate on behalf of the world, but it can caution the world and help it to negotiate. The more the Commonwealth preserves its coherence across the oceans and continents, the better for all-including my own country.

But not everyone desires the Commonwealth to preserve its coherence across the oceans and the continents-at least not on all issues. There are some who are less solicitous for its future than the German President. And, not for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth, this hostility has to do with South Africa-more specifically, with the Commonwealth's stand against apartheid. If we are to defend the Commonwealth against this assault upon it, we need to be clear about that stand and what the critics stand for. There is particular need for clarity, since obfuscation is the hallmark of apartheid's grand design.

I need hardly explain to this audience why apartheid so affronts the Commonwealth as to be a major preoccupation. But some things deserve restating. The Commonwealth represents the supremacy of community over separateness. It is the negation of both dominion and racism.

Apartheid is the embodiment of both. Minority white domination in South Africa is sustained by doctrines of racial superiority and systems designed to both reflect and entrench racial inequality. Apartheid is the very antithesis of the Commonwealth's most fundamental values; as such, it poses an inescapable challenge to our governments and peoples.

It is a particular affront to the Commonwealth's nonwhite peoples and, more pointedly, its neighbouring black Southern Africa states. But it is no less of an affront to decent people everywhere, regardless of colour: to white people, no less than black, who resent what apartheid seeks to do through a racist philosophy that wrongly implicates them.

Throughout the countries of the Commonwealth, therefore, whether their majority populations are black, brown or white, or are themselves so multiracial as to defy classification by colour, apartheid stirs deep passions. In the collectivity of the Commonwealth, those passions are multiplied. That is why in 1961 South Africa had to leave the Commonwealth-a courageous and principled Commonwealth decision in which a great Canadian Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, played a prominent part. Twenty-five years ago, a generation of Commonwealth leaders concluded that apartheid was not compatible with Commonwealth membership. It cannot today be compatible with Commonwealth acquiescence. The Commonwealth's response to apartheid is not merely a Commonwealth position on a serious issue on the global agenda; it is a statement about the Commonwealth itself.

During 1986 the Commonwealth was obliged to underline that statement in a variety of ways; but two responses in particular have made the Commonwealth the focus of Pretoria's wrath and the target of its friends. Both, predictably, were major contributions to the anti-apartheid struggle. The first was the Commonwealth's Mission of Eminent Persons to, South Africa; the second was the London Review Meeting of seven Heads of Government, to which the Mission's report was addressed. I should say a brief word about each.

The Eminent Persons Group, "the EPG" as it came to be known, was one of the approaches to conflict resolution that only the Commonwealth could have pursued. The EPG's mission was to try to facilitate the process of change through peaceful negotiation within South Africa.

It was by far the hardest task the Commonwealth collectively had ever undertaken. But our strengths were real and, as so often before, they derived from the people on whom the Commonwealth can draw. l pay tribute to the members of the Group for their courage in undertaking the mission and for the integrity with which they carried it out. I pay particular tribute here to the Reverend Ted Scott, the now-retired Anglican Archbishop of Canada, for the quality of his personal contribution and the immense dedication which he brought to it.

And I acknowledge here in Toronto what I have long ago conveyed to your Prime Minister, namely, the gratitude of the Commonwealth for the very special and quite invaluable assistance that the Government of Canada rendered to the mission in a wide variety of ways-assistance rooted inCanada's commitment to this enterprise of peace and justice in Southern Africa.

The result was an historic encounter. The Group held 21 meetings with South African government ministers. It met three times with Nelson Mandela in the precincts of Pollsmoor Prison. It met all the principal political actors within South Africa. It met the ANC in Lusaka, leaders of most of the Front-Line States, and it canvassed opinion extensively in Europe and in Washington. It was the only body to have done so, the only body that could have done so. Its "negotiating concept" was designed to provide a basis for an end to violence on all sides: the violence of apartheid itself and the violence that was not the response of its victims to it.

In that context, its proposals envisaged, besides a commitment to the ending of apartheid, the establishment of political freedom, with the ending of the emergency, the release of Mandela and other political prisoners, and the unbanning of the ANC and other political parties. In an environment of a truce, it offered a pathway to peaceful negotiation for ending apartheid and establishing democratic structures in a united and nonfragmented South Africa. For a brief moment that negotiating concept was a lantern of hope piercing the gloom of South Africa. The light was snuffed out by Pretoria-almost as if it felt too exposed by the prospect of change and preferred the undisturbed darkness of apartheid.

The report of the EPG is the most authentic and authoritative account of present-day South Africa. It will be to the eternal credit of the Commonwealth that the Group both dared to try to promote change in South Africa and to tell why it was thwarted. The clearest conclusion of the Group was that "at present there is no genuine intention on the part of the South African government to dismantle apartheid" and "no present prospect of a process of dialogue leading to the establishment of a nonracial and representative government."

To this extent, the EPG did not fail; it succeeded in blowing away the smoke-screen that Pretoria had put up and behind which its apologists sheltered with talk of "reform." Its imperishable contribution is that the majority people of South Africa who stand against apartheid-black, brown, coloured or white-understand very clearly that the Commonwealth is on their side. One day, when apartheid is ended and a free South Africa is welcomed back to the Commonwealth-which, in a sense, (as Oliver Tambo said at the Royal Commonwealth Society in London last September) "black South Africa never really left"-the mission of the EPG will be recalled as one of the critical turning points in the struggle to end it and we will all be proud it was a Commonwealth mission.

The EPG Report was, of course, the principal document before the meeting of Commonwealth leaders in London last August "the mini-summit" I fear it is destined to be called-a meeting between the President of Zambia and the Prime Ministers of Australia, the Bahamas, Britain, Canada, India and Zimbabwe. These seven had been invited by their colleagues at Nassau to make a judgement whether, after six months of trying to advance the process of dialogue for change, there had been adequate progress in South Africa and, if not, to consider what further measures beyond those agreed to at Nassau should be adopted.

In the result, London saw the end of any "no sanctions" policy within the Commonwealth. The remaining difference was not over whether there should be sanctions; it was essentially on what sanctions should be applied. I do not pretend that it was a small difference; but we must not ignore that, on 15 of the 17 paragraphs of the London Communique, there was agreement among all seven leaders-agreement now endorsed by all Commonwealth governments. And all seven leaders went beyond immediate action: they reaffirmed the seriousness of their resolve that, should the action taken to date fail to produce the desired effect within a reasonable period, further effective measures will have to be considered.

Most important of all was the fact that the Commonwealth did not divide on lines of colour. It will be forever to the credit of Canada and Australia, of Brian Mulroney and Bob Hawke, that, when the Commonwealth was at the crossroads on apartheid, they stood shoulder to shoulder with their nonwhite colleagues.

The London meeting was an essential catalyst in the international sanctions programme. Within days, the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee adopted a sanctions measure closely on the lines of the Commonwealth list; it is now law in the United States. The world had begun to respond to the pleas of the oppressed in South Africa with economic sanctions being put into place with increasing conviction worldwide.

And not only national governments are taking action. Over 65 American cities and 21 states have undertaken disinvestment in South Africa. Some $30 billion worth of pension funds investment are up for imminent withdrawal, and more and more corporate disinvestment is becoming real disengagement from the South African economy.

All this has invited the implacable anger of Pretoria and of the South African lobby-the friends and supporters of Pretoria. That lobby operates in many centres, not excluding Canada, though it seldom operates overtly. Its particular hostility to the Commonwealth is a measure of the Commonwealth's achievement in the anti-apartheid cause. It was Sir John A. Macdonald (Canada's first Prime Minister) who said, "It is more important to choose your enemies than your friends:'

In choosing to stand against apartheid, the Commonwealth inevitably makes an enemy of those who are appeasers of apartheid.

The basis of this solidarity with Pretoria ranges from shared racist sentiment at one extreme to an amoral calculation of short-run material interest at the other. The one is evil, the other blind; sometimes the two combine. Often, the voice of appeasement resonates the theme, extensively and expensively cultivated by Pretoria, that South Africa, apartheid notwithstanding, is the bastion of the free world in Africa.

It is a theme like so much in apartheid South Africa that turns truth upon its head; apartheid and freedom can never be compatible. The "free world" has no greater enemy in Africa today than the apartheid system.

And there will be other attempts at distortion and deception-like the proposed election for whites only, on the basis of which Pretoria will venture to imply that the destiny of the majority nonwhite population should turn. Mr. Botha himself started down this path the very first day of the New Year. Sanctions, he announced, will help those opposed to democracy but it is he and the apartheid system that oppose democracy. Sanctions will lead, he claimed, to a totalitarian regime, but that is precisely what now exists. This is the "double-speak" of apartheid. It must not become the "double-think" of decent people the world over. Pretoria needs to be told unequivocally that these subterfuges just will not do.

And there is more afoot. It is very close to a war situation in Southern Africa. As Pretoria continues to resort to aggression and inhumanities beyond its borders, the obligation on the international community to defend the extended family of apartheid's victims in Southern Africa is becoming irresistible. It is a massive humanitarian obligation to which all the world must respond in appropriate ways and without delay-a. response in which, I am sure, the Commonwealth will play its full part.

It will mean more denigration of the Commonwealth from the South Africa lobby, more defamation of countries and of individuals. But the Commonwealth knows, and all within it know, that these are as nothing compared with the burden that those oppressed by apartheid bear and that gives us all strength to sustain the Commonwealth on the path of principle. Let us not be faint-hearted, therefore, in the face of these assaults.

The Commonwealth is alive and well, vital and vigorous, and never more acknowledged and respected in the wider world beyond its membership.

It is not going to please all of its constituents all of the time: it did not please President Idi Amin when it spoke out against his horrors in Uganda; it did not please some Caribbean countries in its stand on military intervention in Grenada; it does not now please those who would wish it to be supine in relation to South Africa. Of course, a worse fate would befall the Commonwealth were it not to remain true to itself, even if that means occasional disagreement.

There was another time when a great moral issue challenged humanity. It was fought out, as it had to be, at Westminster. There were those then, calling themselves "the West Indians at Westminster," who argued fiercely against the abolition of slavery on the grounds that it would hurt Britain's economic interests and, of course, their own economic fortunes in particular. They sometimes even argued that it would hurt the slaves themselves. But Wilberforce and the abolitionists won the day, and it remains to Britain's eternal credit that, in the end, despite the past, it led the world in a great crusade to end the abomination of slavery. That victory of the abolitionists, that victory for principle, is part of the Commonwealth's moral heritage. That is why Wilberforce lies buried in Westminster Abbey. It is no different now.

Let us go forward then, as Churchill urged at Harvard, "in malice to none and good will to all," and in the knowledge and with the encouragement that Canada's role will be of great import-in the Commonwealth, in NATO, as one of the Group of 7 industrial countries. Most of all, though, as Canada-the

Canada I spoke of earlier that makes the world a better place by being Canada-Canada that understands intuitively why "the empires of the future must be the empires of the mind."

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by M.Gen. Bruce Legge, a Past President of The Empire Club of Canada and National Chairman of The Royal Commonwealth Society.

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Empires of the Mind: Canada and the Commonwealth

A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada with The Royal Commonwealth Society. A short discussion of the term "empire": what it means, what it meant, what it means to include it now. The connotation of worthy ambition for the word "empire." A brief historical setting of the term "commonwealth" and how it emerged after 1945. Winston Churchill's vision of the post-1945 world. Churchill's recognition of peace through international co-operation: Canada as the trustee of that concept. The present description and role of the Commonwealth. Criticism towards the Commonwealth because of apartheid in South Africa. The response of the Commonwealth. Canada's participation in that response. Events in South Africa. An historical parallel. Canada's important role in the Commonwealth, in NATO, as one of the Group of 7 industrial countries.