Europe, NATO and North America and their Future Relationships
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 20 Feb 1975, p. 246-255
Williams, Alan, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
A narrowing of topics to the "evolt" of Europe, and the Atlantic Alliance. Britain on the verge of a referendum to determine whether it will remain in Europe. Negotiation of terms of entry for the European Community. Factors affecting whether or not the terms will be known by the time of the referendum. Problems and consequences of holding a referendum. The evolving Europe as seen by the speaker. Comments on Federalism. Is there a "European" view? Anti-Americanism in Europe. Should Canada and the U.S. still have troops in Europe? The stability of Europe over the next 10-20 years and its dependence on the American nuclear guarantee. The position and factor of the Soviet Union. The possibilities of a modified Atlantic Alliance.
Date of Original
20 Feb 1975
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Full Text
FEBRUARY 20, 1975
Europe, NATO and North America and their Future Relationships
CHAIRMAN The President, Sir Arthur Chetwynd


Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: It is in keeping with the best traditions of The Empire Club of Canada that we welcome as our speaker today Mr. Alan Lee Williams, Member of Parliament in the British House of Commons for Hornchurch. This platform, that is The Empire Club of Canada (and I hope I am not being too presumptuous if I say that it may be the most prestigious platform in Canada), attracts many politicians to its podium. This is because they have important things to say and because they wield the ultimate power over the people.

In a democracy, they help us to adjudicate our differences by exercising our vote, rather than by exercising our muscles!

Away back in 1853, a man named Wendell Phillips said that "politics is but the common pulsebeat, of which revolution is the feverspasm." I believe that all of us in this room would be much more interested in the common pulse beat, where we may enjoy the luxury of choice in such matters.

For this reason I have much admiration for politicians. The successful ones are more likely to be generalists rather than specialists, and so we find they invariably have something interesting to reveal to large numbers of people. If the politician is of an international order, such as our guest today, he brings an interesting overview to his philosophy.

Mr. Williams was born in 1930 and educated at Roan School and Oxford University. He did his national service in the Royal Air Force from 1951 to 1953. On coming down from university in 1956, he became National Youth Officer for the Labour Party, a post he held for six years.

In 1964, he contested the riding of Epsom for the Labour Party and lost. In 1966 he was elected as the Labour Member of Parliament for Hornchurch. He lost his seat in the general election of June 1970, and regained it in February of 1974.

He has held posts as head of the United Nations Association Youth Department, as a lecturer in politics and economics, parliamentary private secretary to the Secretary of State for Defence (1966-70), leader of the government delegation to the Fourth Committee of the United Nations in New York in 1969, a member of the Council of Europe from 1967 to 1970, and vice chairman of the Labour Party foreign affairs group from 1968 to 1970.

Mr. Williams is a former chairman of the British National Committee of the World Assembly of Youth, and a former deputy director of the European Movement. He was a director of the British Atlantic Committee from 1971 to 1974, and is now chairman of its policy and planning committee.

He is also chairman of the all-party Parliamentary River Thames Group. He is Vice President of the River Thames Society, a member of the Foreign Office advisory committee on disarmament and arms control, and a freeman of the City of London. He is the author of a number of publications and pamphlets, and was awarded the O.B.E. in 1973. Altogether, the record of a very busy, a very concerned, and a very energetic young man!'

It sounds as if Mr. Williams hasn't had time for any fun, but he is a very handy cricketer. He plays for the House of Commons, and for those who have played or are interested in that marvellous game, he is a left-handed bowler, and he is an opening batsman, which is a very important place to be.

Although it goes without saying that our guest speaker is very much identified with his home land, nevertheless I get the feeling that, like Socrates, when asked of what country he called himself, he said "of the world", for he considered himself an inhabitant and a citizen of the whole world.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I introduce to you, speaking on the subject "Europe, NATO and North America and their future relationships", Mr. Alan Lee Williams, O.B.E., M.P.


Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen: I am very pleased to have received this invitation to speak to the lunch today. I am fully aware of the number of very distinguished guests that you have had speaking before and I hope I am undaunted by the names that have been read out to me of the very distinguished international statesmen who have addressed your lunch meetings.

Of course, I do feel at home in Toronto. Only last night, arriving here to an industrial dispute, made me feel at home right away! The only aspect of it which slightly amused me was we put down at a military airport. Of course, if there had been an industrial dispute h? Britain there would have been no question of landing at a military airport. So you are very well organized in that sense.

Ladies and gentlemen, I want to address myself to a series of very important subjects and I notice that on the invitation sent out--and I think this is partly my fault--I see I am down to speak about Europe, NATO and North America and their future relationships. Of course that subject would most properly be covered in a book rather than in a twenty-minute talk. So with your permission I would like to confine myself to the "evolt" in Europe and the Atlantic Alliance, which narrows the field down just a little; because as you know Britain is on the verge of holding a referendum as to whether Britain will remain in Europe.

You will know that over the last year or so the incoming Labour Government has been renegotiating the terms of entry for the European Community and the result of those negotiations are not yet known, although I would anticipate -and no one can be certain about this-that the result of the renegotiations will be known in time for the referendum to be held in June, but there is no guarantee about that.

There are a number of factors which could make that extremely difficult, but I think the interesting thing is that for the first time in the whole of our long parliamentary history we are holding a referendum, and this in a sense is revolutionary. We are going to ask the British people to say "Yes" or "No" to the renegotiated terms, which really means "Yes" or "No" to entry to the Common Market, or to correctly put it, to remain in the European Community. I just wanted to say perhaps two or three things about that, because I think it is of relevance.

The first one is that although I myself am not a referendum man, I think I will find it extremely difficult to vote against the referendum when it comes before the House of Commons, because the Labour Party fought two elections in 1974 in which we were virtually all of us, with the exception of one or two, committed to the idea of a referendum. So I do not think I have any opportunity, as it were, to vote against the referendum. But I am not happy with the idea, because undoubtedly once you do hold a referendum on an issue like the European Community, which is admittedly a fundamental issue, there will be pressures from below to hold a referendum on other subjects too.

One can say, I think quite frankly, that issues like capital punishment, which is always an emotional issue I think in our countries, and immigration, which is another issue which I understand is an issue here too to a certain extent, are issues which I would have thought would be far better left to parliamentarians rather than being put out to a referendum. I do not believe that that will necessarily follow, but of course once you do hold a referendum, there is always that possibility that you set a precedent which other people will wish to follow on other subjects.

My own view is--and this is not just based on hunches or guesses--but my own view, based on Gallup Polls (and we cannot entirely rely on Gallup Polls as we all know) but nevertheless such polls that have been taken both publicly and privately indicate that there will be a "Yes" vote to the renegotiated terms.

Now of course, I cannot state that as a certainty. But the indications are that the British people are now moving to the position of not being enthusiastic-they have never been that-but at least taking a sort of an agnostic position where they feel that the difficulties for withdrawal of Britain from the European Community would be so immense that it is far better to keep to the status quo.

Now of course that is a very negative thing, but nevertheless I think it will mean that there will be a "Yes" vote. At least that is my hope, because I myself have been long convinced that Britain's future role lies in Europe.

This leads me on to the second part of what I wanted to say, and that is the evolving Europe as I see it, and as I hope the Labour Government will see it after the "Yes" vote, in relation not only to the community itself but to the Atlantic Alliance.

Now the first thing I want to say is that I am not a Federalist. I think this has got some support in the Netherlands, certainly amongst a number of Dutch Members of Parliament that I have met who are convinced Federalists. I am not a Federalist myself, although I am a European of long standing. I first joined the European movement in favour of unification back in 1962, well before it became fashionable in the Labour Party to do so; so I say it based on that belief. Nevertheless I think that this is not a real argument, it is a theoretical argument, because in fact the European Community is developing on confederal lines and I happen to believe that this is the way the thing will go. Of course eventually it will lead to common positions, which is a totally different thing from Federalism: a common foreign policy, or at any rate a number of common assumptions upon which there is a common view.

There was not such a view in the events of 1973 following the crisis in the Middle East, when you saw a number of European views. There was not a European view. But I think since the traumatic events of 1973, there has emerged a European view, certainly in the area of energy and on the question of the petro dollars. I think you will agree now that as North Americans you are now dealing with a Europe that has a common position, and I think there is a common position in relation to the economic problems that arise from the quadrupling of the price of oil.

Now all of this seems to be moving in the right direction. At the same time one has to be extremely careful that it does not take an anti-American turn, because there are a number of people in Europe who are extremely critical of the Americans, critical of their trade policies, very critical of Dr. Kissinger. He has more critics than you would imagine in Europe. There is a feeling held by a number of Europeans--I think this is certainly true of the Netherlands, where it is fairly acute; it has always been strong in France; there is always the possibility of it in Germany too, less so in Britain, although the signs are there too-there is this feeling that European unity must be built up first, and then relationships with North America come after that.

That is not a view which I personally take. I think Marvin Gelber will know what has always been my position in these matters. I believe the two must run simultaneously together, and so that needs watching, and I do believe it requires statesmanship. But I think it will not necessarily develop as harshly as I have hinted, because Schmidt as Chancellor of Germany, and Harold Wilson as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (and a very pragmatic man in this area who is really basically a low profile European), are convinced of the importance of the Atlantic connection.

I want to say that, because quite clearly from what I read in the press here in Canada and in the United States, there is the general feeling of why should Canada or America after twenty-five years still have troops in Europe? What possible role do they now perform in maintaining stability in Europe? Increasingly, this question is being put with greater force and clarity. Of course as the politicians on the platform will know, and I am sure my colleague here from a very similar party to my own will realize, the pressures for this are very strong because it arises obviously from self-interest about the levels of taxation that are required to discharge all these responsibilities. And so it is a real question.

And so what I want to say to you is that the whole stability of Europe in the next ten years--I would say personally twenty years, but I think the argument can be sustained more on a ten-year basis than a twenty-year basis, (I admit twenty years is a bit speculative!) but certainly in the next ten years the stability of Europe will very much depend on the American nuclear guarantee. Of course that has always been the position, but I tell you it is still the position, because whatever view you take about the current negotiations that are going on, first of all, between the two super powers at the strategic level of nuclear weapons (and they are now going into Phase Two, as you know), or about the conference on Mutual Force Reductions (it used to be Mutual Balanced Force Reductions but the Soviets objected to the use of the word "balanced" and so it is just Mutual Force Reductions . . . I think the French also objected because of difficulties of interpretation), nevertheless whatever view one might take about the Mutual Force Reductions or the Conference on European Security, the fact of the matter is whatever progress is being made, and it is painfully slow so far, whatever view you take does not add up to a major shift in Soviet foreign policy. At least it would be an exceedingly rash man who said it did add up to a major switch.

Of course the Russians have become more realistic in their dealings with the European Community. In fact only the week before last they received a deputation from the Commission of the European Community. It was a very cold affair and I think the communique issued afterwards disappointed both sides, but nevertheless it did indicate that the Soviet Union is becoming more realistic about the European Community. Nevertheless they do realize that their position is a secure one; after all they are a major European power, they are increasing their defence expenditure when as far as the Atlantic Alliance is concerned the defence expenditure is going clearly the other way. They hope to make a few concessions, certainly in the area of mutual force reductions, and also make a few concessions in the area of free movement of people and ideas, but very minor concessions. The thing that strikes me is that our opinion-formers will say in the circumstances that the spring has arrived.

I say to you I do not believe that to be the case at all. I think there has been an alteration, as the German eastern policies indicate to us, and I think as far as they went they were successful. I do believe that the Russians require western technology. I do believe that they wish to reach an accommodation with us. But again it would be a very rash man who would say that this represents a profound acceptance by the Russians of the status quo. I think it does as far as the West is concerned, where we have, I think, recognized all their frontiers de facto. I think many of the agreements which have been reached, particularly between the Germans and the Russians and the Germans and the Poles, indicate an acceptance of the present frontiers in Europe, but that does not mean to say that the Russians reciprocate totally in that respect.

In fact the Brezhnev doctrine, which is still very much alive, in spite of whatever the Russian commentators might say, indicates to us all that the Russians are very much aware of the contradictions that are to be found within Europe, and the contradictions between Europe and the Atlantic Alliance, and they are very clever at understanding these differences.

Of course, they have a major factor on their side, and that is time. We do not have time. The European community is new, it has to be forged together, and it has to try and get a sense of unity, not only in relationships within the community of the nine but in a common attitude towards North America and to other so-called third countries, and at the same time it must have a coherent view towards the Soviet Union.

I think there are signs here that this is moving, particularly in respect to the European Security Conference, where there is a common European position. I think that is all to the good.

My message, Mr. Chairman and ladies and gentlemen, is that although the Atlantic Alliance is changing and the North American aspect of it will diminish, and quite rightly so, the essential connection must remain, and that the central power balance is still to be found in Central Europe. If you can get a lasting settlement in Europe, then it will be possible in other areas also to reach agreement, but the most dynamic area, and in fact the most dynamic area in the whole world is still Europe. And so therefore I say to you, and I know that I speak to a number of very good friends here who I think would share a lot of my assumptions, that the next ten years, and certainly the next twenty years, are going to be extremely difficult for all of us. But if we stick together, through perhaps a modified Atlantic Alliance, then certainly as time wears on I do not think we have anything to fear about the future, and it will be possible to reach a sensible accommodation with the Soviet Union and China which will not endanger the peace and stability of our side of the world but will enable us to go on to build a better and nobler world. Thank you.

The official thanks of The Empire Club of Canada were expressed to Mr. Williams by Mr. Henry N. R. Jackman, a Past President of the Club.

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Europe, NATO and North America and their Future Relationships

A narrowing of topics to the "evolt" of Europe, and the Atlantic Alliance. Britain on the verge of a referendum to determine whether it will remain in Europe. Negotiation of terms of entry for the European Community. Factors affecting whether or not the terms will be known by the time of the referendum. Problems and consequences of holding a referendum. The evolving Europe as seen by the speaker. Comments on Federalism. Is there a "European" view? Anti-Americanism in Europe. Should Canada and the U.S. still have troops in Europe? The stability of Europe over the next 10-20 years and its dependence on the American nuclear guarantee. The position and factor of the Soviet Union. The possibilities of a modified Atlantic Alliance.