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The Long White Cloud

Chapter IV — In the Empire and the World

page 359

Chapter IV
In the Empire and the World

Events have moved with such devastating swiftness in recent years that the remote islands of which Reeves wrote in 1898 seem at first glance to bear little relation to the busy and bewildered world of to-day. Then a voyage of five or six weeks separated Wellington and Whitehall. Now a Prime Minister can come from New Zealand for a week of conferences and be absent from his desk a mere fortnight. The result has naturally been more visits by Dominion statesmen to Britain, but it is perhaps significant that these visits have not been nearly so frequent from the other direction. It is possible to make full allowance for the vast complications of the office of Prime Minister of Great Britain and at the same time regret that for so long none has ever found time while in office to pay even a flying visit to the Southern Dominions. Moreover the frequent changes in and apparently minor importance attached to the Dominions Office while it existed under that name, did not tend to convince the people of the Dominions that the British Government really cared greatly about the maintenance of Commonwealth ties. When the Labour Party attained power in Britain it seemed, in its revulsion from Imperialism in its worst sense, to be confusing Dominion status with some form of serfdom and trying to have as little to do with it as possible. There was little or no sign in Downing Street of realization of the fact that with the Crown almost the sole link among sister nations it was necessary to cultivate the ground common to them. The Mother Country idea, effectively satirized by Charles Buller more than a century ago, survives and even flourishes in those same chilly corridors which drew the criticism of the Reformers of 1830. Lip service may be rendered by statesmen to the ideals of the new Commonwealth but bureaucrats are still busy with the old red tape. The continuing problem is to give the Dominions an adequate share in the formulation of policies which may involve them in subsequent action. “Information” reaches the Dominions in almost overwhelming streams. “Consultation” has been fostered by page 360 many devices but there is still a fairly wide gap between what Downing Street spokesmen call consultation and what Dominion statesmen would like to see on matters in which they are specially interested.

New Zealand, between the two world wars, stood somewhat aloof from the other Dominions, who seemed determined to emphasize their independence of Britain. The Statute of Westminster was not brought into force until after the second war, and its adoption in other Dominions was regarded with concern by many in New Zealand who thought it would facilitate dissolution of the Empire. The Labour Party did not share this view but did not hasten to adopt the Statute, even while it was taking an increasingly independent line on foreign policy. In the survey Contemporary New Zealand prepared in 1938 by the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, one writer said that apart from expressions of opinion at Geneva there had been no very adequate intimation of the Government's views on recent phases of British policy. “Politically, this attitude is no doubt influenced by the strong sentimental attachment that exists towards Great Britain and the consequent tendency for any apparent divergence of policy to be capitalized into an emotional appeal to loyalty, patriotism, and Empire solidarity.” The survey made more than one reference to the loyalty of the Dominion and seemed to imply that that sentiment was incompatible with nationhood. Since 1938 the Dominion has made long strides towards self-expression and independent action but it can be said without much fear of contradiction that the second world war made New Zealand more loyal than ever to Britain—and with good reason. The fantastic months in which Britain stood alone against Hitler will never be erased from New Zealand's memory. The Dominion is willing, if British statesmanship can rise to the occasion, to co-operate with Britain in a common policy to save the world from the threatened conflict of east and west. New Zealand sees Australia and to some extent Canada reversing the old trend towards independence and trying to bring about some common understanding with Britain which, without menacing any other nation or group of nations, will yet contribute to a lasting peace. The Canberra Pact of 1944 between Australia and New Zealand marked the end of an era page 361 for the two southern Dominions who had each been content to go her own way, and as a result only narrowly escaped disaster at the hands of Japan. The prompt and effective aid of the United States will never be forgotten and the co-operation of Dominion, American and British forces in the Pacific war forms a worthy model for common action in preserving peace.

One of the most useful of the few remaining formal links binding New Zealand to Britain is the retention of the right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. This apparent anomaly is justified by the legal profession on the ground that an impartial outside tribunal is a valuable addition to the country's system, especially as the Judicial Committee has shown a healthy inclination to brush aside technicalities and decide upon broad points of general principle.

New Zealand had done her best to make the League of Nations operate in the interests of peace and it was a foregone conclusion that the Labour Government would support enthusiastically the ideals of the United Nations. “If the world we seek to build after this war is to be a free world,” Nash wrote in 1944, “if the peace we seek to secure is to be a lasting peace, the first condition to be met is greater economic security and higher standards of living for the common people of all lands. That principle is inherent in the Christian philosophy. It is expressed in the declaration of the United Nations. It is one of those Four Freedoms referred to by President Roosevelt; it is the theme of the Atlantic charter.” Freedom from want and freedom from fear were ideals to which New Zealand willingly subscribed and for which she was willing to make great sacrifices.

Fraser won general acclaim in the Dominion and elsewhere by his work at the United Nations Conference on International Organization at San Francisco in 1945. He was chairman of the committee of trusteeship which proposed the establishment of the Trusteeship Council to replace the Mandates Commission of the League of Nations. Fraser opposed the principle of veto by the Great Powers which was to nullify so many of the bright hopes expressed at San Francisco. Leading the New Zealand delegation to the United Nations Assembly in London in January 1946, he said: “Since the San Francisco conference the power of the atomic bomb has burst upon the world, and in page 362 addition to hastening the defeat of Japan, has shaken the very foundation of mankind's faith in the future.” He urged that the new weapon made the United Nations Organization even more necessary.

In the acrimonious proceedings brought about by the Russian use of the veto, the New Zealand representatives at subsequent sessions of the United Nations did their best to find some reasonable way out of a maze confused not only by the different languages of the disputants but by their completely different interpretations of the same words. Discouraged by the apparent failure of the new organization to guarantee security, the Dominion fell back regretfully on plans for improved defence forces.