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Political and External Affairs

CHAPTER 24 — Welfare and Peace

page 348

Welfare and Peace

ANXIOUS debate about the future of dependent territories arose inevitably from some of the more generous promptings of current western liberalism. Even more universal was acceptance of social welfare as an objective for the whole of mankind. Wartime sufferings sharpened the challenge, and made unmistakable the necessity for international action. Moreover, the relief of distress was a practical and (it could be hoped) a feasible task of immediate critical importance, as well as an obvious contribution towards long-term welfare. Accordingly it so happened that relief, reconstruction and welfare became the first major field in which international cooperation was developed in wartime without the imperatives of military necessity, and in terms which gave a foretaste of future problems. Seen retrospectively, it was a trial run between the West and the Russians in work which all could agree was utterly desirable, and in which, on the face of things, political differences should have had minimum importance. Incidentally, too, it was work in which New Zealand had special interest, both in its machinery and in its underlying ideology.

Since early colonial days, belief in the sovereign virtues of economic well-being has been a deep-rooted factor in New Zealand's thinking-and a remedy, as Seddon told Joseph Chamberlain and Savage told Neville Chamberlain, for international as well as for domestic tensions. In November 1939 the New Zealand Government bracketed welfare with morals as essential war aims: ‘we are fighting for a moral issue, …. to institute the rule of law … and to increase the welfare of the people. No peace is worth while which does not result in raising the living standards of the people.’ The Labour government of neighbouring Australia had a somewhat similar outlook. The same principle was represented, in a negative form, in Roosevelt's ‘Four Freedoms’ of January 1941, and in July the British Government, in approving the ‘Freedoms’, specifically forecast plans to cut the roots of fear by promoting freedom from want. A few days later Roosevelt and Churchill framed the terms of the Atlantic Charter. The draft was considered in the very early hours of 12 August by a meeting of the British War Cabinet attended by Fraser, who was then in London. On Churchill's insistence,1 the

1 McNeill, p. 448.

page 349 American free trade clause had already been qualified by respect for ‘existing obligations’ which protected Imperial preference; and the War Cabinet now asked for some further amendments in the references to economic policy. In particular, it wanted a new paragraph favouring ‘collaboration in the economic field with the object of securing for all peoples freedom from want, improved labour standards, economic advancement and social security1.’ The final text of the charter was published in New Zealand on 15 August, with a lyrical comment. This ‘modern charter of human liberties,’ said Walter Nash, as acting Prime Minister, pointed the way clearly ‘to a fuller and freer and happier life for the mass of the people of the earth.’ There was to be no discrimination between victors and vanquished, and ‘the major standards raised-namely economic advancement, improved labour standards, and social security for all nations-will, when the conflict is over, open the way to cultural and spiritual objectives-the striving towards which brings the abundance of life which is the rightful heritage of all human beings2.’ The interpretation was over-enthusiastic, yet the concept of welfare was indeed firmly embedded in the Atlantic Charter, which in turn was endorsed in the Declaration by the United Nations in January 1942. This document, incidentally, was signed on behalf of New Zealand by Frank Langstone, acting under the powers conferred on him for the purpose by the King: a small sign that New Zealand was becoming conscious of diplomatic niceties.
Acknowledgment of principle was one thing, however, and its practical application quite another: Europe lay under German domination and ‘prospects of victory seemed infinitely remote.’ As fighting dragged out, the most urgent problem appeared as that of famine relief, which would have to precede long-term reconstruction. Churchill had recognised this as early as August 1940, when he promised that Britain would undertake relief in liberated Europe, and appointed an authority to accumulate surpluses for the purpose.3 Not much could be achieved at that time of crisis. A year later, however, the British Government pushed the matter further with a suggestion which was perhaps the effective germ of UNRRA; the first and in some ways the most fruitful of broadly based international organisations, which for some years drew together constructively the kindliness and self-interest of the countries dominating the United Nations. The British suggestion was that representatives of all the Allied governments should meet in London to consider the matter, and to plan machinery for co-operation. This machinery, it was proposed, should start with a central bureau to

1 Fraser to Nash, 12 Aug 1941.

2 Evening Post, 15 Aug 1941.

3 McNeill, p. 313.

page 350 be set up by the British Government to receive estimates of what would be needed, and present practical proposals to an inter-allied committee. The proposed meeting was duly held in London on 24 September 1941, and there followed just two years of complicated negotiations to transform national into international effort. These discussions gave New Zealand experience of a new type of international activity. While the great powers hammered out the awkward problems of their own co-operation, New Zealand gradually found her feet in a context where she had an individual standing, as well as her status as a member of the British Commonwealth.

From the first, then, UNRRA had a twofold character. It was a great benevolent agency, an instrument of world-wide scale for the promotion of welfare. As such, it especially concerned New Zealand. ‘Welfare,’ it was claimed, ‘is a subject on which New Zealand can probably make as great a contribution as any country in the world’,1 and UNRRA appeared to some New Zealanders as one of the essential instruments by which ‘the right thinking world’ could perhaps solve the problem of saving enemy peoples from collapse without condoning their crimes.2 Humanity and morals apart, however, UNRRA was also an early and instructive experiment in international organisation. As the weaker powers quickly observed with some alarm, it would provide a model for future and perhaps more permanent institutions. Awkward precedents might be set,3 and in particular the great powers might well be confirmed in their habit of laying down the law for the rest of the world and expecting the smaller nations to follow on. Clear lines of policy-making, again, even in a field where there was overwhelming agreement on objectives, might become sadly distorted by international suspicions, by accidental misunderstandings and by pressures arising from purely domestic issues. Finally, in the cut and thrust of practical politics, long-term objectives sometimes imperceptibly changed. In this case, thinking fluctuated between short-term emergency relief and long-term planning, while cross-currents flowed in the form of suggestions that levels of relief should somehow be related to the past or present political behaviour of recipient communities, and even to the willingness of displaced persons to return to their countries of origin.

These problems were illustrated from the beginning. Their unravelling belongs to the history of UNRRA and of the relations between the United States of America and the Soviet Union rather than to that of New Zealand. Her politicians and officials were interested observers rather than active participants-‘we did

1 NZ Legation, Washington, to Secretary of External Affairs, 11 Nov 1944.

2 Berendsen to Minister of External Affairs, 11 Oct 1944.

3 NZHC, London, to Secretary of External Affairs, 2 Sep 1943.

page 351 not open our New Zealand mouths on this issue1’-at least until proposals had reached a detailed form. This was in mid-1943. On 10 June the United States sent to all United Nations governments a draft agreement for UNRRA, with the significant note that it had been approved by the big four and was to be published the following day. It was greeted with something like a chorus of protest by small European powers, who resented its ‘great power’ quality and criticised in particular the provision that its central committee should represent the big four only. They evidently feared that this manner of doing things might become the habit of the post-war world. Some small changes were made to meet-though they by no means removed-small-power criticism, and the United States Government sent out a final draft on 24 September 1943. Even those who still felt uneasiness agreed with reasonable cheerfulness to accept it, specifying, in one case, that this was no precedent. The agreement was ceremonially signed by members of the United Nations on 9 November.
New Zealand was, of course, an active participant in these preliminary negotiations and in the Council meeting which immediately followed the official signing of the agreement. She acted both in her own right and as a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Consultation within the Commonwealth was close both by telegraph and in more or less formal gatherings of representatives. New Zealand did not, however, make much effort to alter the development of negotiations, and on the whole stood with Britain's viewpoint; she was not one of those who assaulted great-power domination. In this matter experiences relating to UNRRA bore fruit, if anywhere, in Fraser's attitude in the more fundamental negotiations concerning the United Nations Organisation. So far as UNRRA itself was concerned, New Zealand's participation was rather at the official and expert level, active in working out details and keeping plans to a practical character. She was, in this preparatory stage, an observer and quietly co-operative, not a policy-maker. Her role was, in fact, reminiscent of her pre-war habits-and a reminder of her comparative unimportance in world affairs-in contrast to those more spectacular fields in which she had with emotional commitment asserted her national right. It was, however, in line with that earlier tradition that on certain matters her views should be frankly expressed. She was willing, for example, to accept an arrangement ‘which requires an equitable contribution from all countries’, but reacted with some sharpness against suggestions that the exporters of agricultural products should be expected to provide some of them without payment, thus in fact contributing

1 Campbell to Fraser, 12 Jun 1943.

page 352 more than their just proportion of national income. She also made the significant-though not at this time very fruitful-suggestion that ‘in view of our position as a Pacific power … our maximum effort should be made in the Pacific area1.’ She approved of the extension of relief to India, and made careful calculations of the extent to which she might be able to supply goods needed by China and Indonesia. It may be noted that in 1944 her government regarded with no enthusiasm the suggestion that relief supplies should be increased by cutting down home consumption.2 In February 1945, however, she sponsored a resolution on the Far Eastern Committee of UNRRA's Council recognising that there might be need ‘for supplying Governments to make available additional food and other necessaries even though such action may necessitate some sacrifice by supplying countries.’ This resolution, reported the New Zealand delegate,3 ‘received a most enthusiastic reception … and seemed to be one of the most popular moves brought forward.’
The New Zealand Parliament formally approved of participation in UNRRA in November 1944. All agreed that New Zealand must accept her international responsibilities for relief; Walter Nash for his government said that ‘in Europe chaos and anarchy are inevitable unless the United Nations can perform something akin to a miracle. UNRRA is the machine perfected to do that job4.’ In 1945, the actual work of relief began in liberated countries, gathering momentum as victory approached; and the administration of UNRRA continued to be a proving-ground of international co-operation. In particular, a gulf opened up sadly early between America and the West on the one hand, and Russia and eastern Europe on the other. The precipitating problem was that of displaced persons who were estranged from the governments of their native countries, and who accordingly refused to return home. Their members were relatively few, but their case became crucial for both groups. New Zealand's own position was clear: ‘relief should be primarily on the basis of need’,5 and UNRRA should not become an instrument for rewards and punishments, or for compelling refugees to submit themselves to governments which claimed their allegiance. Behind the scenes, she was of that group-together with France and Australia-which strove to avoid a direct collision on this issue between the Americans and the Russians. Her comments were, however, confined to private discussions among Commonwealth countries, and her distinct

1 Minister of External Affairs to NZ Legation, Washington, 10 Nov 1943.

2 Departmental suggestions to this effect were not followed up by the Government.- Customs Department to Department of External Affairs, 14 Jul 1944.

3 NZHC, Canberra, to Minister of External Affairs, 16 and 22 Feb 1945.

4 NZPD, Vol. 267, p. 309.

5 Minute on NZ Minister, Washington, to Minister of External Affairs, 7 Sep 1944; Minister of External Affairs to NZ Minister, Washington, 13 Sep 1944.

page 353 dissatisfaction with Britain's occasional disposition, just before Churchill's government was displaced by Attlee's, to be ‘tough’ with Russia, was not publicly expressed. UNRRA decisions willy-nilly had political implications-aid to Yugoslavia, for instance, pleased the Russians, while aid to Italy seemed to some Westerners to be essential to protect her from Communism and keep her out of the Russian orbit; while irritations between countries arising in other contexts inevitably led to tensions between their representatives on UNRRA bodies. New Zealand was unusually free of such extraneous influences: and she observed uneasily the rift between supplying and recipient countries, with whom Russia became identified. In small ways she strove for a middle position, but throughout took little public part in the sometimes acrimonious debates.

What follows is the history of UNRRA, and of the assumption of its functions by the permanent agencies of the United Nations: and in this transition an odd and uncharacteristic feature of New Zealand's external policy emerges. Her overseas representatives, who were mainly senior and trusted civil servants, were deeply impressed by the need for relief-indeed for emergency action to deal with ‘the impending tragedy in Europe and Asia1.’ The UNRRA Council of September 1945, wrote the New Zealand representative, met in an atmosphere of gloom, mainly because of ‘accumulating evidence that, whatever we do, very many people are going to die of hunger and cold in Europe this winter2.’ The view of those who worked with UNRRA came to be that its achievements were impressive when measured against the ‘almost insuperable difficulties’ with which it was at first faced.3 They pressed, accordingly, for the continuance of UNRRA as an instrument not indeed perfect, but far better than anything else that could be quickly devised to take over its work. The New Zealand cabinet, on the other hand, while conscious of the need and at times acting vigorously to increase supplies, turned increasingly towards the long-term aspects of reconstruction, and therefore to the need for replacing UNRRA with permanent agencies of the United Nations. It disliked piecemeal handling of the problems of devastated countries,4 and thought that the Social and Economic Council should shortly take over relief ‘as being one aspect of larger problems of reconstruction with which Council will be concerned5.’ They were concerned about continuing expense, and recalled the original notion of UNRRA: that recipient countries should be helped to help themselves.6

1 Secretary NZ Legation, Washington, to Secretary of External Affairs, 14 May 1946.

2 Campbell to Secretary of External Affairs, 21 Sep 1945.

3 Report NZ delegation, 4th session UNRRA Council.- A to J, 1947, Vol. I, A-2a.

4 Minister of External Affairs to NZHC, London, 22 Aug 1946.

5 Minister of External Affairs to NZ Legation, Washington, 5 Feb 1946.

6 Cf. Minister of External Affairs to NZHC, London, 3 Aug 1946.

page 354

Such considerations apart, the plain fact was that by the middle of 1946 both America and Britain had made it clear that they were not willing to keep up the rate of contributions necessary to sustain UNRRA's activities.1 Without their support, and more particularly without American resources, the smaller powers who might wish to keep the organisation going were faced with a burden which was perhaps impossible to carry, and at best could only be carried at a sacrifice that no one would face. As an embodiment of the world's drive towards social welfare, both as an end in itself and as a means towards peace, UNRRA had spent its force. The future of welfare lay with such national efforts as Marshall Aid-with unavoidable political overtones-and in the international field, with the permanent economic agencies of the new world organisation. New Zealand's representatives were conscious that almost insoluble-and in human terms tragic-problems would be inherited by the permanent organisations charged to take over UNRRA's tasks. They did all that words could do to assure that there should be no interval when work lapsed and expressed the hope that the new organisations-especially the Economic and Social Council- might ‘inherit something of the spirit of UNRRA, something of its constructiveness, of its practical outlook and its sense of urgency2.’

By 1946, of course, the United Nations Organisation was a going concern and represented, in as concrete form as was to be attained for many years, the peace settlement which followed the Second World War. Its ability, such as it was, to take up the economic problems under which the world was staggering was the fruit of a widely held opinion that economic problems must be seen as causes of political insecurity. New Zealand was among those communities firmly convinced of this connection, and at San Francisco her delegation was among those which fought successfully for the elevation of the Economic and Social Council into one of the principal organs of the United Nations. ‘No section of the Dumbarton Oaks proposals underwent more extensive changes for the better than that which dealt with international co-operation in economic and social matters,’ wrote Fraser.3 In contrast to the experience of so many other Committees of the Conference, the Economic and Social Committee was not handicapped by the limitations and delays caused by the reluctance of the sponsoring Powers to accept, or, indeed to consider any serious departure from Dumbarton Oaks in so far as it affected …. fundamental provisions….’

1 SSDA to Minister of External Affairs, 20 Jul 1946.

2 Quoted in report of NZ delegation to 5th Session UNRRA Council. - A to J, 1946, Vol. I, A-2a, p. 14.

3 Report of NZ delegation, pp. 11, 35.

page 355

Feeling favouring a ‘welfare’ policy in fact ran strongly at this time, and was reflected in the much-publicised argument in this committee about ‘full employment’. This was something of a shibboleth for the Australian Government and, to a lesser extent, for that of New Zealand. A New Zealand amendment to include the promotion of ‘full employment’ among the aims of the Council alongside those of ‘higher standards of living’ and ‘conditions of economic and social progress and development’ was passed without dissent. On second thoughts the United States delegate asked that the matter be re-opened, as he felt that the sentence might be used as a pretext for interference in the domestic affairs of member states. He proposed that the already vague objects of the Council be further diluted to the promotion of ‘Solutions of international economic, social, health, and other related problems, including those relating to the attainment of higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and racial progress and development.’ Fraser and Evatt stood firm, and the United States eventually withdrew its amendment on the understanding that the committee agreed that nothing in this chapter of the Charter could be construed as giving authority to the organisation to intervene in the affairs of member states. The specific pledge therefore remained. ‘Fifty nations,’ Fraser enthusiastically told Parliament in July 1945, ‘pledged themselves to carry those principles into operation.’ It was ‘a great advance’ that the nations should agree ‘not only would they give lip service to these principles, but also they would pledge themselves to carry them into active operation1.’ Such an assessment of a pledge which he said in the same breath had as sanctions only ‘the goodwill and the honesty of the nations’ was significant both of the period and of Fraser's continuing attitudes.

The promise of full employment which thus dissolved the Prime Minister's realism was in a sense the culmination of New Zealand's deeply felt welfare tradition. Unemployment had long been the worst nightmare of those social groups who dominated the New Zealand way of thought. Their fears had been underlined by the grievous and, to the ‘common man’, irrational sufferings of the depression time. Gradual recovery from the slump had coincided in New Zealand-as in Australia and the United States-with an expansionist government; and relatively good times were soon followed by the plunge into war. In spite of apprehensions, the war years were for civilians years of plentiful work and good pay. Young New Zealand grew accustomed to ‘full employment’, admittedly

1 NZPD, Vol. 268, quoted Mansergh, Documents and Speeches on British Commonwealth Affairs, 1931-1952, Vol. II, p. 1097.

page 356 under the somewhat artificial conditions of war and recovery. This experience gave little guidance as to how ‘full employment’ would operate in peacetime, either as a psychological or as an economic factor in a community's life. Facing the future, however, the statesmen of welfare had no doubt as to what they should proclaim at San Francisco as mankind's economic objective. ‘Full employment’ was prescribed with emotion by men who had lived through insecurity and economic depression, for generations who had been bred in social security and wartime labour shortage, and who paradoxically had grown so accustomed to military danger that even the atom bomb and its dreadful successors could be accepted with apathy. The social remedies so passionately desired-and resisted-in the first half of the century were in considerable measure achieved by 1945 and written into public documents. Those which were not positively achieved were recognised, in the most solemn way, as objects of immediate public policy. These very successes meant, however, that the next steps were taken into the unknown.

What followed, and the manner in which the United Nations in their disarray carried the burdens thrust upon them in 1945, is no part of the history of New Zealand at war.