I have long suggested a division of the world into three main spheres of influence to replace the make-belief of a world force in the present United Nations, which by reason of its inherent divisions can never function effectively.
Keep the United Nations by all means as a debating assembly and a point where cultures can meet, animosities be mollified and personal friendships formed; clear, strong debate in public and good, friendly manners in private can do much to clarify confusion and overcome hostility. But reality can never be built on illusion, and it is a patent absurdity to believe that anything effective can be done by the United Nations when it comes to action.
The realities in terms of action are the great powers, and it is a humbug to pretend anything else; the facts survive either illusion or deceit. Two real powers exist in the world, America and Russia, and this result of the last war will prevail until the emergence of a third power in united Europe and possibly of a fourth in China. The danger of a new war will also continue until the strength as well as the wisdom of Europe can hold the balance of the world. That is why, since the war, as before it, I have stood for the strong armament of Britain and as soon as possible of a united Europe, unless and until we can achieve that most desirable objective, universal disarmament. The most likely means of obtaining disarmament is through the continual drive of dynamic policies from a united Europe; until then we must arm, because in an armed world European strength is the only alternative to servitude under America or death under communism.
My position in the wider sphere of European and world politics today is the same as in the limited region of national policy before the war. I believe Europe should be armed, but not looking for trouble in affairs which are none of our business. Above all, we should avoid the elementary stupidity of enquiring where the strong opponent wishes to move and then running around the world to stop him doing it. That is the surest way to produce an explosion, and world war with nuclear weapons is not a remediable error.
This principle applies even more to China than to Russia, which in terms of geography, though not of political ambition, is a satisfied power; its policies will be advanced through the communist parties rather than nuclear weapons. China, on the other hand, is circumscribed with off-shore islands occupied by alien power, while its natural extension in the direction of related peoples to obtain a balance between agriculture and industrial development is thwarted by military intervention in South-East Asia. China already begins to arrive as the fourth power, since the long years in which I have advocated the division of the world into three spheres of influence. Fate presented the West with the unforeseeable good fortune of a deep split between the communist powers, but us usual we have thrown away the bounty of chance in the egregious folly of Asian war instead of seeking agreement on defined spheres of influence.
I was entirely wrong in the matter of the Russian-Chinese split; others foresaw it and I did not. Russian and Chinese leaders had all been educated in the same staff college or, to vary the metaphor, belonged to the same college of cardinals. Whether this redoubtable organisation, deeply rooted in over a century of common struggle, be regarded as a military or ecclesiastical establishment it seemed to me incredible that any differences they had in private should be reflected in a public split. A tried and tested general staff does not divide on the morning of a battle whatever differences may have occurred in the council chamber, and a college of cardinals does not extend private debate to the outside world when dogma is decided and a pope elected. In holding this view I both illustrated the limitations of a military education and vastly overrated the mutual loyalties of communism and the efficacy of the communist apparat. Germans who had been prisoners of war in Russia, or had since travelled through Russia and much of China as businessmen, told me the split was bound to happen, and they were right. Stronger than the communist faith or the bonds of long comradeship was the tradition of centuries of struggle on one of the longest frontiers in the world. We may in this context vary Disraeli’s reprehensible dictum in his life of Lord George Bentinck by saying at least: territory, all is territory.
I will not plead the Shavian excuse that I was in error only because I could not believe the degree of other people’s stupidity. But this moral collapse of communism, which may well have saved a Western world in apparent process of disintegration, seemed to me inconceivable. As usual, the countervailing imbecility was ready on the other side to rally the day for communism; I failed again in a position then remote either from the information or responsibility of office to foresee the full measure of an event which in my previous experience of government would have been incredible. Never did I think when I sat in the War Department of the Foreign Office at the end of the First World War, surrounded by occasionally limited but always able and honest Englishmen, that the Foreign Office in a few years’ time would nurture a nest of spies and traitors who would jeopardise the Western world, because responsible statesmen in charge of the department were unable to see what was going on beneath their eyes, in spite of every warning and premonitory symptom. I did not belong to the parties whose Foreign Secretaries promoted such men or to the decadent society which nourished and protected them, and I cannot imagine myself in charge of a department where such things were happening without my knowledge.
My original suggestion to secure natural spheres of influence for three power blocs in a realistic equilibrium was the linking of North with South America; of Europe, home and overseas, with Africa; of the Soviet powers with Asia. This logical arrangement is complicated by the split in the Soviet camp. It is primarily the Soviet’s business, but a broker so experienced as Britain should never refuse his good offices if required in the interests of world peace and his own well-being. Whether this unexpected development really offers the prospect of a return in some form of the Russian peoples to Europe, where they belong, cannot yet be seen with certainty, but it is most ardently to be desired; the attempt to promote it is one of the merits of French policy. Will the pull of relationship in the end be stronger than the pull of creed?—Is a synthesis of European policies attainable to the extent of making European union possible throughout our continent? These will rank among the vital questions of history which challenge future statesmanship.
Nothing in real life, of course, is quite so simple as logical, geographical and political divisions. There must be many natural and inevitable overlaps in such clear-cut arrangement, many complications. For instance, most of South America would much rather be connected with Europe than with North America, and this has so far only been prevented by the relative poverty and division of Europe. A desirable development is that the two civilisations should meet in South America; initially a combination of American money and European culture, if American friends will forgive such a practical view. We should seek together to perform in that region the disinterested service which American intervention in Europe has always declared to be its objective: the ultimate creation in South America of a new great power united with us by ties of kinship, culture and traditional friendship.
Similarly in any sane order of the world the spheres of European and Soviet influence could meet in the Arab countries for what should be a constructive task. There is no reason why this desirable relationship should not be reached once a basis of live and let live in our respective spheres is firmly established as the only alternative to an entirely destructive world war. I have always advocated in dealing with the Soviets a dual method of private negotiation, as long as it worked in any particular problem, and of public debate if and when the point of frustration is reached. Public debate has its uses even in diplomacy, particularly in dealing with the Soviets. They are sensitive to being shown in a bad light before world opinion, because they rely on their communist parties in all countries for the advance of their cause now force is eliminated by the arrival of nuclear weapons. When they are unreasonable— for instance, in such matters as disarmament—they should be shown in public to be obstructive of the cause of peace; then communist parties will lose the debate in every pub, cafe, bistro of the political world and the communist cause will suffer the universal set-back which the Soviet leaders most dislike. The method is to get as far as you can with them in private, but to put the pressure on in public when you are held up. The reason that this technique is not more often employed is either that Western statesmanship feels itself inadequate to public debate, or that Western diplomacy still fears the public failure of any private negotiation will be disastrous. This apprehension dates from the days when the breakdown of negotiations usually precluded war, but is obsolete in a period when war is inhibited by the fear of nuclear weapons.
The Soviets have shown themselves again and again particularly susceptible to world opinion and far more skilful in its exploitation by adroit propaganda. They have even learned in recent years to choose their moment carefully before committing any particularly bestial atrocities. It was not until a diversion was caused in 1956 by the inept intervention of the British Government at Suez that the Soviets committed their last overt crime on a large scale in the savage repression of the Hungarian people. The attention of world opinion was effectively deflected by the costly inanity at Suez from the reality of Budapest; an adventure of no real interest to Britain and Europe enabled the sacrifice of an heroic European people.
Suez was not a British interest which justified war; it had ceased to be the ‘life-line of Empire’ since we had given the Empire away at the other end of the line, and the Suez Canal in the event of war could be closed any afternoon by a single nuclear weapon from any source. The military mind is often imprisoned within the conditions defined by the last creative genius in its sphere. Bonaparte reckoned correctly in his time that the Middle East was the key to the world, but nuclear weapons brought to an end the epoch in which this thought was valid. Yet British statesmen, whose forebears had frustrated him in this region, remained, by a curious paradox, imprisoned within the circle of his thinking as effectively as a chicken held fast by a chalk line on the floor. In time of peace the Canal is open, and in time of war with the Arabs or anyone else the Canal is closed. The answer in modern terms is to rely with proper preparation on the Cape route in all contingencies, and to cultivate good relations with the Arabs for normal times. The British Government responded to this reality by picking a quarrel with South Africa and throwing the Arabs as a present to the Soviets by the successive performances at Suez and Aqaba. I opposed this policy throughout with the addendum upon the Suez affair: don’t start—but if you must start, don’t stop.
It was a tragedy thus to throw away the fruits of years of long and successful work by men like Lawrence and Glubb, and this wasteful failure must be ascribed to the inability to think out policy clearly in terms of British interest and European reality. British statesmen at this point were not only incapable of thinking as Europeans, but also of thinking as modern Britons. Following my own injunction to think, feel, act as Europeans, in Europe: Faith and Plan (1958) I approached the whole complex of this question from the standpoint of an European. I contended that in modern terms support for the French position in Algeria was far more important than pursuit of our own past through the irrelevance of Suez. A reasonable settlement backed by the strength of united Europe in northern Africa could have secured us a safe bridgehead to Africa, where lay enormous possibilities for the whole European future. History moves on beyond all blunders and creates new situations. A united Europe could have secured oil and a bridgehead to Africa, while retaining close friendship with the Arab world; instead, our division and weakness lost the essentials, and later Britain quarrelled with the Arabs about inessentials. These are errors that can be repaired, and European friendship with the Arab peoples will be restored.
We could also have secured our British position within Europe by thinking and acting as Europeans. The failure of Europe at that time to unite lost us an opportunity both to save Africa from subsequent events and to promote the union of Europe. A fraction of the energy directed to the disastrous folly of Suez would not only have saved many of our own interests in particular and those of humanity in general, but also would have forged in a common loyalty the links of the European community. The division and acrimony of this period would never have arisen.
The failure to think, feel and act as Europeans has brought trouble and immense loss. The statesmen of Europe never sat round a table and decided together what to hold and what to relinquish in the interests of Europe as a whole. This could have been done without any abrogation of the jealously guarded national sovereignties, if anything approaching a true European spirit had existed. There was no cause for rivalry in the Middle East, once we had decided together where and how we could ensure the oil supplies for all Europe; a wide choice, since there were alternatives as far apart as the Sahara and Canada; only the will to common action was entirely lacking. Except for oil supplies which could at worst, or possibly best, be secured elsewhere, our only interest in the Middle East was to prevent a conflagration. Writing in August 1958, I said that it was the common duty of Europe to prevent the massacre or ill-treatment of a million and a half Jews if that contingency arose, or of any other comparable community of any people, if it lay within the power of united Europe within its own sphere of influence to prevent a catastrophe both inhuman and dangerous to peace. Again history has moved on and reversed this risk; the Arabs now appear the more likely victims, but the same principles apply. The dual method of private negotiation with the latent alternative of public debate would again in that region secure the assent of the Soviets to a humane policy, for they could not be placed in the pillory of publicly willing the atrocious events which remain possible.
A united Europe could have kept the peace in that sphere or in any other vital to our interest, and a reasonable settlement of outstanding problems would have followed inevitably from the strength of union and the wisdom of Europe in its exercise. Similarly, an effective alternative could have been devised to piecemeal defeat in detail throughout our previous imperial possessions, an orderly retreat or a firm stand where vital interests were involved. Again and again I have urged Europeans to decide where they will stand firmly together, instead of taking pleasure in each other’s discomfiture while complacently attending their own downfall. The world was at our feet, but the will was lacking.
Even with the dominant American power it does not appear that a common long-term plan of action has ever been seriously considered to cover the whole globe in detail. Have Americans and Europeans ever sat down together and worked out a comprehensive plan of the positions we should hold and those we should relinquish? Have we ever got beyond wondering what the Soviets wanted to do, with the sole idea of getting there first to stop them doing it? Our attitude to Soviet policy has been no more scientific than that of the old woman who leans over the stairs and cries: ‘Children, whatever you are doing, stop it’. We are repeating the classic blunder of circumventing the strong opponent on all fronts to stop him moving in any direction: the most certain formula for world explosion.