TOPICS OF THE DAY.
AMERICA AND BRITAIN : A CLEAN SLATE.
Happily, these doubts and anxieties have disappeared. Colonel Harvey, while maintaining all his keenness of edge, all his downrightness and vigour of speech, and all his unwillingness to sacrifice plain meaning to diplomatic considerations, has proved himself one of the most successful of American Ambassadors. He appeared at first to be cautious and reserved in manner and slow in action. As a matter of fact, he has been one of the most rapid diplomatists of our day, and his caution and reserve have been much more verbal than actual. He has, in fact, been willing to run great risks in order to further a policy in which he believes as firmly as his chief, the President. Both men realize that the fate of the *odd lies, not merely in good relations, but in relations of intimate trust, between this country and America. They realize, further, that though the hour is propitious, the great opportunity now presented, if not taken advantage of, may prove one of those occasions which in history have been so often missed by statesmen—occasions which never return. Mr. Harvey would be the first man to admit that he could have done nothing without the loyal support which he has received in his good work not only from the Presi- dent, but from the American Secretary of State, Mr. Hughes. At the same time, it is clear that if the human instrument of world-policy in London had not been ready when the right moment came to take risks in the advice which he tendered to. them, the policy decided on in Washington could never have been successfully carried out. What has been Mr. Harvey's achievement ? It has been to clean the diplomatic slate, to leave no pending negotia- tions between America and Britain. Hitherto there have always been questions which neither Power has liked to touch on for fear of friction. The result up till now has been something in the nature of a diplomatic Bluebeard's cupboard into which nobody dared to look. That has been dangerous and humiliating. Mr. Harvey, when he came here, determined that he would take up these ques- tions one by one and get rid of them. That was a large and bold determination, but it has been accomplished, and not at the end, but at the beginning of Mr. Harvey's term of office. He has cleaned the slate in a year. But he has done a great deal more than that. He has helped to write upon the clean slate many things of the first moment. Let us take Mr. Harvey's year's work in order.
In the first place, he did a great deal to make the Wash- ington Conference the great success it was. He helped to make the Government here understand what America really wanted, and what the Washington Government could do and could not do. What is more, he was able to tell our people here informally what America would like, even though some of these likes and dislikes could not easily be put on official paper. To create an atmosphere favourable to growth is the diplomat's essential function. But the Washington Conference per se did an enormous amount in the matter of slate cleaning. First of all, it got rid of those jealousies and anxieties which, whether justified or unjustified is no matter, have been a cause of confusion and apprehension in the public mind of America. And not only did it get rid of the Japanese Alliance. It got rid of it without making the Japanese feel that America had done them an injury by depriving them of our Alliance. The Conference substituted therefor pact which will help to secure the future peace of the world, and which met the aspirations and desires of the moderate and conservative sections of the Japanese people. Finally, it wrote on the clean slate an acknowledgment of relationship between the two English-speaking nations which, though in no sense an affiance entangling or dis- entangling, yet had in it an element of intimate and permanent good feeling. Such an acknowledgment of vital relationship had no doubt often been expressed informally and unofficially by private citizens, American and British, but it had never before received clear official sanction. The Washington Conference was a great achievement—one which the historians of the future will recognize as the beginning of a new era. It may have dealt with only a portion of the globe, and with only a small number of nations ; it may have been local rather than universal ; it may have been concerned with circumscribed conditions. The spirit which inspired it, however, was the spirit which belongs to all who desire that international affairs shall be placed on a wider and saner basis than that which existed before the Great War.
Mr. Harding and his State Department in Washington, and Mr. Harvey here, did not rest on their oars after their achievement. They at once took up several very difficult problems, such as the question of the Mandates, the question of the American Army Costs and Priority and the various complications, administrative and financial, arising there- from, and finally the troublesome Oil Controversy. The Mandate question has been solved as America desired it should be solved, and as it ought to have been solved. Owing to the fact that America felt unable to join the League of Nations she was not a party to any of the Man- dates. Therefore, she did not automatically get the benefits which the Mandatory Powers had to confer on all the members of the League. But this was obviously unjust, as America, owing to the important part she took in the War, had helped to render it possible for the Mandates to be granted and carried out.
Happily, our Government at once saw the necessity for settling this essential matter on the principles of equity and not of rigid law. Accordingly, our Foreign Office worked out with Mr. Harvey an arrangement by which America is given by us, as the Mandatory Power in Palestine, all the rights and privileges which she would have if she had been a member of the League of Nations. In fact, we have- negotiated with her what might be called a " most favoured nation " agreement. The arrangement is not, however, intended to be confined to Palestine. It is essentially a model agreement, and will dominate all the British Mandates. Further, we cannot doubt that our example will be followed by the other Powers which have received Mandates, as; for example, France and Belgium.
This was a matter of real importance. But of even greater significance was the arrangement made in regard to what has been called the Oil Controversy. Superior persons will, of course, be inclined to turn up their noses here and to declare that diplomacy should not recognize anything so disagreeable as the smell of paraffin. As a matter of fact, however, paraffin, if left alone as below the dignity of diplomatic action, was likely to cause a great deal of distrust and confusion. " The little oil can " was becoming irritating, and as tedious in the columns of British and American newspapers as " the little oil can " which Aristophanes used to annoy Euripides. Happily, this cause of friction has been removed. The British Government had never any desire or intention to monopolize oil, or to corner oil in the waste places of the earth, or to make oil cheap for us and dear for the rest of the world, or, again, to give what was supposed to be the whiphand to favoured companies.
As we understand the matter, America and Britain have come to the best possible agreement in this matter—an agreement that they are not going to quarrel or be set by the ears by oil, whatever the temptation. The two Powers will act together in a spirit of conciliation and friendliness, and will settle all oil controversies that arise in future on a joint account. Neither Power will try to get in front of the other. What this means in the concrete is that it will be no good for a British company or an American company or a company half British or half American and half -belonging to some third Power to lobby at Genoa, or at any other Conference, so as to get special rights and privileges in the matter of oil. Nobody will gain anything by " cutting in " or obtaining prior concessions and so forth. If people try they will find that they have been short-circuited by the agreement not to quarrel about oil, but to settle all oil matters between Washington and London by a sound policy of give and take. That is • excellent: - It would have been a matter of shame to both • countries if, after settling the difficulties of the Japanese Alliance, the Pacific problem, the Mandates, and the Army costs, we had allowed antagonism to grow .up over oil—not even actual oil, remember, but prospective oil, oil not yet discovered, for that, of course, has been the cause of the trouble. Timid and unlit ppy millionaires have been terrifying themselves as to what is going to happen about oil thirty years hence. We all know the over-anxious mother who passes a sleepless night wondering how her daughter, aged five, will be able to deal with the cook or parlourmaid problem a quarter of a century hence ; or what she herself will do if the nurse and the housemaid give notice at the same moment. Mr. Harvey and our Foreign Office have put an end to these excitable vaticinations. They have poured cold water on the troubled oil !
In chronicling results of such immediate good, and also of such great promise for the future, we must not forget to give proper recognition to the work that has been done by our Foreign Office and by our Foreign Secretary. Lord Curzon and his great Department share to the full the credit of what we have just described. Mr. Harvey, though his aims were so good and his methods so wise and so vigorous, could have achieved little or nothing had he not been met with candour and intelligence by our Government here. Lord Curzon realized fully that in laying the foundations of good relations between us and America he was dealing with what was in reality the biggest question that the world affords. He took the American negotiations as seriously and with as good an intent as they could possibly have been taken. He and his Department, from the lowest clerk to the Under- Secretaries of State, were determined that they would not only do nothing to cause friction, but that they would do everything to further that policy which Mr. Harding had sent Mr. Harvey to carry out. They met Mr. Harvey more than half-way. Those who know anything of diplo- matic history will know that great diplomatic opportunities are often missed, not by Government's direct negatives or surly refusals, but rather because the officials concerned are politely indifferent, or negligent, or careless. Instead of meeting the other side hall-way, they take the line of saying : It is quite true that it would not hurt us par- ticularly to do this or that, but we really don't see why we are called upon to take all the trouble involved. It might, so far as we are concerned, just as well be left alone. We see that you would gain a great deal, but, though there is no immediate loss for us, there is no gain. Therefore, we will leave it till you propose something that will give us a show as well as yourself." That grudging policy, thank heaven ! was not displayed by us over the Washing- ton Conference and still less over the Mandates and the Oil. Our Government acted throughout on a principle which finds a great deal of favour among the best American business men—a principle which the present writer once had described to him by an English friend with large business relations in America. The Englishman described how on one occasion, owing to a not very well drawn contract and also to an accidental turn of events, he was in a particular transaction placed financially very much at the mercy of the American house with which he was dealing. The American, however, refused to make use of any of the advantages given to him by the contract or by accident. He would not insist on his legal rights, but proceeded exactly as if the unforeseen circumstances had been provided for in the contract. When the Englishman, touched by this generosity, expostu- lated, or pointed out to his friend across the water that there was really no reason why he should be let off so easily, he received the following characteristically American reply : " My dear sir, I do not mean this to be the last transaction between us." That was an answer as wise as it was well bred.
Happily our Foreign Office, as we understand, has acted throughout these transactions in that spirit. It was determined to show, not only by words, but by deeds, that it realized that this was not to be the last transaction between us and America. It was not only willing to do what America asked, but recognized that to do so was the very best thing for this country and therefore for the world at large.
If America and Britain stand together we may be able to stop the growth of anarchy by giving it less misery and social disintegration to feed upon. We may rebuild the broken arches of the bridge of civilization. If, on the other hand, our relations with America become bad, or even those of a merely cool friendship, we may find that the future -of civilization, not only here, but across the Atlantic, will be short and precarious.