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observert view of thial premiersmas the first dreaming vece
They do not even keep up with the increase in our naval expenditure-amounting to about 10,000,0001. a year—since 1897. Australia, if rumours speak truly, has even put forward an important claim to independent naval control, which it appears that the Admiralty has refused to entertain. The one clear fact is that all the colonies shrink from further military expenditure and control. Instead of wishing to increase the control of the central power, both Canada and Australia have for long cherished the notion of absolute internal military Home Rule. Their record in the South African war has made them not less but more anxious to provide their own officers, and manage their own armies. They would certainly resent any suggestion of compulsory service, or of legal obligation to help the home country in case of need.
The results of the Conference, therefore, deliver a severe blow to the hopes of those who have been dreaming of military and naval concentration as the first effect of the Boer war. The colonial premiers have, it is clear, taken a far shrewder view of the moral of that war than have some observers at home. They see that its moral is not concentration, but elasticity-not compulsion, but free and voluntary effort. The centralised system of the British War Office failed to grapple with the situation, and it was the free and unfettered efforts of volunteers at home and in the colonies that saved the Empire. That is not a story which points convincingly to the necessity for increased control. At any rate, the colonial premiers will have none of it, and it is now clear that the tendency both in Canada and in Australia will be towards military autonomy rather than military subordination. They do not regard their two years of voluntary effort as giving the old country any larger claim on their resources, and they would be surprised if the Imperial authorities were to use a great and signal display of spontaneous patriotism as an excuse for inviting a very heavy annual contribution to the exchequer of defence. They are willing to give freely their blood and treasure in a moment of emergency. But they claim, when the time comes, the right of choice. They are young and poor; they have small populations that have to struggle with great natural difficulties; they have vast countries to civilise, and demands to meet which are unknown to an old and settled country. They shrink, therefore, from the prospect of a continuous military strain. They draw back, as Sir Wilfrid Laurier has himself put it, from the vortex
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of militarism. They cannot face the burdens of the new and the old world at the same time. They cannot undertake to subdue at once nature in a new continent and humanity in an old.
The old country, on the other hand, also shrinks from a further sacrifice to the new. Here, again, it would be interesting to have a full account of the discussions at the Conference. For it seems certain that the colonies, on their side, put forward suggestions which made almost as great a demand on Great Britain as the British proposals made on the colonies. Each side suggested a closer arrangement on the point which affected it most. The need of the home country, threatened everywhere by the combinations of a hostile Europe, is a securer system of military and naval defence; the need of the colonies, young countries struggling against big fiscal combinations like the United States, is a larger commerce. It is plainly to the interest of the home country that the military relations of the Empire should be placed on a fixed basis. It is equally to the interest of the colonies that the commercial relations should also be defined. If we want defence, they want trade.
It is true that the demand for concessions in this matter by the colonies from Great Britain bears a somewhat startling aspect to the casual observer. A foreigner, looking simply at the facts, might imagine that the colonies already had it all their own way. For if we look at the trade relations of the British Empire, what do we see ? On the one side Great Britain admitting the imports from her colonies almost entirely free from taxation; on the other, the colonies still building up high tariffs against the imports from Great Britain. One would imagine that if any proposal of reform were possible, it would be that the British colonies should imitate the home country by abolishing their tariffs. Sir Robert Giffen, indeed, has boldly put forward the suggestion that the Empire should seek unity in the direction of universal free trade. But this proposal may at once be dismissed as outside the range of practical politics. Whatever other step Canada and Australia may take towards the further unity of the Empire, they will certainly not take this step of adopting free trade.
The actual suggestion made by these two great colonies at the Conference was very far removed from this. It was, indeed, a suggestion in the direction of assimilation. But it was assimilation in a precisely opposite direction. Their
proposal was, we believe, not that they should come towards us, but that we should go towards them. They wished that the British Empire should move, not towards free trade, but towards protection. They took care, indeed, not to alarm us by any sweeping proposal. The Empire was not to be protected all at once. The dream of a Zollverein, such as prevails in the German Empire, was even discreetly denounced by Sir Edmund Barton. We were to move gradually, indeed, by way of preferential tariffs ; but the suggestion was made in a tentative and persuasive manner. Canada, indeed, could justly claim that she had carried out the pledge given at the last Colonial Conference in 1897. Since that year she has extended to British imports a preference of one-third, though it has been shrewdly, if somewhat unkindly, pointed out that owing to the nature of our imports her tariff still works out more in favour of American than British goods. Still, Canada has the right to claim that she has carried out her promise. It is not Sir Wilfrid Laurier's fault if his stout refusal to demand any concession in return has now been outflanked politically by the revival of the shilling duty on corn. Sir Edmund Barton, the Premier of Australia, could not indeed plead the same sentimental claim. But for many years past Australia has been pressing the Imperial Exchequer to remit the import dues upon Australian wines, and Sir Edmund Barton came to this country with an instruction to demand a preference on this product. Lastly, it is rumoured that Mr. Seddon hovered in the background with a more shadowy and less defined proposal, mainly thrown out in the form of spasmodic interviews, for a preference on Australian mutton. But as, happily, no tax on mutton exists at the present moment, Mr. Seddon's ideas scarcely came within the sphere of practical politics.
This, then, was the situation at the opening of the Colonial Conference. Mr. Chamberlain, on behalf of the home country, suggested help in Imperial defence. The two chief premiers, who were practically the only other personages who counted in the Conference, passed over this suggestion, and sought on behalf of their colonies a commercial preference on two imports-corn and wine.
But it would appear that the Imperial Government presented as steady a resistance to this demand as the colonies on their side presented to ours. It is stated that the Conference passed a general resolution in favour of preference at some future time. But that is a poor reply to those who asked for it instantly on corn and wine. If the VOL. CXCVI. NO. CCCCII.
home country remains empty-handed at the end, so do the colonies.
Though the dream of Imperial consolidation, either military or commercial, is thus for the moment shattered, there are smaller but not insignificant tasks which we may hope to find sensibly forwarded by the meetings of this summer—which are, it is now stated, to be repeated, as they ought to be, at regular intervals. The unification of the Empire in respect to law and custom, or in matters like telegraphs, ships, and posts, seemns, perhaps, a somewhat prosaic task after the great visions on which we have fed. But it is probably here that we should find the surest and safest road. The Conference of 1897 discussed the proposal of an Imperial postage, and rejected it, but probably that discussion helped towards its adoption. The Conference of 1902 may, perhaps, fail in everything else, but it will not be wasted if it has led to a better understanding between the premiers and the home country on such minor questions as those of shipping laws and telegraphs, or a common metric system, or a common degree for solicitors and barristers throughout the Empire. Let us hope that the resolutions, when they are published, will bear out the very sanguine forecast on these points.
But perhaps the chief profit of the Conference has been, after all, to place a definite check on that hurry after Imperial concentration which has of late become so perilous a tendency. It has brought certain vague and nebulous ideas to the test of practical bargaining, and it has revealed the fact that within the large circumference of common aims and common hopes which encircles the British Empire there is still a vital sphere of differing interests and local autonomies on which we trench at our peril. There could be no more certain way of breaking up the British Empire than to carry our centralising tendency beyond the point of healthy growth. If the British colonies were to allow the Delilah of militarism to bind their limbs and shear their locks, then there would be an ebbing of strength that might portend their final downfall. If the United Kingdom, on the other hand, found itself being heavily fined for the colonies, there would be a reaction which no statesman could resist.
The Conference has brought wisdom to extremists on both sides. Colonial interests have proved strong to resist projects of centralised Imperial defence. British interests have been strong to resist any definite suggestions of fiscal preference.
If Canada is not drawn into the vortex of militarism,' neither is England drawn into the vortex of protection. We have recognised the difference of our interests, and in that recognition lies the best hope for our unity.
But before we put the whole matter of the Conference behind us, it might be well to form some definite opinion as to the tendency of its two chief proposals—military consolidation and preferential duties. Putting aside the question whether they are premature, are these things ultimately desirable or not? They represent some kind of movement, but is it movement forwards or backwards ?
Military consolidation is the natural aim of all the military empires. It is the aim of Russia, and is the reason why that Power is at present undermining the local liberties of Finland. But hitherto the British has not been a military empire, and the tendency has been in the opposite direction. There was a time when all our great colonies were garrisoned by Imperial troops. But the gradual result of the gift of self-government was to enable the home Government to withdraw these garrisons. Australia and Canada are now entirely self-dependent in regard to military defence. South Africa was the only white colony still protected by an Imperial force at the end of the nineteenth century, and by a curious coincidence it has been the only white colony exposed to invasion and rebellion. A strong movement exists in Australia in favour of obtaining control of their navy, and it found expression, as we believe, at the Colonial Conference. The tendency is inevitable. State sovereignty is inextricably bound up with the military power. No colony can really be self-governing which has not also control of its own forces. And as the desire for self-government is the profoundest and strongest motive in colonial politics, so the dislike to any idea of military consolidation is unqualified and universal. It seemed plain to the colonies that this was a movement backwards—a movement away from the autonomous principle on which our Empire is based. That the colonies should undertake their own self-defence, and should in the end establish entire self-dependence on this matter is only right and just both to them and to ourselves. But that is a very different matter from military centralisation.
The proposal of a system of preferential tariffs sounds more specious, and has the great advantage over the first proposal of being desired by our colonies. But the British