The 1922 Chanak Affair was Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s first major foreign policy test. Turkish forces were threatening British troops stationed in Turkey after the First World War. King declined to automatically provide Canada’s military support to Britain. It was another step on the path to Canada’s independence in world affairs.
Trouble in Turkey
In the early 1920s, military forces from Britain, France and Greece occupied large portions of western Turkey under the Treaty of Sevres. It was imposed on Turkey following its defeat in the First World War. British troops were stationed around Chanak (now called Canakkale), a small seaport on the Dardanelles strait, the international sea route that divides Europe and Asia.
In the fall of 1922, nationalist Turkish forces, which opposed the presence of foreign troops, had succeeded in pushing the Greek army out of the country. The Turks then threatened British forces pinned down at Chanak.
On 15 September, Britain sent a telegram calling upon the Dominions (including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) to contribute soldiers to the crisis. (See also Commonwealth.) This would demonstrate the British Empire’s solidarity against the Turks.
At the time, Canada was an independent member of the newly created League of Nations. Yet Canada had no distinct foreign policy, nor even a foreign affairs minister. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George expected Canada to fall in line with British wishes.
In Ottawa, however, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was non-committal on whether Canada would send troops. On 18 September, King’s cabinet agreed that only Parliament could decide such matters. Conservative Opposition Leader Arthur Meighen criticized the King government for being disloyal to Britain. By the time Parliament could address the matter, however, the crisis in Turkey had passed.
By 1923, nationalist Turkish forces were even more firmly in control of their country. All foreign troops were being withdrawn. Lloyd George’s hard-nosed handling of the Chanak crisis led to the breakdown of his coalition government and the end of his political career in Britain.
In Canada, King’s detached attitude toward the crisis sent a message that he wanted greater independence for Canada in terms of its foreign policy. The Chanak crisis was not a revolution in Canadian affairs; prime ministers since John A. Macdonald had been reluctant to involve Canada in imperial skirmishes that did not threaten Britain itself. However, Canada’s rising self-assurance on the world stage and its growing independence from Britain would be further expressed in the coming years; such as with the Halibut Treaty in 1923. It would culminate in the Balfour Report of 1926 and the Statute of Westminster of 1931.
See also Global Affairs Canada.