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Canada and Human Security: The Need for Leadership

Article excerpt

The end of the Cold War was hailed by many at the time as the beginning of an era of unparalleled peace and prosperity. There was enormous optimism that the international community, released from the grip of superpower rivalry, would turn its attention to global problems, such as poverty, the environment, and population growth. The economic forces unleashed from the constraints of centrally planned economies would create new wealth and raise living standards in previously captive nations. And indeed, many countries have derived enormous economic benefits from the end of the Cold War. Yet, the income gap between the industrialized and developing worlds has continued to widen. This trend has been compounded in some countries by internal conflict and state failure. At the same time, new security threats have emerged, including an increase in transnational crime and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Armed conflict has taken on a different shape and is often rooted in religious or ethnic discord. While the number of armed conflicts between states has dropped since 1972, the number of intrastate conflicts has dramatically increased. The crisis in the Great Lakes region of Africa is a recent example in a series of tragic intrastate conflicts that have destabilized entire regions. Why did the end of the Cold War fail to enhance global stability? The Cold War concept of security emphasized the prevention of interstate conflict in order to avoid the perennial danger of escalation. This strategy focussed on confidence-building measures (to reduce the possibility of an accidental misreading of intentions) and international arms control and disarmament negotiations. Within this context, the end of the Cold War and a number of successes in arms control agreements, such as the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), should have fostered lasting global security. It is now clear that this approach to security was inadequate to foster stability and peace. Canada and a small number of like-minded countries such as Norway and the Netherlands began to reassess the traditional concept of security in order to identify those variables beyond arms control/disarmament which effect peace and stability. From this reconsideration emerged the concept of 'human security.' In my address to the 51st United Nations General Assembly in September 1996, I argued that human security is much more than the absence of military threat. It includes security against economic privation, an acceptable quality of life, and a guarantee of fundamental human rights. This concept of human security recognizes the complexity of the human environment and accepts that the forces influencing human security are interrelated and mutually reinforcing. At a minimum, human security requires that basic needs are met, but it also acknowledges that sustained economic development, human rights and fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, good governance, sustainable development and social equity are as important to global peace as arms control and disarmament. It recognizes the links between environmental degradation, population growth, ethnic conflicts, and migration. Finally, it concludes that lasting stability cannot be achieved until human security is guaranteed. Canada has both the capacity and the credibility to play a leadership role in support of human security in the developing world. In addition to direct assistance, Canada has sought to improve international governance through, inter alia, democratization, respect for human rights, and the peaceful resolution of disputes. Lester B. Pearson, Canada's secretary of state for external affairs, summed up this policy in 1948 when he stated that Canada could not escape the results and obligations that flow from the interdependence of nations. But this internationalist vocation also provided Canadians with something enormously valuable: it contributed to a uniquely Canadian identity and a sense of Canada's place in the world. …