Canadian Foreign Policy in a Changing World
Axworthy, Lloyd, Canadian Speeches
In a new era that has unleashed huge forces, human security demands a more activist role by the international community in matters that were once regarded as strictly internal concerns of sovereign nation states. And few nations have played a more active, or more effective, role than Canada in promoting human security -- in Zaire, Cuba, Bosnia, Serbia, Haiti, and elsewhere. Speech to the National Forum on Foreign Policy, Winnipeg, December 13, 1996.
You may have seen reports out of Serbia recently about how, when the government closed down the last independent radio station, Serbians turned to the Internet. By setting up their own web site, the people of Serbia were able to exchange information on the massive demonstrations protesting the overturning by the Serbian government of legitimate local election results. They were able to network and organize. The government could turn off a single radio transmitter -- but it could not reach the thousands of computers linking individual citizens to the world.
What has been happening in Serbia, and elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia, is a sign of broader changes. In recent years, the world has experienced a profound geopolitical shift. The tectonic plates of international relations have realigned themselves and, as always when two plates meet, huge forces have been unleashed. A new landscape is becoming visible, but the aftershocks of these movements are still going on, in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere. New countries are taking shape, and peoples are making their voices heard in the world in a way they could not before.
Trends Driving Change
The Internet, and more generally a revolution in information technology, are acting as levellers. By harnessing this new technology, people have as much of a hand as governments in driving events. What we are seeing is the democratization of international relations and of foreign policy.
The events in Serbia have been front-page news in Canada. Reports of the demonstrations fill Canadian television and computer screens. This permeability of borders and heightened interdependence characterize the new era. They challenge us to rethink Canada's place in the world, and how we respond to outside events.
During the Cold War, when Canada acted to preserve peace and security internationally, it was within clear limits and constraints. We sent peacekeepers; we negotiated disarmament treaties. And we generally stayed away from what were seen as the internal affairs of other countries. Now security has become something much broader. An annulled election in Serbia, or ethnic hatred in Bosnia, Rwanda or Zaire, can act as the trigger for conflict that destabilizes whole regions. It is increasingly clear that preserving "human security" -- human rights and fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, good governance, sustainable development and social equity -- is as important to global peace as arms control and disarmament. It is in response to the need to preserve human security that the notion of peacebuilding has emerged.
I picked Serbia as an example because I think it brings home to us the trends behind the tectonic shift in international relations that we have witnessed: * democratization and the multiplication of international actors;
* the rapid change, and the blurring of borders and dividing lines, brought about by globalization and the information technology revolution;
* the emergence of new types of conflict that threaten human security; and
* the need for new tools and measures to deal with these changes.
For Canada, the key issue is to decide where we fit in this changing world: where we can make a difference and where we need to play for ourselves, to promote Canada's interests. These are the sorts of questions that you and other Canadians have been discussing in the context of the National Forum. They are the questions we all face as we head into the next millennium.
In his book Millennium, Philippe Fernandez Armesto makes some interesting comparisons between the rapidly approaching turn of the millennium and events around the previous end of millennium, in 1000 AD. In this context, he highlights "... the ability of some groups to decisively influence the rest of mankind by generating and communicating ideas, creating or adapting technology, and undertaking exploration...." In my view, Canada has the potential to be one of these influential actors, who steer the course of events in the 21st century and beyond.
I don't say this from a misplaced sense of national pride, but because of the qualities and capacities Canada has, which suit us well to the new international landscape. We have abundant human resources and political skills. We have learned the art of accommodation in building our own flexible federalism. And we continue to enjoy strong public support for a role for Canada as a constructive, activist international player. The city of Winnipeg is a case in point. Here we are, in the middle of the continent. Yet as the centre of the grain trade and home of the Wheat Board, Winnipeg has always looked outward. Winnipeggers have always been conscious of the importance of cultivating links to the outside world.
Choosing Canadian Priorities
At the same time, we must accept that we cannot do everything, that we have more than ever to choose where and how we make a difference in the world.
Both peacebuilding and international communications, the issues you have been discussing, stand out as diplomatic niches that Canada is well placed to occupy. We have extensive expertise in both areas. We are in the forefront of international work on new responses to conflict, including the rapid-reaction study we tabled at the United Nations. And, above all, we are well placed to wield the "soft power" needed to be effective in these new areas of diplomacy. By "soft power," I mean the international influence that knowledge, information and an attractive set of values confer. In a wired world, this influence is power -- the power to get things done by building coalitions, like the multinational force for Zaire, rather than by coercion.
With the Help of Canadians
The National Forum, and other conduits for consultation, have a double role: in maintaining Canadian support for our internationalist vocation and in setting priorities, that is, in examining which niches Canada can and should seek out. Our foreign policy must be rooted in public acceptance and support. It must take its direction from what Canadians think is possible and desirable. The Forum provides an effective, direct conduit for Canadians to give their views and participate in developing foreign policy options.
If there is one conclusion that I have drawn from our consultations to date, including the meetings of the Forum, it is that Canadians remain committed to an active, internationalist foreign policy. The issues and the setting may have changed, but Canadian support for an activist, middle-power approach is as strong as it was 40 years ago, when we launched the first peacekeeping force.
Where Canada Made a Difference in 1996
With this public support, we have pursued key Canadian goals over the past year. In areas that matter to Canadians, we have exercised leadership, and we have made a difference internationally.
The leadership exercised by the prime minister galvanized the international community into forming the multinational force for Zaire. This in turn provided the political impetus needed to unblock a stalemate that threatened the lives of hundreds of thousands of refugees. As a result, the need for immediate humanitarian assistance has receded somewhat. But we are continuing our efforts to deal with longer-term needs, to break the cycle of violence that has racked the Great Lakes region of Africa.
The government has also taken a leadership role when it comes to protecting Canadian interests internationally. In response to the Helms-Burton Act, Canada led international efforts to resist this exercise of unacceptable extraterritorial jurisdiction. The European Union, Japan, Mexico, Caribbean and Central American countries, and the Rio Group have all joined us in criticizing this legislation. Here at home, we have proposed amendments to legislation to help Canadian companies defend themselves in the face of Helms-Burton and similar unacceptable laws.
As part of our commitment to put children's rights at the top of the domestic and foreign policy agenda, the government appointed Senator Landon Pearson as a special advisor in 1996. Under Senator Pearson's lead, we have held broad-based consultations on children's rights. We have started working internationally on measures against child labor and the commercial sexual exploitation of children. And, under Bill C-27, we have proposed amendments to the Criminal Code that allow for the prosecution of Canadians who engage in so-called "sex tourism."
Canada was at the forefront of the movement to ban anti-personnel mines. These weapons keep on fighting battles that ended months, years and even decades ago. They kill or injure roughly 500 people per week, 90% of them civilians, many of them children. At a conference in Ottawa this October, I invited the governments represented to give their support to the signature at the end of 1997 of a treaty banning all anti-personnel mines.
In Bosnia, Canada provided support to free media and democratic elections, in order to rebuild civil society and consolidate the peace. At the same time, we continue to contribute to the international peacekeeping force. In fact, Winnipeg's own Princess Patricia's Regiment will be leaving soon for Bosnia, to take over as the Canadian contingent within the stabilization force agreed on by NATO this week.
Canada has led efforts to pursue war criminals from the former Yugoslavia and from Rwanda, in the belief that there can be no lasting peace without justice. A Canadian, Mme Justice Louise Arbour, was appointed Chief Prosecutor of the international war crimes tribunals in The Hague earlier this year. This week, at the meeting of NATO ministers, I was able to build a consensus around Canada's view that NATO needs to develop new measures to deal with war criminals in Bosnia.
We have also been active in broadening our influence within our own hemisphere in the past year. We have been trading and signing treaties, preventing conflict and building peace, selling Canadian information technology and providing Canadian expertise, with our partners in the Americas. During their May, 1996 meeting with Prime Minister Chretien and myself, the presidents of the Central American countries asked that Canada share with them its experience in information technology in areas such as distance learning.
In Haiti, Canada took command of the United Nations mission in 1996. This is more than a traditional peacekeeping mission. We have been using development assistance funds to build peace by developing Haitians' capacity to govern themselves. We have been training police, the coast guard, judges and grassroots organizations--all key players in a peaceful, healthy society.
We have worked to address some of the underlying concerns that we share with others about the situation in Cuba. To support a peaceful evolution in Cuba to a society with full respect for human rights, genuinely representative institutions and an open economy, we have moved into new areas of co-operation with Cuba. We have sponsored seminars on such issues as comparative law. We are discussing with Cuba how Canadian expertise could contribute to an improved justice system or parliamentary committee structure. our disagreements with Cuba on human rights and good governance are not going to disappear overnight, and we continue to express them regularly, including at the UN. But we continue to work with Cuba, on the basis of a belief that dialogue and engagement, in a spirit of mutual respect, offer the promise of peaceful change in a way that confrontation and isolation do not.
To round off a year of activism, I will be joining a gathering of international dignitaries in Guatemala on December 29, to witness the signature of the Guatemalan Peace Accord. When I met the Guatemalan foreign minister recently in Ottawa, we discussed ways Canada could assist the implementation of the accord. Our objective is to help Guatemala make a peaceful transition to an open society, one in which human rights are respected and development is more equitable.
Looking Ahead: Shaping a New Tool Kit
As you can see, we have accomplished a great deal in the past year. But I recognize that there remains a pressing need to refurbish and broaden our foreign policy tool kit as we face the challenges of the coming millennium. In recent speeches, I have announced the launch of initiatives in two areas that are crucial to the renewal of our foreign policy: peacebuilding and an international information strategy.
In October, at York University, I announced a new Canadian Peacebuilding Initiative, including a special peacebuilding fund, financed by CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency]. At that time, I outlined my own belief that peacebuilding is a crucial tool in dealing with the new forms of conflict that have come to characterize the international landscape at the end of the century. The initiative will respond to the need, identified in your discussions, to co-ordinate existing peacebuilding efforts and to establish networks, improve preparedness and set priorities.
More recently, I have outlined my views on the need for a Canadian International Information Strategy--a strategy that uses knowledge, information and information technology in innovative ways within Canadian foreign policy. The strategy is still in its early stages, but specific projects are already in the works. To cite just one example, in 1997 Winnipeg will be the site of a national conference of Canadian and Asian young people, "Asia Connects/Cherchons I'Asie." Up to 12 other sites in Canada will be linked electronically to the Winnipeg conference, creating "virtual communities" of young people across the country. It is this kind of innovative use of information technology to link Canada to the world, and to advance our foreign policy objectives, that an international information strategy will promote.
In both these areas, the need for new ideas and for informed debate to keep us on the cutting edge is clear. The National Forum has already launched the debate and will, I hope, continue to drive it forward. The Forum is the venue in which to start putting flesh on the bones of these two initiatives, by proposing specific tools for implementing them. The democratization of international relations -- their opening up to actors other than the traditional nation states -- will, I believe, come to be seen as one of the characteristics of the new era that we are entering. The existence and the work of the National Forum on Foreign Policy is a harbinger of that trend. I look forward to working with you all to develop a Canadian foreign policy fitted for the 21st century.…
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Publication information: Article title: Canadian Foreign Policy in a Changing World. Contributors: Axworthy, Lloyd - Author. Magazine title: Canadian Speeches. Volume: 10. Issue: 9 Publication date: January-February 1997. Page number: 17+. © 1998 Canadian Speeches. COPYRIGHT 1997 Gale Group.