Lloyd Axworthy's Legacy: Human Security and the Rescue of Canadian Defence Policy

By Jockel, Joe; Sokolosky, Joel | International Journal, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Lloyd Axworthy's Legacy: Human Security and the Rescue of Canadian Defence Policy


Jockel, Joe, Sokolosky, Joel, International Journal


THE POST-COLD WAR DEBATES over whether and how Canada should be involved in overseas conflicts are coming to a close. Canada will both fight and keep the peace, due in large part to Lloyd Axworthy, who stepped down after four years as minister of foreign affairs to take a position at the University of British Columbia. Henceforth, when the Canadian Forces go abroad, they will do so, as they did in Kosovo, explicitly or implicitly in support of 'human security.' Axworthy, the author of the Canadian human security agenda, has thus won an important political victory and a long-lasting ministerial legacy extending beyond the Department of Foreign Affairs to its sometime arch-rival, the Department of National Defence. For with his human security concept he has paved the way for nothing short of rescuing Canadian defence policy from military irrelevance and strategic sterility.

Although Axworthy placed human security at the heart of Canadian foreign policy, he did not coin the term. It came into international parlance largely as a result of a 1994 report by the United Nations Development Programme. Axworthy's own approach to the concept has been broad. As the Department of Foreign Affairs put it in a 1999 'concept paper' issued with his imprimatur: 'In essence, human security means safety for people from both violent and non-violent threats. It is a condition or state of being characterized by freedom from pervasive threats to people's rights, their safety, or even their lives.

From a foreign policy perspective, human security is perhaps best understood as a shift in perspective or orientation. It is an alternative way of seeing the world, taking people as its point of reference, rather than focusing on the security of territory or governments. Like other security concepts - national security, economic security, food security it is about protection. Human security entails taking preventive measures to reduce vulnerability and minimize risk and taking remedial action where prevention fails.'(f.1)

THE END OF THE NATIONAL INTEREST

The human security concept will endure as the justification for Canadian military intervention overseas, especially because it has opened the door to abandoning the Canadian national interest as the touchstone for decision-making. As foreign minister, Axworthy never quite gave up on the national interest when he talked about the role of the Canadian military in human security. For example, in justifying Canadian participation in the Kosovo War, he took recourse to the old and creaky argument that the Canadian national interest can be found just about anywhere in the world: 'in an increasingly interconnected world, where we are travelers, exporters and importers, investors and donors, we cannot afford to ignore the problems of others - even if we wanted to.'(f.2) Therefore, he went on, the pursuit of human security overseas, as in Kosovo, serves Canadian interests.

This approach is neither convincing nor necessary to justify human security interventions. Take Kosovo. Few Canadians travel there, export to or from there, or invest money there. The same can be said of virtually all the other places where the Canadian Forces recently have been deployed on peacekeeping or peace enforcement missions. Where is the Canadian national interest in East Timor or, for that matter, on the Ethiopian-Eritrean frontier where Canada recently dispatched a very small peacekeeping contingent to join the United Nations effort?

During the cold war, the dispatch of Canadian troops on peacekeeping missions to distant places outside the area of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was much more clearly in the national interest. Had a nuclear war ever occurred, the effects on Canada would have been calamitous. Canadian peacekeeping in locations such as the Middle East thus helped to dampen the possibility of a direct clash between the superpowers, reducing the chances of nuclear war. This link between Canadian security and Canadian military intervention disappeared along with the Soviet Union.

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Lloyd Axworthy's Legacy: Human Security and the Rescue of Canadian Defence Policy
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