The Ottawa Process Revisited: Aggressive Unilateralism in the Post-Cold War World

By Chapnick, Adam | International Journal, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

The Ottawa Process Revisited: Aggressive Unilateralism in the Post-Cold War World


Chapnick, Adam, International Journal


"I believe that the campaign to ban landmines not only produced a significant victory in international disarmament, but also epitomized broader changes that have shaken the foundations of international relations. Driven by global change, new forms of multilateralism are emerging, with new concepts, new tools, new actors, and even new institutions."

-Lloyd Axworthy, 1998(1)

THE GLOBAL MOVEMENT to ban anti-personnel (AP) landmines has been described by Canadian academics Maxwell Cameron and Brian Tomlin, and Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) senior policy advisor Robert Lawson as "a story of triumph against all odds."(2) It was, writes Cameron, "one of the most significant Canadian foreign policy achievements in decades."(3) Then Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy was even more forthcoming: "The campaign to ban anti-personnel mines was a defining moment for post-Cold War international relations... It shows that, when existing international bodies are not up to a task, new issue-based alliances can make unprecedented progress."(4) The Ottawa Process,(5) it has been argued, revealed that "traditional diplomatic fora and mechanisms can and should be subverted when they represent an obstacle to the achievement of policy goals that are widely demanded by world opinion. Multilateralism is fine as long as states are prepared to move as fast as the slowest in the pack, but coalitions of the like-minded are preferable when the public wants results."(6)

In the wake of the recent American War on Iraq, this message is eerie. In his account of the landmines initiative, Axworthy encouraged Canadians to "analyze the success of the... campaign, reflect on the lessons learned, and look ahead to new international opportunities in the new century."(7) But, in his enthusiasm, Axworthy and his supporters seem to have ignored the blatant contradictions between Canada's high-minded humanitarian rhetoric and the take-it-or-leave-it bargaining strategy that was at the core of the so-called new multilateralism.

Moreover, the celebration of the freedom of the lesser powers, made possible by the end of the bipolar structure of the Cold War, has over-looked the dangers that have come along with the unitary hyperpower system left in its place. America too has been empowered and spurred on by the tragedy of 9/11; its president has presented a rather different interpretation of the words "coalitions of the like-minded" when faced with an international body "not up to the task" of furthering its interests.

Canadians, along with the rest of the international community, should have seen this coming. In their summary of focus group research undertaken at the end of the Ottawa Process, Cameron, Tomlin and Lawson concluded: "If the lesson learned by participants is truly that a coalition of small and medium powers in concert with NGOs can take issues outside of regular diplomatic channels and fast-track an outcome over the objections of major powers, then the major powers surely learned the same lesson."(8) That said, whether or not George W. Bush had any knowledge of the methods used by the International Coalition to Ban Landmines (ICBL), it should not be at all surprising that the United States organized and justified its war against Iraq's Saddam Hussein through strategies and rhetoric disturbingly similar to those employed so effectively against its own wishes in 1997.

THE OTTAWA PROCESS

The dangers inherent in AP landmines were first recognized seriously by the international community in Protocol II of the 10 October 1980 United Nations Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or Have Indiscriminate Effects (CCW). The Protocol proposed to restrict or eliminate landmines and similar war instruments that put civilians at risk.(9) However well intentioned it might have been, the CCW had virtually no impact on the use, sale or production of AP mines.

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