Canada and Human Security: From the Axworthy Doctrine to Middle Power Internationalism

By Bernard, Prosper, Jr. | American Review of Canadian Studies, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Canada and Human Security: From the Axworthy Doctrine to Middle Power Internationalism


Bernard, Prosper, Jr., American Review of Canadian Studies


Introduction

One of the main priorities of Canadian foreign policy in the post-Cold War period has been the promotion of human security. Human security, a term popularized by the United Nations Development Program, refers to the physical safety and material welfare of people. The human security agenda involves unilateral or multilateral governmental and non-governmental actions aimed at enhancing individual protection and well-being. In particular, the agenda tackles those conditions--such as economic privation, civil strife, and political instability--that undermine the quality of life of individuals. The international focus on human security is the result of recognizing that fostering international peace and stability does not necessarily contribute to enhancing individual protection and welfare. In fact, the human security agenda is based on the premise that the promotion of human security is more conducive to international peace and security than the other way around.

Lloyd Axworthy, Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister from January 1996 to October 2000, championed human security and believed that Canada could play a central role in promoting it worldwide. In addressing the prospects for human security, he noted that "the road forward has many paths. What unites them is a very simple aspiration--security for all people, everywhere" (2001, 2). This paper compares the paths that Prime Ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin took to promote human security. I argue that from 1996 to 2000, Canada's approach to human security was influenced by the Axworthy doctrine--a foreign policy model based on Axworthy's understanding of changes in the international system and what they mean for the promotion of security. Under the leadership of Paul Martin (2003-2006), the Canadian government moved closer to middle power internationalism, an alternative foreign policy model with a tradition dating back to the early post-World War II period, which in turn changed the manner Ottawa promoted human security. The human security approach informed by the Axworthy doctrine was ambitious, setting its sight on a range of international endeavors all aimed at securing human well-being. Soft power and reliance on like-minded nations and non-governmental organizations were the primary instruments of this approach. On the other hand, the human security approach guided by middle power internationalism attempted to narrow its focus, prioritizing among human security's various components. Moreover, the approach placed greater emphasis on hard power, and Ottawa seemed more inclined to engaging and coordinating with great powers as a means of advancing its human security goals.

As two foreign policy models, the Axworthy doctrine and middle power internationalism are similar to the extent that they are derived from Canada's tradition of active international involvement. In addition, both models recognize Canada's middling influence in international affairs and show a preference for working through multilateral channels. However, their differences lie in their understanding of the international opportunities and constraints facing Canada as it promotes human security. The Axworthy doctrine holds that weaker states and non-state actors (global civil society) are capable of advancing the agenda on their own. This has spurred the belief that the agenda could be pursued without securing great power cooperation through bargaining and compromising. Second, the doctrine asserts that the state-centered international system is being replaced by a norm-centered system where states' freedom of action and ability to maximize their self-interest are increasingly constrained by normative principles. The Axworthy doctrine, therefore, is based on the notion that the community of states can move beyond the Hobbesian nature of the international system. Finally, the Axworthy doctrine contends that Canada's ability to achieve progress in the human security agenda depends more on its possession of soft power than hard power assets. …

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