Canada's Place in the World: Multilateralism Rules, Ok? (Zaire/Rwandan Refugees)

By Sullivan, Alan W. | Behind the Headlines, Winter 1996 | Go to article overview

Canada's Place in the World: Multilateralism Rules, Ok? (Zaire/Rwandan Refugees)


Sullivan, Alan W., Behind the Headlines


I have been reflecting on the various reactions to and comments on the Zaire/Rwandan relief mission, and wonder if members of the CIIA have been as bemused as I have been. I found that much of the reporting and editorial content suffered from confusion over terminology and an apparent misunderstanding of Canada's postwar diplomatic history.

From the beginning, there was confusion over whether we were engaging in peacekeeping, peacemaking or peacebuilding. Clearly they are not the same thing, but they are all worthy activities and, when circumstances dictate, they are all worthy of Canadian engagement.

I was even more surprised at the implication in some of the commentary that this humanitarian gesture indicated a return, by Canada, to genuine `internationalism.' Let's set the record straight. Canada's historic, commendable `internationalism,' as I understood it, lived through it, and at times participated in it, was largely a commitment to what we have labelled `multilateralism.' Canada pursued resolution through joint action, on as wide a basis as possible, to achieve more broadly based solution. That approach was and is the best way to ensure that key decisions are not simply the strong dictating to the weak, but the affected trying to maximize the effect of the solution. Grievances which could lead to conflict, are reduced as we work towards an outcome in which all are winners.

Thus the suggestion that we were returning to genuine `internationalism' struck me as historically inaccurate. Canada has never departed from its commitment to `internationalism,' since it never lost interest in, or support for, the benefits of a global approach to issues. That strategy provided Canada with the widest base of manoeuvre with which to pursue its own interests as well. The United Nations wasn't our only focus. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and its successor, the World Trade Organization, was another forum in which we have been and continue to be a leader in `internationalizing' the trade regime by expanding the rules and broadening the number of countries to whom they apply.

I was disappointed by a number of press articles and television commentaries to the effect that the domestic political considerations involved in our Zaire/Rwanda initiative have somehow demeaned or distracted us from our noble course. Those who read my commentary in the last issue of BTH will understand how unimpressed I am with that argument. Surely something that is good for the world, such as addressing the refugee problem in Zaire/Rwanda, whatever the ultimate outcome of the military component, is not lessened because it has some useful domestic political spin-off. …

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