A Chat with Lloyd Axworthy

As Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lloyd Axworthy took a key role in enacting treaties on landmines, child soldiers, and the International Criminal Court. Metta Spencer spoke with him before the November Eric Fawcett Memorial Lecture, where he was the keynote speaker.

By Metta Spencer (interviewer); Lloyd Axworthy (interviewee)

METTA SPENCER: Let’s talk first about the humanitarian pledge—the new initiative to abolish nuclear weapons. The Austrian government invited all nations to Vienna and there is a campaign to get the bombs outlawed. What do you think are its prospects?

LLOYD AXWORTHY: It’s important to keep that issue alive. With a new generation emerging, it may take off more actively than past similar efforts. If ever there was a time when it was needed, both Walter [Dorn] and I saw it this past week at a conference at West Point. We saw that nuclear deterrence is still a functioning fact of American policy. There’s no desire there to re-think it. So, what chance does it have? I think a big educational effort is going to have to take place.

When I was in Foreign Affairs, I asked the Committee on Foreign Affairs to look at Canada’s nuclear policy. That caused a lot of consternation among our allies. Bill Graham was the chair of the committee. Not to create a NATO crisis, they recommended that we ask why first-strike nuclear deterrence is NATO’s operating principle. (This was when we were really friendly with the Russians.) The only backing I got was from Joschka Fischer in Germany. When we took it to the review conference in Washington, let’s just say it was politely put in the “Drop Dead” basket. So there is not much engaged work on the subject—not just by Americans, but everybody else. Yet you can see what still happens—this big fuss over the deal with Iran and non-proliferation.

SPENCER: I read yesterday that the US is putting about 20 nuclear bombs of a new type into Germany. Altogether they have 80 times the explosive power of the Hiroshima bomb. So Putin has announced that he will reply by putting nuclear bombs in Kaliningrad. That is a terrible revival of the nuclear arms race. I’d expect the Germans to say, “No, thank you. We don’t want your nukes.” Wouldn’t Germany be a promising country to start some sort of resistance against the bombs?

AXWORTHY: It would, though the refugee issue probably consumes all their attention now. The interaction is a game of tic-tac-toe. We put missile defences near Russian borders, but you can’t do such things and not expect consequences. There’s going to be a reaction. and Putin is the kind of person who wants to provoke and incite.

SPENCER: He says his reason is not just objection to the installation of ballistic missile defence systems in Romania and Poland, but also the continued expansion of NATO. But, as far as I know, NATO did not plan to include Ukraine. Am I wrong?

AXWORTHY: No, I think you’re right, but Russia has always had this phobia. There has always been a game of cat and mouse, and Ukraine has always been treated in a very special fashion by the Russians, who saw the partnership between Ukraine and the EU as just a “first step.”

And I have to say this now in reflecting on the past: I think we made a mistake by expanding NATO into Eastern Europe. It was a Canadian position, supported by us.

SPENCER: Did you say so at the time?

AXWORTHY: I had doubts, but I went along with the majority. But I heard the comments of a fellow like Igor Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister, whom I knew well. He said, “You’re just going to give more strength to the old Russian nationalist fervor, and give a pretext for their anti-Western, anti-NATO feelings, as opposed to building some bridges.”

But there was such a demand—which again, you can understand—from the Eastern European countries because they had all suffered so deeply from Soviet occupation.

SPENCER: Yes, they really wanted to be in NATO. Even a lot of Ukrainians wanted that.

AXWORTHY: Oh, you only have to look at what happened before World War II and what happened under the Soviet occupation. It was a police state, with massive killings and total ripping up of the economies. Their rights were suppressed and disappearance was a common occurrence. You can understand their wanting to get free and find some security.

SPENCER: You masterminded the landmines treaty. Now the people promoting the humanitarian initiative for nuclear abolition are basing their approach on the same model. Can you comment on whether it’s better than going through the Conference on Disarmament? And, if so, how can they make it work?

AXWORTHY: Well, let’s start with the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament. The most important decisions they make is to find parking places for the ambassadors. When I first engaged with the landmines issue, it became clear immediately that we had to take it outside the CD. We had a preparatory meeting in Ottawa. There had been a total stalemate in Geneva, and Canada invited practitioners—NGOs, the Coalition on Landmines, the International Red Cross, all the players—to figure out a way to break the stalemate.

We couldn’t. There was a continuing stalemate between the P5 [Permanent Five Security Council countries], which wanted to have a treaty that was going to be very incremental. It was only then that we saw it going nowhere. I had a meeting with senior officials from Foreign Affairs — people like Paul Heinbecker—who said that if you really want to throw it open, it means taking a big risk for Canada, going outside the UN system, but it might mean they’d come back and sign a treaty. This would be the Canadian mission, in partnership with the Dutch and Indonesians, and Chileans, and some of the African states.

The key to it was that we formed for the first time a working partnership between the NGO community and certain like-minded governments. That worked pretty well. The people who were working on the International Criminal Court (ICC) asked us if whether we could do the same thing for them, and we did. We got the Rome Statute passed. And we did the same thing for the Protocol on Child Soldiers, and things of that kind.

SPENCER: I’d forgotten that. After the landmines, you went on and did it again.

AXWORTHY: Two or three times. Small Arms. Child Soldiers. International Criminal Court.

SPENCER: Have they all worked?

AXWORTHY: The court does. It has problems, but it’s the first new international institution in the twenty-first century. The protocol on child soldiers became accepted at the UN. Small Arms Trade has been working. The follow-up to that—the Treaty on Cluster Munitions—has now been passed. So there’s a model there: a combination of like-minded countries who have a commitment to use their resources, plus institutions like the Red Cross and the NGO community. If you pull it all together, I think you can do something important. You’re not always going to have success, but it is coalition-building. You need the countries because you need the diplomats, the negotiation power. You can’t do it in a cloud. But at the same time, the NGO community is able to mount public pressure in countries that are willing to go outside the accepted diplomatic norms.

SPENCER: When you get your like-minded people together and they agree, I guess you create sort of a snowball effect. You get more and more states and hope eventually to shame the big powers into coming around. Maybe I’m exaggerating this notion, but how often does that work?

AXWORTHY: Well, in the case of landmines, the United States now adheres to 98 percent of the treaty. In fact, it puts more money into demining and rehabilitation than any other country in the world. But they can’t sign because of the problems they have in Congress to get any treaty signed. They still haven’t signed the Treaty on the Rights of Children. I was in the US last week when there was an impassioned call from an American diplomat to get behind the International Court. My only comment was, “Look, you’re eloquent, and you’ve got a great argument, but you’re not going to be taken all that seriously until the United States becomes a player in that.”

SPENCER: I was just watching Sixty Minutes and they were showing the effort to modernize these nuclear weapons. It’s going to be stupendously expensive, and they were frank about saying, “You know, we say we’re just slightly improving an existing weapon because Obama has said we’re not going to create any new ones.” But the blatant implication was that these are basically new weapons, and they are just claiming they are an improved version of the old version. Imagine!

There are so many people with a stake in the continuation of weapons in the US, that it’s questionable how much support for abolition is there.

AXWORTHY: Maybe it’s my political background, but it’s always nice if you can get some wins. So I have recently taken up the cause of denuclearizing the Arctic Ocean.

SPENCER: Oh, I didn’t know you were into that. Tell me what you’re doing.

AXWORTHY: There was a conference in Ottawa a couple of months back on Arctic security. I expressed a real concern because the national interest stakes are getting high in terms of developing the Arctic’s resources—its oil, its gas, its minerals. Even good guys like the Norwegians are increasing their military build-ups in this area. The Russians have spent billions of rubles on infrastructure and icebreakers. We got to the point where we are now having confrontations. The Law of the Sea secretariat is warning about these undersea shelves extending farther into the ocean. Let’s try to get some agreements and start building some bridges on this. Clearly, there are some good practical possibilities, like a maritime fish agreement so we won’t have a fishless ocean in the Arctic.

But on the other hand, you’ve got a security issue, so let’s get people together to talk about it. It would be nice to have a clear commitment from Russia, the United States, Canada, and the other players that we want to keep nuclear weapons out of the Arctic. Would that go somewhere? I don’t know, but at least it’s important to make people answer.

SPENCER: Pugwash people have been working on this—Mike Wallace early on, and now Adele Buckley. And, my goodness, way back! Gorbachev started that.

AXWORTHY: Yes, it was in Gorbachev’s first comments. It’s about time.

SPENCER: My understanding is that until about a year ago the Russians were cooperating pretty well in dealing with Arctic matters. For example, there is a question as to where the continental shelf drops off into the ocean. Apparently that has to be settled to decide which countries own which portions of the Arctic Ocean. Do you understand that? I don’t.

AXWORTHY: Oh, I follow it very closely. All of the circumpolar countries have claims that they have submitted to the Law of the Sea secretariat. The problem is that a lot of these claims overlap. There are huge pressures on them because they are one of the last rich untapped resource areas in the world. The only real multilateral activity is in the Arctic Council, which Canada was very instrumental in establishing. So if you want to talk about climate, environment, and security issues, it’s in our own front yard. We need to be much more conscious than the previous government, with all that talk about the sovereignty issue. Mr. Harper would have Canadian airplanes flying around there, but they didn’t invest in the icebreakers, the sensoring systems, or the infrastructure. And most important, they didn’t invest in the indigenous people who live in the Arctic. They have a legitimate claim because they weren’t given the right opportunities for affordable food, education, and sustainable community life.

The interesting thing about the Arctic Council is that it’s the only multilateral institution where indigenous people actually have a seat at the table.


AXWORTHY: But there have been real efforts by the previous government and some other Arctic countries to create an alternative. In fact, just this last year they were able to set up this Arctic Economic Council, which is designed to be an alternative to the Arctic Council, and which will not have indigenous membership on it.

SPENCER: You say “multilateral.” I thought that the Council was originally just countries that had territory in or around the Arctic. But isn’t China wanting in? And some other countries that have no real Arctic presence?

AXWORTHY: Yes, and not just the Chinese. The Koreans, the Japanese, and others want in. The reason is that, as the water opens up because of the melting, it becomes one of the most efficient transportation routes in the world. Rather than shipping down to Suez or Panama, you can save about 2,000 kilometers and $30,000 worth of fuel by going through the Northwest or Northeast Passages.

SPENCER: But why do they need to be part of the governance of the Arctic?

AXWORTHY: They are observers right now, not part of it. But they have been allowed to become observers because they have a stake in the shipping. But, as you know, China is also very actively buying up large facilities and installations in Canada’s north.

SPENCER: Yes. But let me pursue the “landmines model” further, applying it to nuclear weapons abolition. If you were running the show, how would you try to make that happen? Would Canada be a likely country to take responsibility for it?

AXWORTHY: You need to build up some infrastructure and some information. One of the most useful things in the landmines treaty effort was that the International Red Cross had done a very extensive study of the impact. Who’s injured? They could show that it was unarmed innocent civilians who were being blown apart, not combatants. In effect, they used the public health argument. There’s lots of information out there about the impact of weapons, but it has become “background music” so people just don’t pay attention. Maybe in this case the model should resemble that of climate change, where you got together several thousand scientists and let them come forward with the hard, evidence-based conclusions that are necessary.

SPENCER: Well, they did bring a lot of evidence together in Oslo, Nayarit, and Vienna. They brought all kinds of people together to testify. To me, it seemed completely redundant—of course everybody knows all that! I guess the next step is to get some country to organize the diplomatic part. At first it sounded as if Austria might, but I don’t know that they have done anything. And I think I’ve heard that maybe South Africa will.

AXWORTHY: I would doubt that South Africa right now is in a position to. Mr. Zuma’s government is not known for its efforts on human rights or peace. But you’re right; there is a lot of evidence. But you have to translate it into something real. Get celebrities to speak to it. The problem is, we went through the Cuban Missile Crisis, but right now that no longer has a resonance. I spent ten years at a university as the president. I think there’s an audience there, and the leadership has to come from them right now. Let them force the political system. But somebody’s got to come up with a narrative that strikes a spark. I think you’ve got the connections in the digital system.

SPENCER: Are you talking about academics?

AXWORTHY: Not necessarily, but I think it would be helpful to have the academic community clearly involved.

SPENCER: I assume that some government has to take hold.

AXWORTHY: They do, but it’s very difficult. I can tell you from my own experience, having gone through the exercise with NATO. The pressure is pretty intense.

SPENCER: I know. Let me ask you about the fighter planes that were going to be bought, and apparently got put on ice even under Harper. I guess we can count on the Trudeau government skipping them too. What should that money be spent for? Icebreakers? Are there any military hardware items that would actually be useful?

AXWORTHY: If there is that saving, I’d put a substantial investment into the new technology of peacekeeping — early warning systems, ways of enabling people who are in a risk situation to be able to get information and react to it. Improving the capacity for peacekeeping to use robotics, not only to see the signs of risk but also rebuild afterwards. I think it’s an area that has been neglected in this country. The Conservatives closed down the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre. Our military don’t get much education in those areas anymore. Yet a whole new generation of technology is emerging that can really make peacekeeping robust. That would be my first choice.

SPENCER: That’s what you and Walter Dorn are working on. Do you want to tell me about that?

AXWORTHY: Sure. We’re involved in a study exercise at the American Academy of Arts and Science, which started out to raise the question of the dilemmas and ethics of the new technologies for war—the drones and things like that. But we developed it to cover the development of new technologies for mitigating risks, supporting peace, making peacekeeping operations, creating a better early warning system, providing means for verification and witness protection systems, so witnesses are not intimidated before the courts.

SPENCER: How would you protect them?

AXWORTHY: With a smart phone you can encrypt evidence very quickly. The National Bar Association has a system now where you can take a picture of an incident where somebody’s inciting racial hatred, and very quickly get it into a bank and a data system, and then it disappears. So if somebody then goes after the witnesses, it has already been encrypted.

SPENCER: How interesting! How much of that sort of thing can be orchestrated by the UN and how much can Canada do independently?

AXWORTHY: The UN can only do what its members enable it to do. If Canada took this on as a major effort, it would strengthen the UN peacekeepers’ capacity to provide surveillance. I’ll give you one example. Since retiring from the University of Winnipeg, I’ve become chancellor of St. Paul’s University College in Waterloo. I met there a group of young engineering students from Cambodia who have developed a new prototype for robotic demining, which will have a huge saving of lives and be much more efficient. I’m trying to find some money for them. It’s not easy in our system, but I understand you could free up all kinds of land in places like Cambodia that has been corrupted by landmines. What would take another twenty years to clean up you could do in two or three years, and turn it into farmland. Our country wants to look at new technology, so —

SPENCER: So we should have a factory for robotic deminers.

AXWORTHY: But also with our development programs we can support smart phone economies in developing countries—and in our own country. In aboriginal communities it becomes a way of marketing, a way of getting information. So I think if we don’t buy those fighters there are much better things to do.

SPENCER: What do you think Canada’s position toward Israel is going to be in this new Trudeau government?

AXWORTHY: I don’t know for sure, but the statements that Justin Trudeau has made say clearly that Canada has always been a strong defender of Israel’s right to exist, and its protection, but it can’t be allowed to continue doing the settlements, and we should still try a two-nation solution. I hope we become more actively involved—not simply as a megaphone, but by looking to solve common problems, such as the shortage of water. There’s a lot we could be doing to help build bridges. If you take the domestic politics out of it, it is no longer possible just to talk about these issues in relation to Israel and Palestine. There are enormous changes going on as a result of Syria and Iraq. I think that whole region is going to need an awful lot of environment engagement, and support —refugees and financial and political—and Canada has to be part of that.

SPENCER: Let’s talk about the refugees. How many would you aim for? I heard somebody suggest today 250,000.

AXWORTHY: Well, that’s pretty high. I think before we get into picking numbers out of a hat, we ought to help convene something, as we did during the large out-migration of boat people, when I was immigration minister, to share responsibilities world-wide. I think we settled about 800,000 Vietnamese, and Canada took a lead in this by engaging with the people doing it. If you listen to the experts in the field —the office of migration, the Red Cross —what we’re seeing now is just a small trickle compared to what’s to come. There are about 60 million displaced persons around the world. They’re not just Middle Eastern, Afghan, Iraqi, or Syrian. There are major migrations in Central America because of the drug cartels, and major problems in Asia—notably Burma. So refugees are one of the great global issues. We need a much better way of collaboration than we have right now.

SPENCER: I interviewed Mary Kaldor—oh, you know Mary?

AXWORTHY: Yeah! Sure.

SPENCER: She has a great idea. She says there are large uninhabited areas in Syria where it is possible to put up safe havens for the civilians who are displaced.. Install temporary housing.


SPENCER: They would need peacekeepers to defend them but it could be entirely defensive defense—non-aggressive soldiers guarding these people. And I was thinking also that recently Obama was considering no-fly zones. That could help protect them, as it protected the Kurds in Iraq. Is that a realistic possibility?

AXWORTHY: Yes, and I think we should look at it. The prime minister has said that we’re not going to be part of the bombing campaign, so we have to put other proposals on the table. I think resettlement needs to be done. Safe havens, yes, but do it in such a way that it is not just another refugee camp where people get stuck for twenty years, but something that actually has a development dimension to it, with security protection. But we need to break out of this mold that just asks: How many people shall we take? A bigger part of the solution is to deal with the conditions that create refugees, and also do serious resettlement in a variety of ways. One of them needs to be in Syria. But you’ve got to make sure that those people have water and food because those places are rapidly running out of those.

SPENCER: When I heard that Obama was considering no-fly zones, it sounded as if he’s intending them over the rebel areas. That brings me to the next question. What is your view about whom one should be fighting and whom one should be defending?

AXWORTHY: My position is: neither. As you know, I’ve been heavily involved in the development of the Responsibility to Protect idea. It has one simple, clear focus. Canada was really the author in 1999-2000 of the resolution in the Security Council that UN peacekeepers should protect people. What went wrong in Libya is that what started out as an R2P mission—the protection of people—became a regime-change mission. I think we’ve got to stick to the idea that in these kinds of activities, we’re there to protect people, not to determine what the political regime should be.

SPENCER: Uh huh. That would mean, though, that you’d put in peacekeepers or some other force, say, between Benghazi and Gadhafi, and say: “You guys can’t shoot each other anymore and we’re going to stay here until you reach a settlement!” Which might result is what happened in Cyprus; it took decades.

AXWORTHY: I was the UN envoy for Ethiopia-Eritrea, where there had been a disastrous war. A ceasefire was arranged, but they’d never been able to resolve that border dispute, so there were a thousand peacekeepers on the Ethiopian-Eritrean border, just watching the scorpions fight. But if they weren’t there, there would be a resumption of conflict.

SPENCER: Are they still there now?

AXWORTHY: No, but I had two years of my life hopping around in the deserts of Ethiopia.

SPENCER: I’d forgotten about that. That’s a promising idea.

AXWORTHY: Yeah. And you’re right: We’ve forgotten it. Our military lost their yen for peacekeeping. Rick Hillier and others thought they were there to kill. We had an aborted mission in the East Congo because our military didn’t want to participate. So we really have to change the mindset of the new generation of military officers so that peacekeeping in restored. I don’t mean in the traditional Pearsonian sense. I mean robust peacekeeping, where you’re there to really protect people, and if you get fired on, you fire back. But you’re not going to change the president. That’s up to diplomacy. We are there to protect innocent men, women, and children.

SPENCER: What’s the prospect of getting that back onto the agenda?

AXWORTHY: We’ll see. I think, it’s promising so far.

SPENCER: That’s what you’re going to be focusing on?

AXWORTHY: Yeah. Prime Minister Trudeau has made a lot of important statements. He’s given diplomats, for the first time, a get-out-of-jail card, so they’re not being handcuffed. In his acceptance speech on election night he said that Canada is back in the field of international humanitarian and human rights efforts. Now that’s got to be translated into action.

SPENCER: I have been haunted by a debate that I have not found in print, so for me it is just rumors. I hear that Louise Arbour has said she’s re-thinking her whole career in terms (I guess) of R2P [ the “Responsibility to Protect” principle] and the International Criminal Court. Maybe she’s referring to the issue of restorative justice versus punishment. I know you took her to task for it.

AXWORTHY: She gave a speech or something that was picked up by Globe and Mail reporters.

SPENCER: Well, there’s something to be said for her assertion that international criminal justice is not succeeding all that well. Let’s discuss that first. What could be done to make it more effective? And what are your feelings about that whole issue?

AXWORTHY: I don’t think you can separate out things—the Landmines Treaty, R2P, and the ICC. I think they are all a new architecture that some of us believe in building, which is centered on human security—not national security—and the protection of people. Where the court adds a dimension to it, it tackles the whole issue of impunity, when leaders can murder their own people and get away with it because they are doing it for “reasons of state.” There have been prosecutions—Charles Taylor has been prosecuted. The leaders in Eastern Congo have been prosecuted. Milosevic died in prison. So I think that the importance of international justice is essential as a part of the system of law and order that we’ve built up. Does it work perfectly? No, because it still doesn’t have the support of countries like the United States. I’ve chastised a senior diplomat from the United States. They talk about the rule of law, yet their country hasn’t joined an important institution of international law.

One positive change is the emergence of regional courts. People forget that. People say: Oh look, R2P didn’t work in Syria! But do you know where it’s working? It stopped genocide in the Central African Republic, Mali, and the Cote d’Ivoire. There you have blue helmets working with local African troops to keep large numbers of people from being killed. That’s why I find Louise’s position off side because she knows those things. She knows that there’d be massive killings in Burundi if it weren’t for international intervention and involvement.

SPENCER: Why does she say it’s not working? What would she say if she were here? I keep trying to get to interview her.

AXWORTHY: I don’t know, but I could refute it.

SPENCER: But she’s not the only one. In one of the Science for Peace weekly lecture series we had a young international lawyer who astonished me when she said the International Criminal Court is not working.

AXWORTHY: Well, she’s wrong! It’s not working perfectly, but it’s making changes. It’s providing serious opportunities for justice. It can be vastly improved—but only if we give it resources. Right now, it’s so restricted in its budget! But do we really want to go back to the days when Pinochet could throw the people of Chile in jail or when the Argentinian cabal or the Hitlers or the Pol Pots could use the word “sovereignty” as a cover-up for murder and expulsion and extermination? No, we can’t go back to that! It’s an institution that has a rule of law and a way of adjudicating. Can you improve it? Of course you can but it’s only been around for five, six, or seven years.

SPENCER: Well, they have a point when they say that it’s only African generals that get arrested. You’re not going to arrest Obama or Putin.

AXWORTHY: Well, do you have evidence to do so? And you can only arrest people who are signatories to the treaty. It’s not a universal treaty, and you need to prove that a decision they made resulted in an immediate political atrocity.

SPENCER: So how can it move forward?

AXWORTHY: One interesting development in the Rome Statutes is that a group of countries at the last meeting of the States Parties to the International Court picked up on the notion that aggression should become a crime against humanity. And now we’re within four states of getting it ratified.

SPENCER: Really!

AXWORTHY: Yeah! So how does that change the dynamics!

SPENCER: Who will decide who has aggressed and who hasn’t?

AXWORTHY: Well, you have to present your case to the prosecutor and the prosecutor has to make his or her case to the judges, and new prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, who’s an African woman, has responded to these issues. I think it’s because most civil wars are in Africa. Some are in the Americas, and some in Asia, but in Asia they’re not parties to the treaty. In the Americas they are beginning to be. I think there will be indictments.in Colombia. There are negotiations going on now between the court and the negotiating teams in Colombia to say how many of the FARC (the rebel group) and how many of the generals will be tried for crimes against humanity—their use of child soldiers or rape.

SPENCER: Recently in Africa—I can’t remember the case—a guy who was under indictment went into another country. That country was supposed to arrest him, but they didn’t.

AXWORTHY: Right. That was the president of Sudan, who went to South Africa, which is a signatory to the treaty. But Zuma, the president (let’s just say, he’s no Mandela!) allowed him to come into the country and escape before the attorney general and justice department could arrest him.

President Zuma gave him early warning. He’s a bad actor. But the Africans are going to have to deal with that in their own African Union. When it comes to the United Nations, most African states still vote for the court. People don’t tell you that. They tell you the bad news, but the reality is that when there was a major debate in the General Assembly, 180 countries out of 193 supported the court.

SPENCER: Good. Let’s talk about Syria. The foreign ministers are meeting in Vienna. That includes Iran.

AXWORTHY: Yes, and the Saudis.

SPENCER: I really, really don’t understand the Saudis. They hate Iran, but some of them are funding ISIS. If that’s the case, whom will they actually come around to supporting?

AXWORTHY: I have no idea, but the fact that they’re talking is a good thing. Sometimes it takes its time.

[Walter Dorn and Mila Shutova join us at this point. We chat briefly about plans for Mr. Axworthy’s evening lecture, which they are organizing for Science for Peace and the Canadian Pugwash Group.]

SPENCER: We were talking about Syria. We agreed that there should perhaps be safe havens for Syrians inside Syria.

DORN: Uh huh. But technically it would require government approval to use Chapter VII, and with Chapter VII you have a veto problem.

SPENCER: And that’s the question. Do we have to observe sovereignty?

AXWORTHY: To some extent. But the notion of sovereignty is changing. It’s no longer a divine right. People have to earn the right to have sovereignty.

DORN: I like the expression “sovereignty of the people.” It’s not the state that’s sovereign. It’s the people.

AXWORTHY: That’s right.

SPENCER: Yes, but is that the only reason why they can’t just go into Syria and set up tents for the displaced persons and refugees?

AXWORTHY: No. There are other competing interests. Sectarian ones. There’s one about Russia’s military interests and access to Mediterranean ports. Americans still have some interest in oil fields. There are lots of things going on there. And part of the problem is that Syria is an artificial creation.

SPENCER: Back to nuclear disarmament, for a sec. How far do you think the new government will go with that?

AXWORTHY: I don’t think it’s on their agenda. It’s up to the peace groups to get it on the agenda. So we’ve got to work on that!

Lloyd Axworthy was Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1996-2000. He is currently president of the World Federalist Movement / Institute for Global Policy and chancellor of St. Paul’s University College, University of Waterloo.

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2016

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2016, page 8. Some rights reserved.

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