Canada's International Policy Review

Canadian NGOs have been invited to submit proposals to the federal government's international policy review. Peace Magazine's editors have gleaned these ideas from other peace groups' papers. Feel free to adopt them, in turn, for your own group's submission.

By Peace Magazine editors | 2005-01-01 12:00:00

From surveying proposals by various peace groups, the editors have distilled some promising ideas for Canada's foreign relations. We'll present these suggestions under three categories -- all of which are actually inter-related as a system: (a) Development; (b) Governance and Diplomacy, and (c) Security.


Well-considered development assistance is the most promising mechanism for preventing armed conflict -- hence this kind of program should be considered, not only as the kind of charity that every decent rich country should provide, but also as a wise investment in security, preventing costlier peacekeeping or even war-fighting operations. We'll address both of the main approaches to the support of development: direct financial aid and the reduction of "structural economic violence" -- the harm done by unjust institutions.

FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO LESS DEVELOPED COUNTRIES. In the matter of development, the world has already adopted its key objectives -- the "Millennium Development Goals" (MDG). Canada has taken leadership in meeting the MDGs for the poorest countries by promoting access to low-cost generic HIV medications; by offering some debt relief; and by promising to increase Overseas Development Aid (ODA) significantly. However, considerably more will be required. An estimated US $150 billion per year of development aid are needed globally. For Canada, instead of raising ODA expenditures by 8 percent per year as planned, probably 12 to 15 percent will be required if the MDGs are to be fulfilled. We support augmenting aid expenditures by that much or even more, and completely forgiving the debts of the poorest countries.

STRUCTURAL ECONOMIC VIOLENCE. Besides direct financial aid, Canada can help reform certain global economic structures that perpetuate poverty and hunger, especially the subsidization of agriculture and dumping abroad by rich countries. The negative impact on Third World farmers far surpasses the amount of money contributed through ODA. The WTO, which is supposedly addressing this problem, seems to be making no progress. Canada, the United States, and Western Europe should phase out the subsidizing of agriculture for export.

In offering development assistance, Canada should never lose sight of environmental concerns. Every agency, such as CIDA, that funds projects abroad should undertake an environmental impact assessment before approving each new significant contribution. At the same time, the Canadian population owes it to the world to reduce our own mis-use and over-use of the planet's environmental resources.


We turn now to Canada's intergovernmental relations -- first (a) bilaterally with other states and then (b) with multilateral global institutions. In all such cases, we favor greater democracy and accountability.

Of course, democratic governments are not immune from making bad decisions. No one is correct all the time, and some democracies seem to be wrong most of the time. For example, the United States government has made many decisions lately that most Canadians oppose. This is a reasonable basis for cultivating closer ties to Europe than to the US. Nevertheless, when it comes to relations with the less developed countries, democracy and human rights remain paramount considerations.

PREFERENTIAL BILATERAL SUPPORT FOR DEMOCRACY ABROAD. Development is connected, not only to security, as mentioned above, but also to democratization. Repressive or failed states present unfavorable conditions for economic activities. To be sure, democracy is imperfect in every known country, including Canada. Still, the benefits of democracy are recognized today around the world, so we should not be shy about supporting it. Democracy increases the control people have over their own lives. It is favorable to economic development and it prevents much violence and civil strife.

There is a widespread misconception that development should come first and democracy only later, on the theory that a "strong leader" can benefit a weak economy. In fact, however, democracies consistently outperform autocracies in the developing world. People in low-income democracies live, on average, nine years longer than those in low-income autocracies and have a 40 percent greater chance of attending secondary school. Even their agricultural yields are 25 percent higher. No democratic country has ever experienced a famine.1

The other major reason for favoring democracy is its contribution to peace. Democratic countries virtually never go to war against other democratic countries, but only against repressive or failed states. They also have far lower rates of "democide " -- murder by a state of its own population -- than do autocracies.

Support for democracy is not, as some suppose, the imposition of our way of life on reluctant foreign cultures. Instead, the whole world is coming to recognize and desire democratic governance. By now there are 120 democracies in the world -- about 63 percent of the world's countries -- and the number is increasing. Nearly 40 percent of the world's population live in free socities -- states where political and civil liberties are secure. As the Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen has said, among the many great developments of the twentieth century, the one preeminent development was the rise of democracy. Canada should support that great development.

We urge that Canada's allocation of foreign assistance be linked with the fostering of democracy abroad. This policy would require recipient governments to submit to free and fair competitive elections, as well as to the protection of human rights, a free press, and the rule of law. Canada should distribute its foreign assistance to those governments that substantially fulfill democratic norms. When humanitarian aid is provided in such crises as the current one in Darfur, it should be administered directly, rather than through the Sudanese government. Donations to governments should be contingent, not on promises of future democratic changes, but rather on their having already demonstrated democratization, preferably as gauged by annual ratings from the High Commissioner on Human Rights.

A related factor that should count as crucial in Canada's allocation of financial aid is the extent of corruption in applicant countries. Canada already supports the work of Transparency International, an organization that works to combat government corruption around the world; such support should continue and even increase.

Canada should demonstrate greater consistency in its support for democratic regimes and its vigilance against human rights violations. We call attention to five places where violations are especially common: Israel/Palestine; Tibet; Burma; Darfur, Sudan; and Afghanistan. Canada must never condone human abuses in such places for the sake of maintaining profitable trade relations with repressive states.

Afghanistan. Despite some progress in Afghanistan, Canadian assistance must continue there for a long time, lest power revert to warlords or ex-Taliban armed groups.

Darfur. An immediate humanitarian crisis is ongoing in Darfur, requiring not only material aid for refugees but political and/or military intervention on their behalf. Peacekeepers are urgently needed to stop the atrocities. It seems unlikely that African Union troops are now able to meet this challenge. Many of the soldiers are sick with HIV/AIDS and may be a vector of transmission for that disease. Canadian decision-makers should address Darfur's problem promptly, whether or not Canadian troops are available to serve in that region.

The inconsistency of Canada's support for democracy and human rights shows up most obviously in Tibet, Burma, and Israel/Palestine.

Tibet. The Tibetans were invaded, and are now ruled, by a country that is becoming the world's largest power -- a country whose trade relations offer many benefits to Canada. It is craven to turn a blind eye to China's continuing violations of Tibetan rights or to refuse official contacts with the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan government-in-exile. His Holiness has promised to give up his political role when his people regain freedom. He also has proposed a moderate five-point plan that would benefit his homeland and the planet alike through establishing Tibet as an environmentally pristine, non-militarized buffer zone in an area of historic tension. His sensible plan should be supported by the Canadian government in all diplomatic contacts with China and the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Burma. Except for a few corporations, Canada derives few material advantages from friendly relations with Burma, a dictatorship that continues to suppress the elected NLD leadership, including Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Canadian corporations should be legally constrained from dealing with repressive, brutal regimes. Several other countries, including the United States, have taken stronger stands than Canada against the Burmese dictatorship. Norway, for example, maintains a radio station that broadcasts news into Burma to help the brave democratic opposition movement organize nonviolent political resistance against the junta. Canada should do no less.

Palestine/Israel. With the upsurge of global anxiety about terrorism since 9/11, the Canadian government should have addressed this terrible conflict, which is generating new cohorts of terrorists throughout the Muslim world. Compromise solutions have been proposed, notably in the Geneva Accords and, reportedly, the Taba agreement. Israelis have countered Arab suicide bombings by constructing a wall that further isolates the impoverished Palestinian population. The International Court of Justice has declared this wall to be illegal, yet the Government of Canada has failed to acknowledge this judgment. It should do so. If legal remedies are not a recourse for Palestinians, they are necessarily forced either to submit or to adopt violent methods, such as suicide bombings.

Canada should press for UN peacekeepers to be deployed in the occupied territories. This will offer some protection for both sides.

MULTILATERAL GLOBAL INSTITUTIONS. Structural reforms are needed in many institutions of global governance, such as the following:

UN Security Council. The High Level Panel now proposes an expansion of the Security Council without removing veto power from the permanent five -- a lame reform that will make the body more representative while leaving the veto as a grave difficulty. Unless an unlikely custom develops to forego using the veto, the Security Council will continue to lack legitimacy when it is most needed. No solution for this problem can now be anticipated.

Economic and Social Governance. Fortunately, in other areas, reforms may be attainable without changing the UN Charter -- particularly reforms concerning economic and social institutions. The Bretton Woods Institutions (BWI) and the WTO lack democratic responsiveness to the poorer countries of the world. Whereas these powerful bodies should be accountable to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), in fact the richer countries designed them as independent entities, to avoid the pressures that would arise within truly democratic global institutions. Nothing in the UN Charter needs to be changed in order to make the BWIs and the WTO accountable to ECOSOC; the only obstacle is a lack of political will. Here Canada should assume constructive, active leadership.

G-8? G-20? G-29? The G-8 is an even more extreme example of unaccountable power impacting the lives of all humankind. Perhaps it was to rectify this undemocratic system, as well as to correct for the power imbalance within the Security Council, that Prime Minister Martin proposed the creation of a new body, a "G-20" in which heads of government and their ministers will confer annually, deliberating mainly on economic and social issues. It is not clear whether this would supersede the G-8, nor whether it would address security issues in addition to financial and social ones. Martin's proposal has both merits and shortcomings. It would be more inclusive and representative than the present club of rich countries and therefore would likely acquire greater legitimacy in public opinion. When obstacles cannot be overcome, it often makes sense merely to go around them, e.g. by creating alternative structures to accomplish what cannot be done through the old ones. But in this case that it would amount to giving up on the United Nations. This new G-20 may undermine the slender prospect of reforming and strengthening the Security Council and ECOSOC.

Fortunately, a promising alternative proposal has been circulating within the UN itself: the creation of a "G-29" body that could serve the functions Mr. Martin envisages. In 2002, a proposal was advanced -- "Providing Global Public Goods: Managing Globalization" -- to use the present General Committee of the UN General Assembly as such a body. That committee now consists of a president, the chairs of the six main committees of the General Assembly, and 21 vice-presidents, five of which are the permanent five members of the Security Council and 16 of which are nominated every year by each group of UN member states: Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Western Europe and other states. By adding the president of ECOSOC, the committee would become a Group of 29.

Instead of undermining the UN, this would strengthen the organs of the UN that most need strength, without requiring any change of the Charter. The group would set priorities at the global level and develop new approaches to financing global public goods, providing representation to the poor countries and to the existing permanent five Security Council members, without the deleterious veto power. We urge that this G-29 option be explored further as an alternative to the G-20 idea.

We further suggest that the Canadian government review the merits of implementing a small "Tobin Tax" on the international transfer of funds, with the revenue to be devoted to projects and agencies of the UN system.


ISLAMIC GRIEVANCES AND TERRORISM. Canada now faces no obvious security threats apart from terrorism, which has required some increase in surveillance but, even more, requires an increased search for solutions to root causes. No less an "authority" on terrorism than Osama bin Laden regularly reminds us that his group's actions are motivated by Islamic grievances in the Middle East -- grievances that have been acknowledged as legitimate by numerous General Assembly votes over the years. Central is the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict. Were this one issue resolved equitably, the resentment that fuels Islamic terrorism would abate. Canada has done little to resolve it, thus incurring its presumed status as a potential target. Justice and the pursuit of global peace require braver deeds from this country.

THE US AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS. Canada's main insecurity comes not from its enemies but rather its friends -- especially its neighbor to the south. The Bush administration has abrogated the ABM Treaty; has importuned Canada to join its ballistic missile defence program; has resumed development of new nuclear weapons; and has failed to fulfill its commitments to the nuclear non-proliferation regime, while demanding that non-nuclear nations fulfill theirs. The US National Security Strategy, signed by President Bush in 2002, calls for Washington to maintain its predominant osition in the world at all costs, even by waging pre-emptive war.

Rarely can Canada exert much leverage but its top priority should be the problem of nuclear proliferation. The Bush administration ignores its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to move toward disarmament, while it accuses other aspirants to its own nuclear status of constituting an "axis of evil."

Canada should refuse participation in questionable American military projects -- as happened when it refused to join in the last invasion of Iraq. Likewise, Canada should refuse to participate in ballistic missile defence. As enunciated clearly on the Space Command web site, the long-term goal of this project is to position weapons in space. An "umbrella" against missiles is but an expensive distraction from the development of more realistic solutions.

CANADIAN MILITARY POSTURE. We do not invariably oppose the acquisition of military equipment. There are occasions (such as today's Darfur crisis) when a lightly-armed group of peacekeepers can offer essential police protection to civilians. Likewise, Canada's constant surveillance of, say, the North Atlantic is a vital service. Many of the planes for this work are out of service much of the time. Equipment should be procured to keep them flying.

On the other hand, war-fighting operations are to be avoided. Canada should fulfill its security responsibilities in the world by specializing in preventive, peacekeeping, conflict ameliorative, and reconstructive operations abroad, not war-fighting.

War-prevention should be Canada's main peace-building activity. For one reason, prevention, largely through well-designed development projects, costs but a tiny fraction as much as peacekeeping, refugee assistance, or rebuilding after a war. There are reliable early methods of identifying areas of probable conflict, as well as workable interventions to prevent conflict from escalating into violence. Early warnings could be augmented by annual country-by-country reports from the UN High Commission on Human Rights. Use development aid for war-prevention -- without, of course, failing to assist victims if a crisis does actually break out.

THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT ("R2P"). This policy was forged at an inauspicious historical moment -- after the controversial bombing of Serbia and Kosovo, and before the US had resumed its war against Iraq in defiance of the United Nations. Because of concern that R2P might be used as an excuse for other similar invasions, it has not won general acceptance. However, the debate did establish a new consensus that a government's sovereignty involves both a right and a responsibility to protect its citizenry. Failure to fulfill this responsibility invalidates a regime's claim to sovereignty.

Rules must be established for authorizing interventions. The Security Council's legitimacy has been gravely compromised by its unrepresentative character and its veto rule. Conceivably, the aforementioned G29 might acquire sufficient legitimacy to authorize such efforts.

Anyway, armed intervention should always be a last resort. Non-military methods of helping vulnerable people should be the primary approach.

DISTINCT FORMS OF INTERVENTION. Still, international intervention is occasionally required (e.g. Rwanda, Srebrenica, Haiti, and Darfur) to prevent genocide or crimes against humanity. A UN Emergency Service should be created to respond to such crises; it should include military, police, and civilian workers, whose spheres of activity should be kept distinct.

In particular, it is important not to use military personnel for humanitarian activities. Until a few years ago, Red Cross or UNICEF workers were not targeted because they were understood to treat victims from all sides with equal compassion. Today, humanitarian workers are vulnerable because military personnel have blurred the distinction between their two kinds of activity, if only by insistently "accompanying and protecting" the relief workers as they go on their missions of mercy.

Civilian Peace Workers. However, even genocidal situations may sometimes be prevented if large-scale interventions are undertaken far earlier by civilian peace workers. While the Responsibility to Protect document does urge nations to use preventive measures instead of military force, it does not spell out the nature and range of such actions. Precisely in that area, Canada can make a huge contribution by supporting more advanced methodologies. Conflict management and negotiation techniques have been developed by such pioneers as Johan Galtung and Roger Fisher. Strategic nonviolent struggle as an alternative to warfare has been explored by Gene Sharp, Robert Helvey, Peter Ackerman, Jack DuVall, and Jonathan Schell. Such work deserves far wider attention from decision-makers in international affairs. We urge Foreign Affairs Canada to convene an annual global conference on conflict resolution and nonviolent sanctions, publicizing the most promising suggestions that emerge each time.

Misgivings are appropriate whenever the issue arises of authorizing invasion of a state, even for the laudable motive of protecting a victimized population. Often Canada can better assist civilians abroad to defend their own rights in their own country nonviolently rather than by sending troops -- even SHIRBRIG or other fine peacekeepers -- to do it for them. Canada can also fund civil society volunteers working for social justice abroad rather than sending diplomats or military officers. Numerous Canadian NGOs already are contributing to peacebuilding abroad, but there should be ten times as many, and they should begin their work as soon as there is the slightest whiff of impending conflict. Even were R2P fully recognized, the United Nations would hardly authorize military intervention until a problem had reached crisis proportions. Civilian activists and humanitarian workers, on the other hand, usually can move about freely, even when they are funded by their government through quasi-independent organizations. As compared to other countries, Canada is low in what is termed "democracy aid." Greater funding should be provided to Montreal-based Rights and Democracy to aid nonviolent movements confronting dictatorships in their own countries.

Political parties should be expected to donate, say, 10 percent of their government funding to countries through their own foundations. Such requirements are in effect in Germany and the United States. The Social Democratic Party has the Ebert Foundation and the Green Party has the Böll Foundation. The US has both the International Democratic and Republican Institutes. Such instruments would make it clear that democracy is not just a luxury for a fortunate minority.

Nonviolent Democratic Opposition Movements. The war-preventive potential of well-funded NGO activists is enormous. Paradoxically, when political oppression is really serious, an indigenous democratic opposition can often succeed in gaining freedom where an armed insurrection or a military intervention from abroad would fail. This method of waging war against a dictatorship without shedding blood has been recognized far too rarely. Despite the examples of Gandhi's nonviolent movements; despite the Civil Rights struggle of Martin Luther King; despite the victories of Solidarity in Poland; despite the "people power" triumph of Filipinos over Marcos; and despite the nonviolent overthrow of Communist regimes around the world in 1989; despite the defence of the USSR against a coup; and despite the triumph of nonviolence in Kiev this past November, most people still believe that no population can defeat a well-armed, ruthless dictator.

But recall: the United States led an air war against Milosevic's Serbia but failed to force him out of power. Sixteen months later, thousands of Serbian citizens surrounded the parliament buildings in Belgrade and, without shedding a drop of blood, ousted the dictator. Two American political parties had funded the training of youthful Serbian democrats, many of whom were beaten by the police, but who nevertheless organized the nonviolent movement that forced Milosevic from power. Where bombs had failed, people power succeeded. Indeed, instead of frightening resisters into submission, State violence often stimulates others to join the resistance -- a phenomenon Gene Sharp calls the "jiu jitsu" effect.

Nonviolent struggle is no amateur sport. As in warfare, strategic thinking, training, and skill are required. As in warfare, injuries or deaths may occur -- though fewer than in a violent struggle. Canada should support the nonviolent, civilian option as a preventive alternative to violent struggle.

In view of the vast power of nonviolent resistance, we recommend the addition of this phrase to the Responsibility to Protect document: Democratic countries seeking to protect vulnerable people elsewhere should invariably consider first the possibility of assisting them to free themselves through nonviolent means without military intervention.

Canadian assistance should have been offered to the Iraqi democratic opposition movement several years before the American-led war began against that country. Yes, there was an Iraqi democratic opposition. And no, we didn't hear about it because people didn't believe it possible. But, as Kenneth Boulding said, "Whatever is, is possible."

--The Editorial Board, Peace Magazine


1 Joseph T. Siegle, Michael M. Weinstein, Morton H. Halperin, "Why Democracies Excel," Foreign Affairs, Sept-Oct, 2004.

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2005

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