- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 29, 2000

In the nearly five years I have been Canada's foreign affairs minister, a shift has taken place in what it means to be secure. No longer is security limited to discussions of states' rights and national sovereignty. Instead, protecting civilians and war-affected children, countering threats of terrorism, drug trafficking, open borders and infectious disease are increasingly part of the lexicon of international relations. This signals an important shift in global priorities toward the concept of human security.
To understand this shift, one has only to look at the foreign policy dialogue of the past five years. At meetings of NATO, the Group of Eight, the OSCE and the Organization of American States, human security issues have become integral to the debate. At the G-8 foreign ministers' meeting in Miyazaki, Japan, conflict prevention, terrorism, crime, the environment and nonproliferation, all human security issues, were the main agenda items.
Canada has embraced this shift in language and perspective and put the security needs of individuals at the center of its foreign policy. Why?
Worldwide, as aid budgets shrink, some people are beginning to feel certain negative effects of globalization. That is not to discount its trade, investment and integration benefits. But there is a dark side to this phenomenon, which is being felt most by those who long have suffered from inequality and insecurity.
Globalization also is putting our own citizens at risk. Whether it is risks faced by Americans and Canadians working or traveling overseas; the threat of terrorism, drugs or AIDS; or maintaining our open border, both our countries have a stake in this new foreign policy approach. The responsibility to protect our own citizens is coupled with the recognition that no one country is capable of dealing with this new reality on its own.
In just the past decade we have witnessed ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, mass displacement in East Timor and Kosovo, civil war in Colombia, the genocide in Rwanda and the present-day war in the Congo. Common to all these conflicts is that the principle of sovereignty has served to protect the perpetrators, not the millions of victims.
In contrast to the First World War, where 95 percent of all casualties were among those in uniform, today's conflicts are having a devastating impact on noncombatants. In Mozambique, civilians accounted for 95 percent of all casualties; in Angola, 90 percent; and in Sierra Leone, more than 85 percent.
Children are at the heart of the human security agenda as they are among the most deeply affected by war. The horrors of Sierra Leone the mutilations, the forced recruitment, the killing provide stark evidence and represent a challenge to strengthen our commitment to action.
The international community has begun to respond to these challenges. Last January, with essential support from the United States, Canada pushed for completion of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, raising the age of deployment of troops to 18.
Such cooperation can be extended to finding ways for the United States to ratify two other essential components of the human security agenda the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel land mines and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. These institutions do not threaten American security; rather they enhance it, and exemplify and uphold the fundamental values that underpin American democracy and liberty.
In April, a cross section of youth, civil society, media and governments came together at the West Africa Conference on War-Affected Children in Accra, Ghana, to come to grips with the issues surrounding children in conflict. One key fact resonated: The protection of children affected by war and the promotion of their well-being is a moral, political, social and economic imperative.
Moral because children are absolutely dependent on adult members of society for their survival and development. Political because children who have been abused develop into adults who may be willing to turn their resentment into political violence. Social because the anger and psychological scars of these abused children and their families threaten social cohesion. And economic because all of these problems incur real costs for medical and social support or the loss of productive citizens.
We will build on this global commitment at the Winnipeg International Conference on War-Affected Children in Canada this September and at the 2001 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children.
At the beginning of this new century, we are faced with a myriad of micro-conflicts throughout the world that demand our attention. These are the conflicts fueled by warlords and fought over diamonds. These are the wars of the ethnic cleansers, where killing is a matter of color, race or religion. None necessarily threatens global stability, but each entails unacceptable human suffering. International peace and security are possible only if we deal with the security of ordinary people everywhere.

Lloyd Axworthy has served as Canada's minister of foreign affairs since 1996.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide