The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: canada

Women & Global Peace: Inseperable


WE KNOW THAT THE GOVERNMENT OF CANADA IS undergoing a significant review as to where it would like to place its 600 peacekeepers in the near future. In this troubled world, the opportunities for involvement seem almost endless, although it appears likely that the deployment will occur somewhere on the African continent.

Many Canadians like the idea of returning to peacekeeping as a valid Canadian extension to the world, whether or not people choose to describe it by another term like peacebuilding or peacemaking. Yet given this country’s heightened awareness placed upon the role of women in its development programs, it would be helpful to look through a similar lens when considering anything to do with military peacekeeping. We’re not talking about female soldiers here, but the possibility of putting a gender lens over our involvement in conflict areas.

Only a week ago, the United Nations Security Council held an Open Debate on women, peace, and security to discuss the protection of women and girls in conflict areas. The timing is crucial since violence in Syria, South Sudan, Iraq, Colombia, and Nigeria has greatly increased the threat to women and girls. It’s all part of a larger picture, where international assistance has tripled in 10 years and some 80% of those targeted by such aid are affected by armed conflict.

Let’s put it another way. The cost of all this violence is $13.6 trillion (US). With all these numbers on the rise, the risk to girls and women threatens to undermine much of the global advancement made in gender security and programs in recent years.

So, this is pretty serious stuff. But it’s also essential that it be dealt with – not because protecting women and girls is just the right thing to do – it is – but because it puts things on a faster track to peace, which everyone wants. A huge study put out by the United Nations, involving peacekeeping operations, peacekeeping architecture, and the role of women, came to an important conclusion: the vital participation of women is the most vital and frequently neglected component of peaceful security. Put plainly: the more we invest in women and girls, the more effectively peace can be planted in troubled regions. This doesn’t come as a shock, but it is a reminder that building future peace through peacekeeping without empowering the role of women is a poor investment. One aspect of the UN study showed that over the course of 15 years, the chance of peace enduring is 35% higher when women are included in the follow-up.

The UN report ended up listing over 100 recommendations of how women could be better included in peace negotiations and their aftermath. A key recommendation – game-changing if it were enforced – is for the establishment of an Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security as an extension of the Security Council itself. This recommendation was implemented in February and already the input from around the world has been significant. Eventually, the goal is to infuse the necessity of these findings throughout the entire UN architecture.

For all this to have real effect, UN member nations must actively support this Informal Expert Group and implement their recommendations. This is where the true test will come, for there are still nations that don’t mind giving verbal support to such ideas but have no intention whatsoever of implementing them. Canada, with its strong emphasis for the past decade on women and girls, could play a leading role in not only steering the recommendations through the UN system, but in also using its reputation and economic clout through trade and development to bring recalcitrant nations online. And should it up its support of such a role, it must be broadcast to the Canadian people in general, instead of being isolated in the lengthy corridors of the UN structures themselves, it’s successes and failures destined for obscurity.

For those of us involved in international development in regions of conflict, especially in Africa, this new UN effort is what many have sought for years. For women’s groups in advanced nations, the initiative is a workable way of showing solidarity for their struggling counterparts half a world away. And for the state of the world in general, especially as it seeks to find a peaceful future, it is one of the greatest investments that can be made.

Refugees: Are Solutions Possible?


THE FACES OF GOVERNMENTAL LEADERS flashing across our screens from the United Nations in New York in these last few days caused many to think it was just another gathering where prime ministers and presidents, ministers and bureaucratic head honchos were merely networking at the opening of the new UN season. For those listening to the delegations on television, however, it became pretty clear that the world’s nations were coming together to confront perhaps the greatest challenge of the last decade: refugees.

We learned some fascinating new statistics. In 2015 alone, some 20 million documented cases of refugees moving across the planet were posing challenges everywhere. Add up the totals of refugees for the last few years and it comes to 65 million people. We knew the number was many and the solutions few. Escaping persecution and seeking asylum presents so many challenges to the receiving countries, the international response mechanisms, and ultimately to the refugee families themselves. And so the world opted to come together in New York this month for the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants. The media spent a lot of time focusing on the former, but often overlooked was the sheer rise in mobility going on around the world for those migrating in search of opportunity.

The summit learned that by the end of 2015, some 244 million people were living in a country other than where they were born – a total up from 173 million in 2000, according to the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

All of this is saying something, but I’m not sure we fully know what it is. Is the world increasingly on the move because of economic decline or greater economic growth – or both? Is it a sign that the world is coming together, or breaking apart? Could it be that we are becoming more of a world community as a result of all this movement, or is it more likely that there are now tears in the fabric of humanity that reveal millions of individuals and families lurching for security and prosperity in only a few prosperous nations?

All of this likely means that we aren’t prepared and that the UN conference was the first real attempt at assessing and shaping a tidal wave of humanity that might soon redefine how we function as a planet, as individual nations, and as citizens.

And it’s not all challenge and gloom. The conference was informed that in just one year – 2015 – migrants sent home $432 billion to developing countries to help their families with challenges like food security, education, new business ventures, and healthcare. That is a huge amount of money, triple the totals of foreign aid sent through Official Development Assistance.

I watched many of the speeches from the lectern this week and found myself thankful to see the world come together to face the challenge. But many present in the sessions got the impression that this is clearly a work in progress and that we’re only at the beginning of it. And complicating it all is the growing insecurity in places like the Middle East, Turkey, Greece, and the vast border regions around Russia. Should these get more out of hand, it will be inevitable that millions more will be cut loose from their cultural homelands and begin making plans to find peace and prosperity elsewhere.

While acknowledging the increasing scope of the refugee challenge, this week’s meetings decided to take some concrete action in at least attempting to build a coordinated response around the migration problem. Another summit is to be held at the United Nations in 2018 specifically on that issue.

Can there be breakthroughs? Are solutions possible? If we’re talking about assisting countries to accept more refugees and migrants, then perhaps more can be accomplished, but only to a point. If the real problem is the decline of nation states through economic turbulence and regional conflicts, how might the tap of human migration be stopped, or at least lessened? If many of these problems can’t be solved at the source, then just developing broader responses to the outflow of humanity from these regions can only go so far. Some of the problems, like an imploding Syria or an exploding Russia, remain unsolvable at present and keep real solutions from being easily discovered.

We aren’t talking about the fate of millions of people in search of hope, but, ultimately, about the condition and welfare of the planet itself. So many refugees is primarily a clue to all of humanity that something is seriously wrong in our world and unless we apply ourselves to the sources of such conflicts, the sea of desperate human souls will only become more desperate.

Keeping the Peace in a New World


LAST WEEK’S ANNOUNCEMENT OF future peacekeeping intentions provided some clarity on the resources committed to such efforts, though the precise locations for involvement remained vague. Until the Trudeau government finalizes its review of Canada’s engagement strategy in the larger world, it remains a difficult thing to target any one area. Nevertheless, the pledge of 600 troops supplied by a $450 million budget represents an intention to elevate peacekeeping to a place of higher priority.

Given modern realities, the announcement isn’t about attempting to recapture the lustre of the past but a necessary look to the future. When Lester Pearson won his Nobel Peace Prize in 1957, largely for designing the UN Emergency Force to resolve the Suez Canal crisis, military might was almost the exclusive purview of nation states. That paradigm ended a few decades ago and in its place are added terrorist organizations and non-state military actors in almost every corner of the globe. Any movement on peacekeeping must take that into account.

In his Insurgents, Raiders and Bandits: How Masters of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World, author John Arquilla lays out the challenge:

“We have entered an era of perpetual irregular warfare. The great captains of traditional forms of conflict have little to tell us about this. Nor can the classical principles of war provide much help … Today it is clear that attempts to retool them against insurgent and terrorist networks will prove just as problematic.”

This is the world the Trudeau government is negotiating in its attempts at peacekeeping and it will hardly be easy. Arquilla is one of the most respected thinkers of this era and the path he lays out represents an imposing challenge to the federal government’s chief water carrier for the peacekeeping venture, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

U.S. military might remains huge and engaged in numerous troubled locations. While its defence outlays of one trillion dollars constitute half the world’s military spending, Russia and China together spend only 15 per cent. Yet as efforts to defeat ISIS (Daesh) attest, all the remarkable technology and military might can often be blunted by geography, tribal alliances, ignorance of local cultures, refugees, and even the interloping actions of other large nation-states.

Russia’s recent ventures aside, the world hasn’t seen a war between major powers in over 60 years, despite the fact that most military technology today had been designed for such altercations. And although the number of state-based military conflicts declined by 40 per cent in the last 20 years, military attacks by non-state actors like ISIS or Boko Haram in Nigeria have increased markedly.

In regional disputes around the world like South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, or Mali, it would be futile to employ cruise missiles, large invasion forces, or even stand alone military bases. The only workable option is smaller deployments consisting of defense and development personnel working on helping small markets survive, utilizing water sources as a tool for conflict management , protecting the internally displaced, and holding as many peace discussions as possible to reduce tensions. There exists no handbook or how-to guide for such situations; everything remains fluid and physical harm to Canadian personnel is always possible.

And it will be expensive, though unlike the billions spent in Afghanistan or Iraq. While it only cost Al Qaeda half a million dollars to fund 9/11, America spent $3.3 trillion in response. The economies of scale in such encounters will never change. But with the era of Afghanistan and Iraq now largely behind us, Canada’s decision to undertake a full review of its commitments in defence, diplomacy, and development, provides this country a chance to design a new international set of responses that reflect the realities listed above.

For a number of years, Canada posted between 50-60 peacekeepers to UN efforts and it was an embarrassment. The government’s decision to return to its commitment to global peace operations represents a significant shift. Yet peace enforcement is a marked departure from traditional peacekeeping. The one reality Canada can count on is that the world it engages is unlike anything experienced before, but, as Albert Camus put it in 1945: “Peace is the only battle worth waging.”


As the World Moves

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Read this post on National Newswatch here.

IN CANADA, THERE IS FREQUENTLY THE SENSE that the refugees brought into the country in the last year posed not only a challenge but a kind of calling card to the world of why we still remain such a compassionate land. We feel good about what we’ve done. The disruption of thousands of Syrians families into our communities has been slight compared to the sense of inclusion and accomplishment the challenge created for us.

Yet all this can provide a rather rosy sense of the refugee problem that stands in stark contrast to the rest of the world. It has been reported that there are more displaced people and families in the world than at any time since the Second World War. Then the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) came out with new data revealing that we have already exceeded the refugee fallout from that great conflict – 65.3 million, or one out of every 113 people on the planet. As imposing as that is, it also represents a 5.8 million increase over last year. Here are some revealing statistics from the findings:

  • The population of displaced people around the world now exceeds the entire population of the United Kingdom
  • If the total number of displaced formed a country, it would be the 21st largest in the world
  • 24 people are being displaced every minute
  • over half the refugees come from Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia
  • Up until now, Turkey has played host to more refugees than any other nation
  • Among the great number of refugees, 100,000 are unaccompanied children

So, yes, outside of climate change, the refugee dilemma in the most serious of modern times, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that it is the affluent West that is taking on the greatest load. As the Globe and Mail’s Geoffrey York reminded us recently, it is the poorer nations, not the wealthy ones that are bearing the brunt of the phenomenon. That makes sense when we consider the political thunderclouds in France, Germany, Britain, the United States, and now Turkey, as a result of its recent coup, that has now created a strong backlash against immigrants and refugees. The relative peace in Canada aside, the age of relatively compassionate democracy seems more on its way out than expanding.

All this leaves the poorer parts of the globe to deal with the refugee fallout. As York reminds us, 86% of all refugees are being sheltered in poor and developing nations. Five of the ten largest hosts of refugees were from sub-Saharan Africa. On the basis of challenges to the national economy, those bearing the greatest burden are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Uganda, and Kenya. In Lebanon, 183 of every 1,000 people are refugees.

Canada was rightfully mentioned in the UNHCR report as a world leader in generosity towards refugees – second only to the United States. In the past year, we have accepted 20,000 refugees, while the U.S. took in 66,500. The problem is that no matter how great our collective and individual generosity, the world itself is fraying at the edges and more refugees are being created every year than can possibly be managed, sheltered, and empowered.

Of all the intense risks the Western political order is facing – irrelevancy, gap between rich and poor, climate change, the inherent flaws in globalization, political dysfunction – it could well be that it is the manic creation of refugees that could succeed in destroying it when war, poverty, and racism couldn’t.

The solution to this most pressing human problem of the modern era is not more generosity alone, but a rising global movement of social equity, female empowerment, and political pluralism that together can bring about solutions in those troubled nations from which today’s refugees are forced to flee. It is a cause worthy of Canada’s leadership role in the world, but it will require a united army of compassionate nations even greater than that assembled in World War Two.

“The story of humanity is essentially the story of human movement,” writes author Patrick Kingsley in his The New Odyssey. Right now our human story is rumbling about in some dark chapters. This could well be the moment for Canada, as a softer, more tolerant nation and protected on three sides of its boundaries, to capture the world’s attention by building a global consensus to bring a troubled world back from the brink of destructive human fallout.

Canada Through Obama’s Eyes

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WHAT IS CANADA’S PURPOSE?  ONE YEAR AGO today that answer might have been a little more muddled than today. As the world around us tumbled about, challenging our traditional set of norms and understandings, our country had seemed, for a number of years at least, to be more minimalist than meaningful, more reductionist than radical.

Today, however, there seems to be some stirrings among us as to our potentials and usefulness to the human condition. Listening to Barack Obama speak in Parliament this week about how the important human values aren’t American or Canadian, but universal principles sounded more like something from the 1950s or 1960s than the modern era. What was truly wonderful about his speech was watching the emotional collective countenance of all the political parties present; it wasn’t just Liberals cheering an eloquent president, but everyone in the Chamber. It was almost as if, for a brief moment at least, we were united as to our unique place in the world and our purpose within it. People of all political persuasions stood as one at the altar of a progressive humanity.

At the core of every country’s ideals is a deep yearning for identity, for who we are, what we mean, and why we exist. That’s not true for a great many Canadians, of course, who neither have the inclination or the freedom to spend much time in considering such things. Some are too busy fighting off the rigors of life such as poverty, mental illness, and other pressures to consider the value of a nation.

And yet President’s Obama’s address in Parliament this week nevertheless reminded us that whether we care about it or not, Canada perhaps now carries a pivotal role in world affairs that it didn’t even seek or understand only a few months ago. With the threat of rampant ideology south of the border emerging in a presidential run by Donald Trump, the threat of continual divisiveness in the European Union, Britain’s own threat to destiny due to Brexit, and the imperious reach of Putin’s Russia, Canada appears more and more like a peaceful isle in a troubled sea.

But we are more than mere bystanders, as Obama reminded us. We are an experimental people, in the middle of testing again the ability of the collective spirit to become more inclusive and our politics to maybe become more respectful again. Recent elections in our indigenous communities, provinces and the federal domain were demonstrations that a large portion of this country seeks to be more open than closed, more sustainable that wasteful, and likely more global in reach than local.

This is the Canada that Obama looked out upon this week. Surrounded by numerous forms of political leanings in the House, he was clearly buoyed by a collective multipartisan spirit unlike anything he had experienced in Washington or can be seen in Europe at present. Always with an eye on the global community, for a few moments he looked at the world through the lens of a nation that is interested in creating a more fair and inclusive human community, and he liked what he saw.

This isn’t about Justin Trudeau and a Liberal government alone, but a collection of political impulses that nevertheless has proved unwilling to tear their country apart in ways that are seen elsewhere. And it is about a citizenry that is more interested in playing its part in the drama. The House wasn’t merely respectful to a visiting dignitary, but to a call of national identity that isn’t so much nationalistic in flavor as it is progressive in outlook.

Whatever the fate of the world in an era of ISIS and strident nationalism, of economic dominance and Internet hatred, Canada displayed again this week its propensity for being a better friend to the nations, a firmer supporter of gender equity and aboriginal justice, a noble force for the better angels of our human nature. We appear to be willingly open to the concept that one nation can contain the diversity of many cultures, but that all of these forces join together to form a collective identity of how to live at peace with one another – surely something the world requires now more than ever.

An American president looked out on a vast land this week and saw it as capable of transcending traditional boundaries of culture and community, and organizing itself so as to be a source of hope to a world that too frequently seeks to divide itself along such lines, sometimes violently.

It appears as though the Canada that Obama witnessed this week is increasingly the Canada that we see ourselves. It remains a noble vision and perhaps more than at any other time in recent memory we are prepared to struggle for it. Happy Canada Day.

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