The Jane’s Interview

Lloyd Axworthy – Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister

When Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy began championing the “human security agenda” three years ago, his emphasis was on human life and dignity, not weaponry. However, with the onset of the Kosovo crisis the Canadian minister was one of the first to agree to the use of military force to protect ethnic Albanians.

Kosovo, he says, “was the test case as to whether the international community was prepared to actually enforce humanitarian laws. And it was”.

Axworthy believes there is no set formula for deciding to intervene on humanitarian grounds. “Each case is circumstantial,” he says. “To me, the most compelling case, and the one that we put forward, is where there are clear international crimes, genocide, taking place.”

A key component of the human security agenda is conflict prevention. “It certainly seems to me that we need to have a much more rapid response from the UN and other regional organisations,” says Axworthy. “Because sometimes the presence of peace forces can be a deterrent for a conflict. One of the great tragedies, is where before the outbreak of the conflict in Kosovo, the UN had to withdraw its forces on the Macedonian-Kosovo border because of a veto on the permanent five.” This illustrates another problem, “the division in the Security Council between those who adhere to their national interest as opposed to the international interest”.

Canada has been pushing the UN Security Council “to extend the peacekeeping mandate to include protection of civilians in conflicts”. But Axworthy asks: “How do you best protect civilians?” The minister believes the answer varies. In the case of Chechnya, the UN took the diplomatic approach, asking the Russians “to restrain their use of force on civilians, to provide some protection for civilians [and] provide access for humanitarian organisations”.

He acknowledges “we’re into this great debate between the classic defence of national sovereignty as an absolute, versus the emerging humanitarian laws… there’s a body of international law that now says the rights of the individuals are more important than the rights of the states. But there are some governments that don’t quite agree with that”.

The Canadian Forces, which played a significant part in the Kosovo air war and contributed to the subsequent peacekeeping effort on the ground, saw Kosovo as proof that its robust war fighting capabilities were still a necessary component of international relations. Axworthy, one of the strongest ministers in Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s cabinet, could be a potential ally when the Department of National Defence presents its re-equipment plans to government for approval.

Nothing, however, is guaranteed. Axworthy acknowledges “that most of the conflicts that we’re now engaged in are not the classic cross- border conflicts, but internal ones, which create a demand for more robust intervention, both in the military sense and in the police sense”. He believes that “one of the major contributions Canada makes in the area of human security involvement is through our police forces, through our Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who are professional, highly trained and respected around the world”.

Axworthy concedes that the human security agenda requires “highly trained, professional, effective military personnel to do it. But not exclusively”. He says: “You need an accompanying civilian peacekeeping team that works in total complementary fashion.” He believes that “peacemaking and peacebuilding are two sides of the same coin”. The minister cites an example he witnessed in Kosovo last November. Canadian troops were helping the local population by repairing a school in Glogovac. “They discovered landmines around the school so they brought in demining teams who were civilians that we’d sent over, and a construction firm from Montreal that was happy to fix the roof and walls,” he says. “Here was a combination of these young officers and enlisted men from the military working with these middle-aged guys who were doing the reconstruction of the school, and the deminers. To me, there was the Canadian presence in its new form.

“So I think the whole nature [of military utility] is changing,” he says. The armed forces need to be “highly equipped, [with a] mobile capacity”, but they must also have “the capacity to deal with disaster relief, the support of civilian intervention and peacebuilding activity”.

Pursuit of a human security agenda has put Axworthy front and centre in the movements to control nuclear weapons, achieve an anti- personnel landmines treaty, establish an international criminal court, control small arms, and ban the recruitment of child soldiers.

He notes the need for civilian-military partnership for “enforcement on border controls against drug-trafficking or illegal migration of people, and the need to have an effective coastal patrol”. He says: “A good example is the changing nature of NORAD [North American Aerospace Defence Command], which increasingly uses its surveillance power to detect border incursions from drug traffickers and things of that kind.”

The US government, however, may want to assign the National Missile Defense role to NORAD, which would put Canada in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between the arms control principles so strongly advocated by Axworthy, and its valued relationship with its closest ally.

– Sharon Hobson JDW Correspondent, Ottawa