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74th Annual Summer Conference, August 4–7, 2005

Canada’s Position on the Use of Force Internationally

Summary by Ted Thomas

Paul Heinbecker

The discussion over the past three days has, reflecting the general topic of the conference, touched on many different aspects of the contemporary challenge of the use of force. However, Ambassador Heinbecker’s presentation has addressed one area of this issue which is particularly relevant to Canadians, given that we are a society which has become so intertwined with our southern neighbours. His discussion touched on not only the criteria and guidelines behind the use of force, but also where Canadians fit into the world at large and, in particular, with respect to the United States.

Regarding the criteria and guidelines that must govern the use of force, the overall conclusion is that of a necessity for action and a necessity for restraint. Canada must use force on an international level, in defence of Canada, its allies and in protection of the innocent in failed/failing states, the latter situation being the most relevant given the challenges in Africa, central and southeast Asia and the Americas. This use of force must be guided by international law and the United Nations, and it must not be an instrument of self-interest aggression or bandwagoning to great powers. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) document addresses these issues is an important avenue for addressing the criteria and guidelines behind the use of force. For Canadians, an important condition to this is the necessity to continue to develop a modern and capable Canadian Forces. Without this, “talk of human security rings hollow, because it is hollow.”

The second issue of concern to Canadians in addressing the use of force is our relationship with our American neighbour. Ambassador Heinbecker identified two important questions. Firstly, “how do we acquit [the] responsibility for jointly protecting North America when international opinion of America and its foreign policy has steadily declined.” Following from this, “how do we ensure that [the international community continues to] see the distinction between Canada and the U.S.?” Perspectives guiding the two countries foreign policy are influence by an acceptance of the differing power of both in the international purview. “America is the most powerful [state], Canada is not.” This, along with a Canadian respect for international law, has guided our response to Afghanistan and Iraq, where Canadian and American foreign policies converged and diverged, respectively.

Ambassador Heinbecker commented that “war is no longer seen as a last resort, but an instrument of foreign policy.” The U.S. reliance on military intervention in the last 15 years has made this a clear reality. However, given that foreign policy is driven by self-interest, Ambassador Heinbecker pointed to the question of functionality and credibility of international law, embodied in the U.N. particularly, in guiding the use of force. This is not to undermine the U.N., and the role of this organization in the coming years was a focus of discussion. Pre-emption and prevention, which are embodied in the R2P document, will continue to play a defining feature in the role of the U.N. and the character of international law, for years to come. Furthermore, given that it is clear that the U.S. cannot “go it alone,” shown by the quagmire developing in Iraq, there is a clear continued relevancy of the United Nations in guiding the use of force.

Ambassador Heinbecker concluded by reiterating that the decision to use force by Canada “must be made in full conscience of international circumstances, with attention to possible consequences.” As well, the use of force by any nation “must be guided by the U.N,” necessitating a shift away from regional organizations and “coalitions of the willing.”

Nancy Gordon

Ms. Gordon’s presentation offered a perspective on the use of force in that she focused on humanitarian organizations at the grassroots level; this was a unique way of approaching Couchiching’s conference topic in that it strayed from the traditional discussion of military forces and government-level relations. In general, she has called for the continued coordination of humanitarian and development agency efforts with military forces operating in the same theatre. At the same time, it is critical that a distinction be made between the functions of NGOs and military forces, and that the two maintain a clear distance from one another.

Humanitarin NGOs are guided by “independence, neutrality, impartiality and humanity.” They are highly dependent on the acceptance of their presence and work not only with national governments, but also with local civilian populations. When this consent is eroded, these organizations are placed in imminent danger; the number of individuals who have lost their lives in the service of development sadly brings truth to this.

The increase in demand, juxtaposed by the increased dangerous context, has necessitated an evaluation of the use of force in the protection of staff and beneficiaries of humanitarian NGOs. There is a necessity to address issues of coordination between the military (security) and humanitarian (development) agencies operating in these dangerous theatres. As for the issue of demarcation, it is important to continue to recognize that different agencies have differing functions. “It is not advisable [for humanitarian organizations] to be part of a military action, and it is not advisable for military action to become a primary source of humanitarian assistance.” Such a blurring of function is dangerous for both sides. However, CARE, and its peer organizations, are often called upon to provide assistance to areas that lack any international community-led security efforts. NGOs are able to operate successfully and without loss of life in these situations because they are accepted as a presence in a local context. It is important to avoid taking sides, to make it clear that “the quarrel is not ours – we are not a threat.” This attitude has allowed CARE to operate quite successfully in Afghanistan for nearly 45 years, to name but one of their operations.

The second portion of Ms. Gordon’s presentation dealt with the necessity for Canadian military personnel to develop a strong peacekeeping mindset. The belligerent tone echoing from the DND in Ottawa is detrimental to the functions that the military will be relied on to play over the coming years. The high-profile operation in Afghanistan will provide a challenge for Canada’s military, in that it must develop a profile that is tough and firm, to deter violence and provide security, while at the same time acting with compassion and restraint, to provide a situation conducive to development and peace.

In Ms. Gordon’s conclusion, she reiterated that many problems facing Western nations from the developing world cannot be solved using traditional methods. While there must be a “concerted and robust” military presence, there must also be a great deal of attention devoted to the challenges facing humanitarian and development agencies. “Clear rules, defined mandates and mutual respect between all actors is the key to success.”

Major-General Andrew B. Leslie

Major-General Leslie brought to light the question of focus: “where do we, as Canadians, wish to focus our attention?” The general answer to this is a need to look toward helping those overseas – the poor, sick and underdeveloped – for both altruistic and national security reasons. His discussion addressed necessity and role of a military force in conflict-stricken, developing countries. While it is true that in today’s complicated and bewildering world, security is no longer entirely a military issue, there is a growing need for an armed presence in dealing with the complex issues we face.

With particular reference to Afghanistan, Maj.-Gen. Leslie discussed the necessity to export Canadian assistance using our greatest commodity: Canadian lives. This is accomplished with a “helping hand” model. Humanitarian organizations, providing social assistance toward rebuilding these countries, play the role of the open hand. Meanwhile, military forces act as a steel fist, albeit one muted by a glove. This glove comes off at night, both literally and metaphorically, in protection of those who are working to afford a positive solution.

The Major-General also looked at the issues of identifying who the foes to Canada are. Past attempts at peacebuilding through the stereotypical United Nations model, have been disorganized and ineffectual. The rule of law, upon which the U.N. is dependent, is absent in these situations – local thugs and predators, with access to a spectrum of tools to undermine the peace process, consist of “grumpy, middle-aged men trying to seek power.” In addressing these challenges, we must develop a new model of peacebuilding, combining a robust military presence with the humanity of development agencies. This area of discussion fit in closely with the earlier talk by Ms. Gordon.

In conclusion, a powerful statement underlines this part of the discussion: “There are things worth fighting for, worth dying for and worth killing for.” Canada’s military has engaged in all three in the past 50 years, and will see itself embroiled in such endeavours for years to come. The contemporary remit of the Canadian Forces is to help the weak and poor, and we continue to pursue this on an international level, with the utmost respect and advocacy of the rule of law.