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

Opening Keynote Session:
Major General (ret’d) Lewis MacKenzie

Summary by Andrew Ng


In opening his keynote address, Major General Lewis MacKenzie jokingly offered a more appropriate title to the conference as “throwing hand grenades while being handcuffed,” in previewing his proclivity for practical discussion. Major General MacKenzie frankly rejected the theoretical approach to the intervention issue and the need to work within the strict confines of political correctness. He invoked the original goal of the United Nations as preventing World War III and proceeded to survey the history of intervention since the conception of the United Nations.

On the first intervention in the 1956 Suez Crisis, Major General MacKenzie described that the rules of interventions of being “Lightly armed, impartial, and by invitation” had been violated right from the outset. Major General MacKenzie differentiated between inter-state and intra-state conflicts. Between 1956 and the end of the Cold War, this type of inter-state intervention was successful 13 times, but “failed miserably” to solve civil conflicts such as Cyprus and Kashmir. Major General MacKenzie explained that addressing the underlying causes was the sine qua non of pacifying domestic conflicts, which explained the failure of countless such interventions.

However, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the “glue” of the bipolar international system was gone, and the underlying conflicts that had been suppressed by the Cold War bubbled to the surface, most notably in Yugoslavia. Herein much of the received wisdom from Cold War peacekeeping was no longer applicable, and the results were disastrous. Referring to his experience in Sarajevo, Major General MacKenzie described how the “by-invitation” principle of Cold War intervention was no longer applicable. Lacking a Security Council mandate, his troops retreated from the impending conflict to Belgrade, essentially promising to return once all the fighting was done! “Don’t screw around with a civil war” was the attitude from Cold War interventions, which spelled the fate of the Bosnia and Croatia. To a greater detriment, the United Nations served to prolong the conflict by flying in food and medicine, thus supplying the belligerents.

By contrast, in the case of Somalia, which Major General MacKenzie described as the most successful intervention, U.S. Marines were sent in once the media was already on the ground, and established law and order in Mogadishu immediately. Instead of peacekeepers operating under a weak mandate, the Somalia intervention was originally under direct American control. However, when control of the operation was transferred to the United Nations, disaster ensued. Turning to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Major General MacKenzie distanced himself from his colleague General Romeo Dallaire’s position that racism explained the inaction of the West: rather, a lack of self-interest was responsible. Inaction in Darfur can be attributed to the same cause. Turning to Iraq, Major General MacKenzie bluntly stated that it was still the right thing to do. Major General MacKenzie listed the evolution of the American justifications for war from WMD to regime change, and back to WMD, which thoroughly confused the world.

Major General MacKenzie expressed his frustration that the UN would never be effective in dealing with the core issue of peace and security as a result of the veto system. Without any prospect of serious reform, the UN is “dysfunctional.” The organizations in the UN that have been added since 1945 have had a significant positive influence, for example, those combating AIDS; however, the Security Council is woefully ineffective.

In conclusion, Major General MacKenzie referred to the case of a displaced Sudanese woman fleeing rape and beheading that would not care less about “Canadian values,” which we claim to be exporting. Our priorities must lie in the obvious: defending victims and rebuilding countries, which ought be the focus of the future Canadian military. Classic peacekeeping has hardly existed since the end of the Cold War, and the Canadian military must adapt to address real needs at hand.

In the question period, Major General MacKenzie hypothesized that if the Dutch peacekeepers in Srebenica in 1995 had confronted Serb forces, there probably would not have been a massacre; nonetheless, he expressed understanding with the Dutch General’s decision to back down. In a later question, Major General MacKenzie emphasized the imperative of political leadership in matters of defense and foreign affairs. Canadian leaders must explain to Canadians Canada’s actions as opposed to bending to whichever way the political winds blow. The Major General fielded a number of questions on Iraq, and explained that the extermination of Marsh Arabs and Kurds during the 1980s and 1990s constituted genocide, justifying on the balance the current instability in Iraq that has resulted in thousands of civilian casualties.