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Do We Have A Responsibility to End Foreign Conflict?

March 28, 2010
Kosovo Protest at U of T

Serbian diaspora protesters @ University Av. & Dundas in Toronto. CC-photo courtesy of Flickr user Jose.

Having been deeply engaged in international affairs academically and professionally since high school, I can’t seem to go more than a few days at a time before I find myself thinking about whose responsibility it was or it still is to prevent and end conflict around the world. One of the many ways in which I have pursued informed answers to my question was by creating a number of opportunities to learn more about the nature of conflict, the reality of intervention, and the cost of non-intervention.

So back in February of 2007, I co-lead a group of 10 undergraduate students from the University of Toronto on a research project to Kosovo. It was there that I saw first hand the destruction caused by the ethnic wars that took place throughout the 1990s. It was there that I heard first hand accounts of the violence and terrorism inflicted on hundreds of innocent civilians as a result of a deep-seeded historical hatred. And it was there that I began to understand just how much more complex life becomes in a post-conflict society, even after peace and ceasefire have been reached.

A photo I took in Prizren, Kosova, 2007.

My experience in Kosovo was just the beginning of my obsession with trying to figure out just how all of us can engage ourselves in preventing future conflicts and in ending those that are still happening today. I chose Kosovo as my focal point because it hits so close to home for me. Kosovo is only one example of many more: the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, Cambodia, the Bosnian War, Rwanda, or even Darfur, Iraq and Afghanistan still today. These are all salient and disturbing examples of conflicts for which we need to take responsibility.

And by responsibility, I don’t mean simply owning up to causing the conflict, pointing fingers at who is responsible if you don’t think its you, or even taking responsibility for NOT doing anything about the conflict. What I mean is that we are the makers of this type of conflict directly or indirectly through inaction and we all indeed have a responsibility to create the possibility of ending a potential conflict even before it begins. As John F. Kennedy so eloquently put it, “Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”

Naturally sovereignty issues are complex. But, that argument is all too often used as an excuse for inaction and apathy toward a looming conflict or a full-blown one. Genocide for one thing, has been considered a crime in international law since 1946 when the United Nations General Assembly passed its resolution defining genocide as punishable. And yet, in the 64 years since that resolution was passed, we have still not broadened our concepts of what is in our “national interest” enough to take responsibility for creating peace in our world, and so conflict after conflict has ensued since.

But I don’t want to discount the fact that it isn’t too late. There certainly are many people that are invested in creating peace, and Canadians are no exception. Canadian and American efforts have seen to the creation of two doctrines that I believe are the very tools we need to empower ourselves to create the international relationships that will create the possibility of peace. Both tools were driven by the conclusion that the key to mobilizing international support to prevent mass atrocities is to garner domestic support.

The first is the Responsibility to Protect doctrine (“RtoP” or “R2P”). R2P is a new international security and human rights norm devised to address the international community’s failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In sum, R2P brings together NGOs from all regions of the world to strengthen the consensus for R2P, to further the understanding of what R2P is all about and to push for strengthened capacities to prevent and halt genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Powered by Canadians since its inception in 2005, R2P supports a full spectrum of responsibility from the responsibility to prevent, to react and to rebuild. But R2P appeared to lack a clear call to action. And so, out of R2P grew the second doctrine: The Will to Intervene Project (W2I).

The Will to Intervene Project created a roadmap for applying the principles of R2P which were led by Canada and the US. Through consulting over 80 foreign policy practitioners and opinion shapers in Canada and the U.S., the W2I Project put forth three sets of policy recommendations tailored to improve government planning with respect to preventing mass atrocities. These three sets of recommendations include the following: enabling leadership, enhancing coordination and building capacity.

You can read the full report of the Will to Intervene Project assembled by the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) at the following link: http://migs.concordia.ca/W2I/W2I_Project.html

So what is there to take from all of this and why did I find this important enough to spend over 100o words bringing it to your attention?

It’s very simple. I want to invite you to consider the following: if you want to see peace in this world, why don’t you take responsibility for creating that possibility and start by answering the very question that I began asking myself many years ago.

Should we or shouldn’t we intervene. My answer is we should. It is our responsibility, and we should.

Furthermore, I invite you to consider the possibility that you are responsible personally, as much as or even more than our government is or our NGOs are, to make the responsibility to protect and the will to intervene in Canada’s national interest. Whether its making your circles aware of these doctrines at your next dinner conversation, whether its blogging about the issue, whether its joining one of the NGOs working toward promoting this doctrine, or whether you simply write a letter to your member of parliament expressing your view that W2I is in Canada’s national interest because it is in your interest as a Canadian, the power to create a platform for change is in your hands as much as it is in mine.

Sitting in the stands never helped anyone win the game.

Thank you all for allowing me to share my rant. It has been too many years in the making.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 29, 2010 12:10 pm

    Hello I enjoy reading this blog because I have a very similar blog. I just started my blog so it has not quite become quite as established as yours but I would appreciate it if we could share links.

  2. Rémi Bourget permalink
    March 29, 2010 8:31 am

    I, too, support to some extend that “will to intervene”. Of course, some situations like Rwanda or Darfour are just evident. Two places we definetly should have intervene; but what about Canada’s presence in Afghanistan. Certainly not a war as foolish as Irak’s; but certainly not as “just” as an intervention in Rwanda would have been.

    So I am wondering what are your thoughts on that one? ‘Cuz you had a consensus among the western world after 9/11 to intervene in Afghanistan. You had there a terrible regime that oppressed its population. We decided to send our men there with their guns to clean it up. Now, ten years later, you have to wonder if it was worth it…

    As we say in french “la route vers l’Enfer est pavée de bonnes intention”… And a military intervention’s outcome will always be uncertain. So the question is not “should we or should we not intervene” but rather “when should we not intervene”?

    Again, sending 3000 UN peacekeepers could’ve prevented the genocide in Rwanda, so it’s easy to say that we should have intervene there (especially after the facts). It’s more complicated when the actions are initiated by governments instead of rebels or militians; the sovereignty issue’s importance is just decuplated. Take Afghanistan, was the taliban regime so oppressive to justify 10 years of war on Afghan soil?

    And if so, which regime should be next? Iran? North Korea? Or, if you stand on the other side of the fence, Israel, the USA?…

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