CIGI lecture generates dialogue

Former Canadian minister of foreign affairs Lloyd Axworthy drew crowds to the Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) on May 24 with his lecture on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), and its pertinence to the Arab Spring.

R2P is a product of the United Nations recognition, in which Axworthy played a vital role, that there is a basic human responsibility to protect people across the world from crimes against humanity.

Axworthy, throughout the lecture stressed the importance of understanding the role that world powers have in the Arab nations, and the need for nations to assume responsibility for the subsequent consequences.

“One crucial issue for us as Canadians is the degree to which we’re prepared to put our effort, resources, and creative abilities to really work and enabling the United Nations to be the proper and responsible vehicle providing kinds of protection,” he asserted.

“We are one of the countries that can be a stalwart advocate, provider, convener, instigator in the United Nations, but we have to work at it,” Axworthy advised.

He acknowledged, however, that Canada’s presence on the international scene has changed overtime, and that it is no longer the diplomatic, middle power that it once was.

With respect to some of the Arab nations specifically, Axworthy said, “There is a quite strong evolving movement from the emerging states to take R2P and begin to discuss … how they would implement with or without us”.

He explained that there are West African states that are engaging in efforts to take over externally initiated R2P initiatives, locally and for their neighboring states, referred to as “interventionist diplomacy.”

“I’m inspired in a kind of way, I know it sounds romantic, maybe it’s a sign of age,” joked Axworthy about the Arab Spring.

While he commended influential emerging nations like Brazil for initiating R2P influenced discussion, Axworthy criticized Security Council members China and Russia for misusing their veto options in dire situations involving countries that required intervention.

“I saw the kind of bravery that took place on the streets of the Middle East in the past few years, and they deserve better, and not that we were absent, but they did deserve more of our time and attention, because they are undertaking major changes that we will all benefit from, socially, economically, politically,” he said.

When asked if the sort of change he spoke about could be demonstrated outside the United Nations, Axworthy replied, “I think we’re evolving into maybe a little bit of a hybrid system. [The Security Council] still is the only agency that has the right to authorize the use of force. Other regional organizations are slowly building towards that kind of capacity.”

The United States specifically, he explained, takes considerable efforts to help many Arab nations rebuild, but they cannot and do not want to do all the heavy lifting. Countries need to be willing to help with what they are good at.

Axworthy concluded, “If you have the UN make that first step decision, it can be carried out by all kinds of other players, and that is something we haven’t really thought through. That, to me, is a very big opportunity.”

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