The following was published on April 11, 2017 by the Ottawa Citizen
Here’s why Canada needs a Department of Peace
by Saul Arbess and Ben Hoffman
The federal government has twisted itself into knots to “go along to get along” with the Trump administration and has not sufficiently considered opportunities it has available by the vacuum created by Donald Trump.
One of those critical areas is peacebuilding. Trump has been speaking of the desirability of a new arms race, the casual use of nuclear weapons and calls for an additional $50 billion for the U.S. military, already spending some 40 per cent of global expenditures and nearly $700 billion annually.
At the same time, Trump proposes to drastically reduce funding to the United Nations, including UN peacekeeping missions, creating an additional impediment to peace. Canada, as a prosperous middle power with a history of extensive involvement in peacebuilding diplomacy and peacekeeping, missing in the past decade, has an ability to partially fill the void Trump has created.
The recent U.S. missile attacks on Syria highlight the enormous volatility created by the Syrian war and are unlikely, despite some desperate hopes that have been expressed, to lead the parties to the conflict to the table again. In any event, talks would not invite ISIL, a significant player, if current practice is followed.
What can Canada do to reduce violence and enhance peacebuilding in a conflicted world?
The Canadian Peace Initiative (CPI) has proposed that Canada join Costa Rica and Nepal in the formation of national departments of peace. Already, a private member’s bill has been presented in the last two Parliaments and a revised bill will be brought forward again in this session, with increased urgency.
The central thrust of the bill is to change the nature of debate and decision-making in cabinet, so that non-violent options are always considered in matters of peace and security at home and abroad. The peacebuilding lens of the Minister of Peace would balance the positions of the departments of defence and public safety. This would have allowed us to consider alternatives to a military posture in Afghanistan, Libya and Eastern Europe, for example. At the present time, there is no minister whose mandate speaks directly for peace in cabinet.
Here is the proposed mandate of the Minister of Peace that would express Canadian values and our national interests on the world stage. When we look at this mandate, consider how little Canada is involved in many of these areas:
- Develop early detection and rapid response processes to deal with emerging conflicts and establish systemic responses to post-conflict demobilization, reconciliation and reconstruction.
- Lead internationally to abolish nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; to reduce conventional weapon arsenals; and to ban the weaponization of space.
- Implement the 1999 UN Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace to safeguard human rights and enhance the security of persons and their communities.
- Implement UN Resolution 1325 to protect and support the key role played by women in the wide spectrum of peacebuilding work.
- Establish a Civilian Peace Service that, with other training organizations, will recruit, train and accredit peace professionals and volunteers to work at home and abroad, as an alternative to armed intervention.
- Address issues of violence in Canada by promoting non-violent approaches that encourage community involvement and responsibility, such as restorative justice, non-violent communication and alternate dispute resolution.
- Support the development of peace education at all levels, including post-secondary peace and conflict studies.
- Promote the transition from a war-based to a peace-based economy.
- Establish processes of reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples.
Canada has consistently blundered into other nations’ wars, suffering a lack of independent policies premised on peacebuilding.
It continues to participate in wars far from NATO’s original mandate and, due to NATO’s first strike nuclear policy, has voted against the establishment of a UN conference to abolish nuclear weapons that begins negotiations March 2017, with 123 nations in favour.
Historically, Canada has been at the forefront of nuclear disarmament, but now is in opposition – to our shame and to the risk it poses to our people. We should use our membership in NATO to argue against its first-strike policy.
A department of peace would give Canada the ability to act as a sensor of regions where violence is imminent and allow for early non-violent intervention, as called for by the UN, and to become an incubator for the transformation of conflict by peaceful means, responding to the root causes of particular conflicts.
Climate change, now often seen by governments and their militaries as a primarily a security issue, could be envisioned as an issue of global co-operation and equity. The entire project to address climate change could end in a paroxysm of violence, without peacebuilding structures in place.
This may be the last generation to achieve a sustainable peace and will require a much more vigorous effort by Canada in concert with like-minded nations, to build it. The Trump administration has given Canada unprecedented opportunities to work in this direction and we must seize the day.
Saul Arbess is a co-founder and a director of the Canadian Peace Initiative. Ben Hoffman is the former director, Conflict Resolution Program, The Carter Center.