Canada in Global Affairs: New Challenges, New Approaches

On 29 and 30 March, The Hague Institute and the University of Ottawa hosted an international conference on “Canada in Global Affairs” in Ottawa. The conference brought together leading national and international experts on state fragility, global justice, and the reform of global institutions to discuss Canada’s role in addressing current and future global challenges.

The opening plenary featured Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, The Honourable Stéphane Dion, who elaborated on the principle of “responsible conviction,” which will guide Canada’s foreign policy under the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.  “Responsible conviction” requires that a sense of responsibility underpin the values and convictions that shape Canada’s international engagement. Foreign Minister Dion emphasized Canada’s commitment to taking a leading role in combatting climate change and increasing support for conflict prevention efforts and peacekeeping operations. He also highlighted the importance of engaging with the United Nations, which though imperfect, remains a principal tool of multilateral action. The Foreign Minister cautioned, however, that engagement should not be confused with agreement.

Hague Institute President Dr. Abi Williams addressed the plenary session thereafter, and outlined how Canada could make a difference on the world stage as a capable and compassionate actor. He expressed that the spirit of internationalism, which was personified by former Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, must guide our efforts to address the multiple global crises with which we are confronted today.

On the theme of conflict prevention, Dr. Williams underscored that conflict prevention techniques must be an integral part of peacebuilding efforts after conflict as well as before – preventing the onset and recurrence of conflict is vital. He acknowledged that conflict prevention typically requires a level of political will that is not commonly in high supply, but noted that obstacles intrinsic to the nature of domestic politics are not insurmountable.  Indeed, properly marshalled, the arguments for encouraging the mobilization of prevention efforts are compelling and should help reframe the issue as a priority for all.

Dr. Williams also highlighted the importance of international justice and the rule of law, discussing the pivotal role of The Hague in promoting the international legal order, as both a symbol of international law and the locus of its practice.  He noted that The Hague’s remarkable justice institutions, including the International Criminal Court, are currently in great need of support, and urged states to ensure that these institutions are used and supported.

The third and final theme on which Dr. Williams reflected was that of global governance. He observed that we face pressing global challenges beyond the control of any single state and that the world needs better leadership and a more capable system of global governance. Dr. Williams stated that The Hague Institute and The Stimson Center convened the Commission on Global Security, Justice & Governance, which was co-chaired by former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright and former Nigerian Foreign Minister, Ibrahim Gambari, to propose how to leverage the capacities of actors worldwide to respond more effectively to contemporary global challenges. The Commission’s final report shows an appreciation of the inevitable tensions between the fundamental concepts of security and justice, but identifies new opportunities where global security and justice can be mutually reinforcing.  It also contains far-reaching, yet politically grounded recommendations to improve global governance. Dr. Williams also moderated a dialogue on Canada’s response to global challenges with Commission Co-Chair Ibrahim Gambari, and Commissioner Lloyd Axworthy, a former Foreign Minister of Canada.

The two-day conference featured a number of eminent speakers, including The Honorable Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO; Adama Dieng, UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide; The Right Honorable Paul Martin, former Prime Minister of Canada; and The Honorable Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia and Chair of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism.

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