What challenges will Canada and the world face to peace and security it 2014, and how will they face them?
When I initially began writing this post, at Christmas, it had a drastically different tone. As I sat down to write it after dinner, struggling to keep from succumbing to a food-induced coma, surrounded by friends and family, warm and content, violent conflict could not have seemed more alien and distant than at that time (well, perhaps save for a particularly heated game of pick-up hockey that afternoon). I started by writing about the idealism and hope embodied in the season, pointing to the famous Christmas truces during the first year of the First World War (and noting the fact that it was the 99th anniversary of those truces). It then proceeded to take a look back at some of the various possible steps towards peace that the world had achieved, such as the recent peace deal between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the M23 rebels at the beginning of December, tentative positive steps in the Israel-Palestine Peace process, the alleged US-Iran rapprochement, and the famed Obama-Castro handshake at the Mandela memorial service (over which a great deal of ink has already been spilled). While 2013 had certainly seen its fair share of conflict, there were definite positive items on Peace and Security.
I decided against posting it because something felt off about what I had written. Certainly while I was feeling very warm and fuzzy and full of Christmas cheer, it seemed like an appropriate topic to write on, but I couldn’t help but feel that something was incomplete. It would not be until I opened my browser and read news of South Sudan’s descent into ethnic strife, and the recent terrorist bombings in the city of Volgograd, Russia in the lead up to the Sochi Olympics in 2014, that the niggling hesitancy in the back of my mind would crystallize.
As Canadians, we enjoy an unparalleled amount of comfort and security compared to almost any time or space in history. Yet this is contrasted with the amount of devastation and conflict we are exposed to every day through the mass media and the instantaneous information sharing of the internet, beaming images and stories of war, wreckage, and ruin straight into our homes. This may account for the Canadian public’s penchant for becoming disengaged with the suffering we witness on a daily basis. This is reflected in our country’s leadership, where the Harper government recently made the announcement that it would shift Canada’s foreign affairs focus to “economic diplomacy”. This is, of course, no new news to anyone who has followed Canada’s foreign policy under Harper, but it is a disenchanting reminder that Canada’s desire to ameliorate our economic standing globally has taken primacy over traditional humanitarian, diplomatic, and non-trade related subject areas. During a panel discussion in Ottawa on the (still) on-going Syrian conflict in October, one of the panelists, Rafal Rohozinski, made the point that by ignoring foreign conflicts “we mortgage our future for now.” The general tone of the discussion was that Canada could, and should be doing more in various capacities. This will be of importance to Canada as the mission in Afghanistan winds down, but Taliban promises of disrupting the coming April elections threaten to plunge the country deeper into disorder and upset the further ISAF drawdown of forces. But aside from a vocal minority of international affairs watchers, Canadians seem content to stay the course and focus on our creature comforts at home, to enjoy the warmth of the fireside while a blizzard rages outside.
To talk of ivory towers would be hyperbolic, but related to, and more monumental than the 99th anniversary of the Christmas truce, is the fact that in 6 months we will be seeing the 100th anniversary of the First World War, the “War to end all Wars.” That moniker has of course, been proven to be emphatically misplaced, but the facts surrounding the arrival of the war, a European citizenry more interested in enjoying the benefits of global empire, affluence, and unprecedented prosperity in the first decade of the 20th century who were taken unawares by a war that appeared suddenly and with catastrophic results, would serve as a stark reminder that what occurs around the globe should be of concern for people enjoying the benefits of the world, even if war seems a distant memory to many.
Featured Photo by Dan McKay