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Peace and Security

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Peace and Security

Conference to Explore Canada's Role as a 'Middle Power'

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The idea of being part of a larger global community of peace is obviously particularly attractive in nations that are still developing, or that are coping with recent challenges of violence and conflict. But what about nations of the First World that are perhaps more settled, perhaps even satisfied with the way things are?

These are among the issues to be debated at the Canadian Leadership Conference on the theme “Educating for Peace” October 2-5 in Ottawa, the seat of Canadian government and home to 126 embassies and high commissions, along with universities, high-tech industries, news media, and NGOs from around the nation and the world.

A recent report by the United Nations suggested that progress towards the Millennium Development Goals – aimed at improving the lives of more than half of the world’s population – has all but stalled out, not least because the developed nations are not keeping their promises to deliver the needed development aid and expertise.

Indeed, there are many challenges in making constructive connections among different global sectors, among them the inherent contradictions in First World societies. For example, the First World is wealthy and intent on remaining so. The recent financial crisis in America has created waves throughout the world that show just how deeply this rather self-centered concern runs. First World institutions are expected to be well organized and well managed, and professionalism is valued. When these expectations are not met, unease is widespread.

There is currently a confusion of values in Western societies. Many are experiencing a post-religious moral decline, accompanied by the rise of secular humanistic thinking and even a certain neo-paganism. In contrast, new immigrant communities tend to retain strong moral and religious views, which can lead to domestic tensions. Many nations find themselves threatened and dominated by an American-centric popular culture in which public morality is in a downward spiral—although there are significant, if somewhat maligned, pockets of resistance.

True integration and harmonization have not been easy, despite the prevalence of democratic institutions and structures that are meant to provide equal access to everyone. In reality, society is tiered by levels of economic-based elitism in which people identify themselves in part by dress code, personal etiquette, and schools where they were educated. It gives lip service to certain values, such as human rights, racial equality, religious tolerance, equality of the genders, etc., but only reluctantly and slowly accommodates minorities when they have won favor in the popular media and become the cause célèbre.

Canada’s Potential Role

How can Canada help foster beneficial connections among the different global sectors? Because history and geography have sandwiched us into asymmetrical relations with powerful nations, Canada has led in the development of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and holds significant positions in a large number of international organizations.

As a member of the United Nations, Canada participates in all of its agencies and its peacekeeping missions. It is part of the G7 and G8 groups of industrialized nations and also a member of regional associations that include Second and Third World countries. These include NATO to the east, NAFTA and the Organization of American States to the south, and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation to the west. Its historic links with Great Britain and France are reflected in its membership in the far-reaching networks of the British Commonwealth of Nations and La Francophonie.

To the north, we are a polar-cap nation deeply involved in issues of sovereignty in the Arctic. A traveler of the future might be able to traverse the Bering Strait from Russia to Alaska, but would have to travel through Canada to get further!

Canada has a good reputation internationally both as a leader in peace movements and an honest broker. While many First-World countries were colonizing powers, Canada has no imperialist past. A Canadian, Lester B. Pearson, earned a Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for his role in shaping the UN’s peacekeeping missions, and Canada has participated in every one of them. The central tower of our Parliament Buildings is called the Peace Tower. Canada has extensive NGO and government-sponsored Third World development projects around the globe.

Canada has active peace and interfaith movements. UPF-Canada’s National Peace Council meets monthly in key cities, sponsoring projects and working in partnership with other peace and interfaith groups. For example, there is a growing international movement for the creation of departments of peace in each nation. Canada, with its long history of peacekeeping and negotiated outcomes to conflict, stands in a unique position to become the first country to proclaim a Department and Minister for Peace. The Canadian Leadership Conference showcases the Canadian Department of Peace Initiative, which is spearheaded by 19 organizations.

Another focus of the conference is the role of police in preventing and resolving conflict before it results in violence. In one conference session, law enforcement and military personnel will discuss the role of traditional policing from the perspective of a culture of peace. Policing involves a complex array of responses and activities in different contexts, and in a culture of peace, dialogue, and negotiation should form the core of conflict prevention and resolution.

The conference also challenges youth and people of faith to invest themselves in conflict resolution and peacebuilding, offering insights, model programs, and curricula that can be applied in many settings. A Peace Awards Gala will showcase outstanding groups and individuals who are truly making a difference through their efforts to make this world a better place.

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