A few thoughts for the file on developing a Canadian
Peace Institute by Peter Langille
Dear concerned parties,
Just a few thoughts for the file on developing a Canadian Peace Institute.
Actually, this is not much of a vision statement, but I think it might help
us to twin some practical, shared Canadian concerns with a few global
In short, there are two areas that may warrant further consideration in
planning the institute. First, I think there is an urgent need for
constructive critism of contemporary policy and approaches, particularly in
generating alternative defence and foreign policy options. Second, and
closely related, I think Canadians would be strongly inclined to support
efforts to modernize and adapt UN approaches and mechanisms for peace and
conflict prevention. There is an apparent void on both of these that may
influence the long-term future of the proposed institute.
One major impediment to peace studies in Canada has been the near monopoly
on related issues controlled carefully by DND's Security and Defence Forum
through 15 well-funded, University SDF centres. Most of our larger
University programmes in international relations, conflict and security are
very dependent on the DND $ and nervous of any new development that might
challenge their access and influence. Needless to say, they can build quite
a constituency with a core group of academics, undergraduate and graduate
students, as well as priveleged funding for research, scholarships,
conferences and travel.
As a result, even in areas such as UN reform, peacekeeping, humanitarian
assistance, conflict prevention, management and resolution, the DND
perspective is carried by a rather captive, albeit willing community. Aside
from these university centres, they have a tight network of colleagues in
affiliated institutes such as the Pearson Peacekeeping Training Centre, the
Canadian Institute of International Affairs and the Canadian Institute of
Strategic Studies (all DND funded). For some time, the practice has been to
present departmental priorities as conventional wisdom derived from
experience and a broad base of intellectual/public support. In the absence
of an alternative perspective, there has been little political pressure to
engage in substantive reform or adaptation and very little interest in
redistributing scarce resources to what many within would view as
controversial and challenging peace studies, research, education and action.
Axworthy repeatedly ran into concerted opposition from this constituency and
there is little doubt that some of the latter plan to roll back as much of
the human security agenda as possible after his departure.
While DFAIT's Centre for Foreign Policy Studies was partially intended to
help provide some balance to national debates, academic programmes and news
coverage, it really hasn't served this purpose well.
At one point, DFAIT thought of emulating DND's SDF programme, but their
Treasury Board submission didn't attract sufficient funding.
There is now some very modest support for conflict prevention and human
security, but DFAIT as an institution isn't inclined to assist with
ambitious new ideas or programmes that they don't control.
(Suffice it to say that the SDF model is one that works, but it requires a
Federal investment that is not likely to be forthcoming.)
Whereas Canada marked out a fair reputation for providing useful ideas to
issues that mattered in the past, there is a wider sense that our
contribution to inter- and intra-state security, peace and conflict has been
increasingly mixed. There is also a concern, shared by my former colleagues
at Bradford & at the UN, that many Canadian academics and officials are
sounding far more traditional and obstructionist than their American and
British counterparts. This does not augur well, particularly if the
Government assumes that it should take its lead from the opposition
Alliance, who have expressed support for moving away from the UN and back to
a more subservient role in NATO.
Unfortunatly to date, it has been a lot easier to develop an active
constituency for defence priorities as they can call on allies in industry,
the media, the military, academe and the diplomatic community. Frequently,
these sectors share a direct vested career, economic or political interest
in co-opting or opposing what we/you are proposing.
While Canadians are definitely inclined to support peace initiatives and,
hopefully, a serious peace institute, it has not been easy to mobilise that
support into tangible assistance or a consensus. Nevertheless, a few
organisations such as Project Ploughshares have demonstrated that a small,
dedicated group of researchers can make an influential contribution to
debates here and abroad over arms control and disarmament, conflict,
peacebuilding, peacekeeping defence and development. Similarly, the
Department of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford started fairly
small, built a reputation around four key areas of concentration (with a
couple of timely niches) and then blossomed. (Another useful model.)
Whatever...it will certainly be a tough task to satisfy even the majority of
interests that are likely to surface over future discussions of a Canadian
peace institute. We know it can't be all things to all, so the issues of
scope, scale and priorities should make for some lively discussions.
Look forward to seeing you next week.
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acknowledgment is made to:
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Last update: 13 Jan 2001