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The United States and R2P: From Words to Action Browse

Keynote Address by Lloyd Axworthy


Lloyd Axworthy: Well good morning everybody and I'm very pleased to be able to follow on such a sort of erudite panel which took care of most of the things I wanted to say so it makes my job much easier. I have a couple of disclaimers which are always important. As Madeleine Albright pointed out I am one of your Northern neighbors. I occupy that part of the rock that is north of the 49. It's not always something that is warmly greeted by an American audience because they've been conditioned to weather reports that said "Cold fronts moving in from Hudson's Bay," and laterally that we're trying to build pipelines in Nebraska so it doesn't seem to always necessarily garner wild hosannas. But it is a wonderful place to be able to first be a neighbor of the most powerful country in the world. And to have had a period since 1812 when we burned down Washington-


Lloyd Axworthy: Pretty compatible relationships, in fact very warm relationships. And much of what we do is often of course sort of a ping-pong from the relationships that we have with the United States because we are partners in so many things, but also have had the opportunity in our own way to think independently and to try to complement and use our--in a sense--our protection that we derive from being part of North America and being under a very strong security umbrella of the United States to be able to push the edges out a little bit and so that’s what I want to talk about today and how it happens. I should probably say to you that if preceding rumors have reached you about our views on foreign policy I want to immediately explain what they were because when I retired from foreign affairs I received an invitation to speak to a group at Taiwan University. I'd never been to Taiwan because we weren't allowed to go and I thought this is pretty nice even though there's a long way to go, I was jet-lagged. And the talk went pretty good, just explaining all the variety of things that were going on that we saw important until at the back a young man gets up. Always these question periods are the ones that kind of throw you off your feet, and he said "Dr. Axworthy, you were a Foreign Minister for close to five years. You had the opportunity to work out relations with the most powerful country in the world. We live in one of the emerging powerful countries of the world. Do you have any advice?" Well normally in those cases I would have had some smart foreign service officer slip me a note with some kind of astute advice like "Shut up, stupid" or something that would be relevant but I was on my own. It was the first time I had sort of flown with my own wings and as you often do in those cases you go into a kind of convulse of memory response. And I said "Well in Manitoba we have an old saying, 'When you're in these situations it's like making love to a porcupine.'" Now that didn't translate into Chinese too well. So I'm not sure people really understood the whole point I was getting. And in fact the next morning I went to one of these power breakfasts they have and we got up at 5:00 A.M. to sort of catch the markets. I came into the room and I have to say if you read body language it wasn't the necessarily the most warm and comfy feeling I've ever had. So I said to my host, "Look, have I committed some protocol problem here?" And he said, "Well it may have something to do with the headline in this morning's paper." And I don't read Chinese so I didn't bother to check it out and I said, "What did it say?" "It said that Dr. Axworthy former Foreign Ministry of Canada advised Taiwan when it comes to dealing with its neighbor across the straights that it's like making love to a concubine."


Lloyd Axworthy: Now if you want me to continue on that vein I'm quite prepared to give you the entire context but I don't want to have any of you think that the discussion about R2P is necessarily related to that particular little excerpt of foreign policy that I tried to articulate. Never do it when you're jet-lagged is the moral of the lesson, but it does, I think, come to the point and it is a great privilege to speak to a distinguished audience and to follow the two co-chairs. Let me thank them, thank the working group, thank the staff of the working group, and thank the sponsor institutions for having taken this very, I think, important step forward in bringing in an idea and the power of an idea into this important American audience and to launch a real discussion about how an idea converts to ultimately to action. That's to me the great dynamic of our world and I have been inspired in part by being in this building because if there was one of the heroes that I put in the realm of those who have really shown how they make a difference, it was Raphael Lemkin who many of you would know was a Polish lawyer who escaped the Nazis in the '30s; resided at Duke University which shows that universities do have a sanctuary purpose at times. But in his own way began to accumulate the evidence of what was taking place in Europe. The leaders of the allied powers knew what was going on but they never spoke publically about it. Churchill always said, "It's the crime that has no name." But Raphael Lempkin and a small group of his students at Duke and slowly a widening group across the United States began to talk and use for the first time the word "genocide". And I would say that while the multitudes began to gather, it was Lempkin's leadership, not only from the academic point of view of studying and analyzing and coming up with hard recommendations, but then taking it to an activist point of view that resulted ultimately in the Convention on Genocide in 1948 which was one of the great sort of milestones touchstones in terms of our efforts to build humanity law in the world as opposed to a law simply based on commercial or national security transactions. So he is a hero but what it proves it two things: one, you can take an idea, you can take a concept, you can take a position and eventually translate it into something that becomes meaningful and has a history to it. And secondly that it was very inclusive. People weren't sort of kept away. There were no boundaries. It became something of a universal calling. I think that is really to me the precedent that often times I would follow in when we were in the area of foreign affairs because I think what we're talking about is having a game plan, having a blueprint, having a work situation that I think the panel before talked about the necessity to look at case-by-case examples and that's absolutely true. But you also have the framework. You have to put those transactions into a framework of law, a framework of organization, a framework of standards and norms which Rich Williamson referred to so that you have a template to work from. You weren't reinventing each time. You weren't trying to get a coalition together each time. You weren't having to sort of think things through and therefore often times lose the moment, lose the opportunity. I think probably for me speaking just personally the most exciting period came at the fall of the Berlin Wall when the liberals came back into government, we came back into government of Canada, I became the Foreign Minister under Jean Chretien and we felt that we really had to rethink that the old stratifications that had been born by the Cold War in terms of good and bad, East and West, red and black, that now was the time to open up and to really rethink a little bit of where we wanted to go. And up to that point in time I had really been a plumber. And I don't see the Secretary of State serve the craft because he had some bigger issues, but basically as a Foreign Minister you're putting out leaks. There's a problem here, there's a problem there, you’re set off to try to plug them so that you can kind of keep things on an even keel. But there's an old saying, "If you get too many leaks the architecture has gone wrong." And that's the way I began to believe that the fundamental architecture that we were working with internationally no longer fit. It's the whole idea of Galileo that at some point in time you have to discover a new reality and then change your lens, change the way you think about things. And we sort of began to build our foreign policy at that time around the concept of human security and this is really what it means. I will simplify it, it's more complicated. It simply meant that you put the security of people in front of the security of nation states, not that you avoid the others. We're still members of NATO. We’re still involved in all the military alliances and defense alliances, but we felt that we should begin shifting our resources and our attention into what was increasingly becoming broad based global risks and threats to individuals. And, at that point in time, it was the most impressionable and the most dramatic was the issue of crimes against humanity, atrocities, the Rwandas, the Srebrenicas, what had been taking place in the Congo, what had taken place in sort of parts of Asia and Cambodia. And we couldn't believe that somehow that an international system could stand fallow, stand aside and watch millions of people--half-millions of people--being murdered. I mean that just did not fit sort of what we thought should be. We had just come out of the Second World War where the Holocaust had taken place, where we said "Never again". We could never allow that kind of murder. And here is the point I think that's really important to emphasize for those of you who are thinking about the Responsibility to Protect. It very much just focuses on the leadership that causes it. I mean academics have spent a lot of time- “What are the causes of mass atrocities and genocide? Is it poverty? Is it ethnic strife is a sort of variety of dynamics?” The reality, I think, that Daniel Goldhagen has put in his book, Worse Than War studying it clearly, is that ultimately it comes out of some political leader, either in government or outside it, that really wants to exploit the preconditions and channel them into becoming a focal point that-- there is some group--religious, ethnic, gender--that is responsible for this problem and therefore the only way to do it is to eliminate them. And that therefore R2P is not one in which you are trying to convert cultures of people. You are not trying to change the broad sweep. You are simply saying there's a bunch of individuals out there who you can identify pretty clearly and their cohorts and their entourages around them who are taking the lead towards mass killing, mass violation, mass rape. It's not a science. It's an ability to pinpoint. And that to me is a key to the R2P idea is that we've got to find, and Rich used this word "accountability," because accountability can also mean deterrence. Once you begin identifying it, boy, you can get them. And the tools so that it wasn't any accident that they in actual criminal court began to move along that same humanity law track as R2P. One was political. One was legal. But they were basically founded on the same individual that you were going after the crimes against people, and you're going to hold individuals accountable for those crimes. You can no longer have, as I heard in the Second World War, "The state made me do it. I was simply doing my duty." Uh-uh, when you make a decision about mass killing and you launch it into operation, you're going to be criminally accountable for it. And that's where everything, the sanctions and the deliberations, are really focused in terms of that preventative angle that you want to find. So it really is a way of saying we've got to eliminate, I think as Raphael Lemkin said back in the '40s, this idea that somehow you can get away with mass murder on an international scale. And that we could talk about all the collaterals that come from it: flows of refugees, the instability, the breakdown of cooperation, and everything else. But the hard reality is that what we're talking about is using force as a way of gaining some political advantage and that force results in intolerable, unacceptable risk, and usually to the most vulnerable people: women and children. If you looked at genocides and crimes against humanity and what's happening in the Congo, what has happened in Rwanda, what is happening today in several countries as it's emerging including Syria it's those who are most vulnerable who ultimately pay the price because they can't be protected. And that's why in the discussion around as we moved in the late '90s towards the concept of how do you provide protection against risk for large numbers of people and we were in the security council at the time that Madeleine began the initiative on Kosovo and we're a full court that the Russians were not going to agree. If you were a dictator and you've used mass killings in the past as Stalin did, you're not going to agree. Come on, let's be realistic. Those who oppose it and those who are kind of throwing up the flock balloons are usually doing it for a reason. If you look at who voted against the Rome statute in Rome and if you looked at who in the General Assembly debates in 2009 on R2P, it was five or six nations and they just happened to be run by people who enjoyed the extermination and the intimidation and the criminalization of people in their own countries as a pretext for holding themselves in power. The decent people, the rulers, the governors who simply want to make things work, and it's hard enough to do in any circumstance, were not out there on the barricades. Africa, when we started the whole initiative of protection of people, we got elected to Security Council with about 179 votes from around the world because we were campaigning on the agenda of human security for protection of people. That was the largest election of any country the Security Council that ever took place. And this was not just Europeans or Americans or a few others. This was a campaign that drew that kind of full scale attention. So let me focus in. So we got involved in things like the International Court, the Land Mine Treaty; and we began to learn from it. And one thing we learned is you can never bring about the normative change that this report talks about if you don't have a very large scale mobilization of civil society behind you. It's hard to do it from the top. It's hard to do it from the side. You've got to be able to build a political base amongst sort of a substantial both in your own countries and on an international front. And I would say that the importance of the report in this case is reaching out in a public way to begin to mobilize that kind of support. And there are-- there is the International Coalition for R2P which is basically right out of New York and it is probably the most advanced organization working with civil societies around the world to try to get their leaders to start signing in. And they play the Center for Responsibility to Protect in New York set up by American foundations. So you're already involved. Americans are already deeply, deeply engaged in this issue in a lot of ways. It's just that the word is not used. In this, I thought the United States took an incredibly important step forward with its Atrocity Prevention Board, but it's kind of interesting that nowhere in that report did they mention R2P. I mean they move around it and they say "atrocities", "crimes", they never mention "Responsibility to Protect". It's a kind of a curious I suppose some public relations person is saying "Oh, don't use the phrase; it's going to get somebody mad somewhere." But the reality is one of the weaknesses is that the world's largest defender of human rights is not using the concept of R2P in a public way in the Presidential speech and the written speeches. They used it before the campaign. I was highly thrilled when President Obama was first running for office there was a three-piece spread in the New York Times in which he referred to R2P four or five times. Because Susan Rice and others had sort of been part of the discussion that went on in its establishment; but, they aren't using it now. So if you want to take sort of a kindly contemplative reflection from a Canadian, start using the phrase. This commission has done it. It's now made it publically acceptable to start talking about the responsibility of the international community to stop murder in a mass scale. Stop rape in a mass scale, stop extermination in a mass scale. That's what it's about. Just another little piece of history, so how did it emerge that way? Well, this is not, again, some concept that sort of emerged out of the sort of burning bush. It was based on some probably the most serious investigative inquiry into what would be the basis for challenging the fundamental concept of sovereignty that had been around for about 300 years under Westphalia. And all the international lawyers are going around in Europe at the time and put this together. And so, two major American foundations, MacArthur and Rockefeller, paid for that research. I mean this was exhaustive. We got mounds of sort of any graduate students here who really kind of want to get some good research already done, it's ready-made. It was also based on a broad international commission. This was not a group of Methodist Canadians out there on their knees. This was based upon __. Rashmi Thakur from India who never believed in this kind of stuff was on the commission. We had an advisor group of sitting foreign ministers, hard-nosed guys. Amr Moussa was on that, I mean these were not pushovers. They weren't simply saying "Does it work or doesn't it work?" And it came down to the fact that after Kosovo, which demonstrated to us that the ultimate step in implementing a human security agenda, in terms of protecting people when the rubber hit the road, you might have to use some military force. And Kosovo was in effect a turning point on that and this was I think as people have said with great credit to Secretary of State Albright. I mean she brought that issue to a head. For us as Canadians, we thought that is really proving I was under attack in my country by the right wing academics, the realpolitik types saying "Oh, no, this is all soft power stuff. It never will work." Well, sometimes hard power had to be brought in to play. But we needed to get a framework to make it work so that it wasn't simply ad hoc, it wasn't capricious, it wasn't sort of happening waiting for the willing to come together. And some of the questions that came from the audience, it was based upon a very clear set of criteria. Here is the basis if you look at the commission report. Here are the criteria upon which you determine grounds for involvement. Here are fail safes. It has to go through a multilateral body. But it wasn't exclusively the Security Council. If you look at the broad commission report, it was talking that there are venues of the General Assembly that you can use. There was an enormous effort to say R2P could be used and is being used by regional organizations. Perhaps the most effective use of R2P right now is ECOWAS, the Economic Community of Western African and their leaders. Their Presidents get on planes and fly to countries when they think there's a military takeover or there's a disruption and they do their best to try to provide exactly what this report recommends, provide some bolstering and buttressing to a regime so that they don't crackle under the pressure. So it wasn't exclusively that, but clearly the importance of the Security Council is that it is the only authority that can exercise Chapter VII, which is the use of force. Which leads, in terms of recommendation, and part of the debate I think that should go on how you should do it, of some form of U.N. reform. The commission report, the commission that we established in 2000 to begin to look at this broad question of involvement included, for example, the idea that the use of the veto in the Security Council should not be used when you're dealing with humanitarian-level initiatives. It was set up in 1945 to protect the interests of the five major powers in the Security Council against aggressing against each other. Why the hell are they using it sort of to stop a force going into sort of Darfur and why do you hold it up and why in this case in Kosovo? Well, because there's national interest. The Russians have their sphere of interest. They still go back. They are still going back to what they were doing originally which is to push the boundaries until George Kennan came along and said "Let's contain them a little bit." That's not going to change. So let's not get all upset that the Russians are going to exercise a veto. That's what they do in terms of protecting those regional interests. But it means that you don't get stymied as a result of it. And the creativity that came out of Kosovo moving it to another multilateral organization and getting reinforcement by resolutions at the Security Council on protection of people began to give us a proper legal base for doing it. So there was nothing sort of sacred or sacrosanct. The key to R2P is that it is a way of amending sovereignty. It's saying sovereignty is not a divine right. It's earned right. You earn it to the degree to which you protect the people from whom you are responsible and, if you don't earn it, your claim to sovereignty becomes suspect. The question was asked, well then who decides? Well that's a political question and I think Rich, you answered that way. You answer it by those who are best able to. If you can get the regional organizations in Southwest Africa to take the action on that's great except many of them don't have the logistics. They don't have airplanes, they don't have intelligence. And so when it comes down to looking at an America role this is, once again, not saying we see the United States out there doing the heavy lifting on the barricades because the second concept along with the involvement of civil society is the involvement of a bunch of other countries. There are 15 countries in the frames of R2P at the United Nations today. We held a reunion back in Sweden this April? Because the Red Cross was involved; the U.N. TV was involved; eight or nine countries including Chili, Mozambique, Europeans, ourselves; and we simply had put together a military force called Cherbourg which was designed to be a quick reaction force but nobody would pay any attention to it in the U.N. so it kind of dissolved itself around 2009 because that's the other part about R2P. You're going to have to be able to get there quickly, as we've seen in Syria. I think this is just an off the top, I don’t pretend to be an expert. I think Syria could have been stopped in the first six months. I think that there-- if there had been an active engagement; but, you guys are having an election, the Europeans were having a fiscal meltdown. Several other countries were-- there was nobody taking leadership. There was nobody out there saying “Hey wait a minute, this thing has got portents and it's going to lead to something really serious.” Just let it hang. And all the, I think the kind of work that was coming at that time there just wasn't that sort of-- when you talk about "early warning" you're not talking about somebody writing a brief to the National Security Council. You're talking about beginning to put together the form of action that you want to take. The kind of instant reaction you got from the United Nations in Kenya to send Kofi Annan to try to work out the post-election violence. So those are the kind of things that I think, when we talk about a United States role, first there really is a leadership role because no one argues--we certainly don't--about the fundamental sort of base of human rights. But we are now talking about an international system based on a human rights calculus. We're not talking about just muscling. We're talking about the fact that the rights that we assume for ourselves other people now want to assume and it's going to create a lot of different action. Now Martin Gilbert, the great British historian of Winston Churchill, said "R2P is the most significant amendment to sovereignty in the last 300 years." You don't have to take every historian's calculation, but you do have to say that it is providing a template, a framework, based on serious law, based on serious experience to set up a process by which the United Nations and others can in a very sort of clear cut and coherent way, a coordinated way, come to grips with the first alarming signs of murder or atrocity taking place, get together with those who have agreed that they will be part of a reaction and that can vary according to the region and the nature of the problem. Focus in on the perpetrators who are primarily those with power in government or those who are warlords outside of it and really focus in on them and say "That's how we get the sanctions to work. That's where we focus the diplomatic isolation. That's where we really focus." Because, if I can just digress for a moment, we were talking about what happened in Kosovo. I was sitting at a table with the Secretary of State in Germany somewhere and we were talking about how you sort of bring the conflict to an end and Milosevic was not negotiating at all. I get a call from Louise Arbour who was head of the Yugoslav Tribunal, told my contemporaries that he had just been indicted along with six of his people. What immediately began to happen, and we have studied this carefully, is that Milosevic began to lose his political base in his own country. People didn't want to be seen on the Christmas card with him next year. He just began to get isolated inside his pit. You can do those things. Political leaders are not, sort of, transformers. They don't roam around in a crazy way. They depend upon a support base. They depend upon a framework to make it happen. So, coming out of that commission and going through the United Nations, getting legitimacy along the way, has now meant that it can be a practicing protocol, as it was in Libya. It was a practicing protocol, as it was in Kenya. It is the same concept that was applied in Cote d'Ivoire; in fact, earlier than that, it was used in East Timor. It was used and I think and Kosovo set the precedent for much of what happened. Except now you've got a framework: a framework that increasingly adds to its experience and its knowledge. What you don't have is the politics of it. You've got, sort of, the 2005 agreement basically was a compromise. It eliminated a number of the important elements that was in the Commission Report that we had established such as alternative decision making; such as the fact that R2P could be applied wherever there is threat of high-level, broad based, risk and threat to civilians, which includes natural catastrophes and moving things. That was part of the report. And therefore, what I conclude on, is to say that in addition to honing the capacity, the early warning capacity, getting the NGOs around the world to be whistle blowers to tell you when something is happening, beginning to look at what is the basis for an early reactive force that can be brought to bear within weeks not within months? Getting to look at the question of focused, directed sanctions against the perpetrators, not against the people. Looking at the gender relationships that are there because anything to do in this kind of area has to have a large gender component because they are the ones both who are the victims, but also the ones who would do the rebuilding the prevention work along the way. There are a number of very specific steps; but, it's not going to happen if you don't build a consensus around these issues and there is no more powerful influential actor in the world to begin doing that than your country. You have to start talking about it as you're doing here. You have to start doing some of the diplomatic mobilization, you have to do some of the educational work, and as people have talked about in this report the new technology gives you the capacity to mobilize not tens or hundreds but millions of people around this kind of notion. And it also begins to pose to you the question how do we manage things in the next ten years so that we're not simply every second week faced with another catastrophe, another disaster, another large movement of refugees, another 40,000 people being killed. It may be that this is a template. If you unbundle R2P, and apply it to other globally based threats and risks, then all of a sudden you have a way in which you retain sovereignty. Nation states acting on their own, fulfilling their responsibilities. But where they can't or won't or themselves or their predators then there is a mechanism, there's a way that's been established by which you can trigger an action internationally based upon the concept that we are accountable and responsible. So there is if you look ten years out and this thing has only been really around the corner block for the last ten or twelve years, then you begin to see that we may find a way out of a system that really is I think in a funk. It's dysfunctional. It's fractured. You just name me one, one single agreement that's been made in a coordinated international way in the last three or four years. Trade? Nah. Environment? Nah. Disaster? Some. Dealing with what's going on? The only one that came out of that whole exercise is Libya. So we really are in a point where we are kind of regressing in terms of our capacity to provide forms of international connection even though the tools are much better than we've had. What we're lacking is that kind of political sense and the leadership that goes with it. And I think that to me the most important thing about this report is it's-- I agree with this analysis, I think it's a series of very fine recommendations; but what it really is, is a call for action and that to me is the most important thing. If the United States can respond to that call for action we will have a very different world. Thank you very much.


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July 23, 2013

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum