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Believers and Building Human Security

An Address by David Kilgour
To a luncheon hosted by the Christian Embassy of Canada
Sheraton Hotel, Ottawa, March 1, 1999

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It should be clear that my Secretary of State hat is in the corner this afternoon; I’m speaking in a personal capacity.

Attempting to link religion and human security is difficult in part because so many violent conflicts today and in the past are religion-based. My unoriginal contention is that a sound practice of any of the world’s great religions does not permit the use of violence against an adherent of another creed or non-believer. Only a serious misinterpretation of any of these religions leads to such violence.

Human Security

Human security means essentially that the well-being of all 5.8 billion or so residents of this planet deserve to be considered in today’s human condition issues, whether human rights, a ban on landmines, the exploitation of children in any fashion, peacekeeping/peacemaking, depletion of the ozone layer/global warming, hunger or whatever.

I’d argue that the term means prudent populism applied to diplomacy. It implies no more first, second, third or fourth class people, with many finding that their legitimate concerns simply don’t count. Those who embrace the concept seek a more fulfilled life for all.

Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post recently gave his take on human security in an article reprinted in the Calgary Herald. He cited my colleague, Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy, for the following:

  • creating a new international criminal court,
  • seeking to end the economic and diplomatic isolation of Cuba,
  • making a fuss at NATO over the use of tactical nuclear weapons,
  • putting together a new alliance of middle powers – "The Humanitarian 8" as a counterpart to the big-power Group of Seven,
  • rebuking the Russians and Chinese for abusing their veto power and preventing quick action to "end the slaughter of women and children in Kosovo and Nigeria",
  • crusading for "soft power" "that emphasizes negotiation over confrontation, ‘human security’ over national security and the power of ideas over the power of weapons", and
  • arguing that in the "post-Cold War paradigm .. influence is shifting from diplomatic elites and nation states that operate largely in secret toward international organizations and non-government players – unions, businesses, activists and interest groups of all kinds – engaged in an ongoing public dialogue",

Canadian Public Opinion

It is of interest here that some public opinion research on foreign policy issues among Canadians during the past year indicates:

  • Almost two in three Canadians (63%) rate our country as "among the best in the world" with respect to its international image (Goldfarb report 1998). Focus groups in the summer of ’98 indicated pride in Canada’s peaceful nature, our peacekeeping role, our moderating influence in the world, our independence from U.S. foreign policy (e.g. Cuba), and our role in the landmines treaty and concern about what many described as our "too passive role in the world".
  • Almost half (45%) of Canadian voters in an October ’98 survey approved of the performance of Foreign Minister Axworthy, with 36% don’t know/undecided and only 19% disapproving (Environics).
  • Other international issues that generated the greatest level of personal interest among Canadians were the international ban on landmines (38% were "very interested"), and the exploitation of child labour (36%). Working for international peace, environmental problems, violations of human rights by governments, participating in UN peacekeeping, easing world poverty/hunger, maintaining our ability to defend our country, promoting trade opportunities/removing trade barriers abroad and promoting Canadian culture all were other issues of public concern.

Nine in ten Canadians evidently believe Canada should put a "very high" or "fairly high" priority on our role in the UN. When asked what Canada should do as a new member of the Security Council, one focus group said:

  • continue "what we’re doing now";
  • human rights;
  • use our reputation to promote peace;
  • use Canadian expertise to improve health systems in the developing world;
  • reduce the influence of major powers (take away veto).

According to the Goldfarb report for 1998, Canadians generally rate highly the importance of the World Trade Organization (76% very/fairly high priority), NATO (72% very/fairly high priority), and the Commonwealth (71% very/fairly high priority).

Virtually no Canadians understand the term "constructive engagement" in a human rights context. Asked what our country should do, most surveyed by Angus Reid a year ago said "cooperate with the United Nations" (88%), followed by "have a direct dialogue" (82%), restricting trade (63%) and increasing trade (50%). These are four elements of constructive engagement policy, so it would appear that the concept enjoys widespread support even if the term is virtually unknown. That said, I understand focus groups convened in all regions of our country in the summer of 1998 indicated that one of the things they’d like Canada to do in the world is to "put more emphasis on human rights".

Believers At Home/Abroad

How does all this relate to believers in Canada and elsewhere? My answer would be that six years ago a national opinion survey found that about eight of ten Canadians believe in God, which probably hasn’t changed very much since. This large majority of us are presumably applying the basic tenets of a host of the religions practised across Canada when we tell pollsters, for example, that Canada should do more to promote human rights in the world. Rights everywhere count to believers.

Glue Sniffing Children

Last week, a group of us watched some street children in the inner part of a capital in Central America sniffing glue. We were deeply troubled. The Casa Alianza Centre, which attempts to help them, is funded I understand in large part by believers in North America. In two capitals in the region, we were told that the shoe glue they use has two chemicals added, which cause brain damage. Why can’t we stop these chemicals from bring added? Why can’t we find a way to keep shoe glue of any composition away from children in all countries of the world? Would this not be something "beautiful for God" (Mother Teresa) by whatever name we address him? Would a Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew or Christian disagree in the slightest? Is someone who in their heart judges that the little boy of 14 we saw lying in the Casa Alianza Centre has little more intrinsic value than a lump of coal be likely to be as concerned as believers of our faith?

I realize, of course, that non-believers will argue that a glue-sniffing or hungry or exploited child makes for a less secure city, region or planet, etc., so that such things must be stopped for self-preservation or other pragmatic or realpolitik reasons. My reply is that believers of most of the world’s great religions are more likely to do something for such children than non-believers.

Do not soundly-educated believers in most lands seek to exalt individuals regardless of circumstances? Should we not all hold that our Creator cares about each of the residents of our planet? If so, we must together treat all with care, whether they need shelter, food or simply to be listened to.

Democracy and Belief

Indeed, can any population become or remain democratic without a religious basis of one kind or another? Doesn’t the health of most democratic institutions depend at least to a degree on values that come from religions? For example, Glen Tinder in his book, The Political Meaning of Christianity, argues that only in modern times has it been assumed that politics is entirely secular. Democratic governments today in consequence, he concludes, tend to become arenas for personal ambitions, special interests, power and privileges. Does this trend not in practice tend to deny two of the presumed virtues of pluralism: respect for all individuals and a belief in the essential equality of all human beings?

In Conclusion

In conclusion there is probably a greater need for committed believers of many faiths in every walk of life today across the world than at any point in our history.

In closing, let me quote the respected Czech president, Vaclav Havel; he said a year ago:

A modern philosopher once said: ‘Only a God can save us now.’ Yes, the only real hope of people today is probably a renewal of our certainty that we are rooted in the earth and, at the same time, the cosmos. ... Politicians at international forums may reiterate a thousand times that the basis of the new world order must be universal respect for human rights, but it will mean nothing as long as this imperative does not derive from the respect of the miracle of being, the miracle of the universe, the miracle of nature, the miracle of our own existence. Only someone who submits to the authority of the universal order and of creation, who values the right to be part of it and a participant in it, can genuinely value himself and his neighbours, and thus honour their rights as well.

How right Mr. Havel is!

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