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Peace: a problem for every generation and government

This is the fourth article from Stephanie Piamonte in a series that examines why millennials are, or seem to be, disengaged from politics, and whether the problem is our generation, or if it is generational. The first article can be found herethe second article can be found here, and the third article can be found here.

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Stephanie Piamonte

Syria.  The Central African Republic.  South Sudan.  There are ongoing armed conflicts happening all around the world.  The list is much longer — far too much longer — but why isn’t Canada, a country renowned for its peacekeeping efforts, doing anything about it?

Where was the Canadian government when the United States and Russia were negotiating a Russian proposal to inventory and eventually destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stocks? Instead of sitting at the peace table, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was meeting with the Turkish foreign minister to discuss, among other things, the possibility of a free-trade agreement.

While the removal of chemical weapons does not resolve the conflict within Syria, it does represent a step toward greater safety for Syrians. It was heartening to see the United States and Russia work together for peace.  But In contrast, the disengagement of the Canadian government from the process was problematic and failed to address a central millennial concern: peace.

Two recent articles in the Fulcrum suggest that millennials care about peace, but are divided over our government’s current policy.  Madison McSweeney wrote an article called “Canada’s support for Israel is the right thing to do,” in which she defends the Canadian government’s support for Israel, while Ghaith El-Mohtar responded with a letter to the editor, which highlighted the wrongs Palestinians have experienced, and criticized Canada’s support for Israel.

Both McSweeney and El-Mohtar seem to care deeply about an issue that is serious and pressing. Unfortunately, discussions that involve rights and wrongs rarely lead to reconciliation and peace.  Strongly held convictions about rights make compromise difficult, but compromise is possible with open discussion and a willingness to reconsider long held beliefs. Similarly, an inability to forgive wrongs precludes reconciliation. The Russia-US proposal put peace above both principles and the past. Unfortunately, our government has not contributed to international peace politics in the same way, nor has it prioritized peace like the millennials.

Two weeks after the Conservative government came to power, Canada withdrew 200 logisticians from the United Nations mission in the Golan Heights, which is a geographical buffer between Israel and Syria. Then the government increased its commitment of troops to the war in Afghanistan. While the UN is engaged in more peacekeeping missions than ever, Canada’s contributions to international peace efforts have steadily declined.  Once ranked number one in the early 1990s, Canada now ranks 55 out of 108 countries in contributions to UN peacekeeping missions.

When asked to comment on the Russia-US plan to remove and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, Baird called the agreement “ridiculous and absurd.”  While Baird was in Turkey to talk trade, he missed an opportunity to promote peace for the neighbouring country of Syria.

As our minister of foreign affairs, Baird represents Canadians abroad.  I am not sure that his statements represent the hopes or values of millennials who are deeply concerned with peace.

I believe millennials are more likely to agree with Lester B. Pearson, who said that when it comes to peace policy, “We must keep on trying to solve problems, one by one, stage by stage, if not on the basis of confidence and cooperation, at least on that of mutual toleration and self-interest.”

Millennials have seen the consequences when peacekeepers do nothing, as in Rwanda.  We have seen the breakdown of states along religious and ethnic lines, as in the former Yugoslavia.  Perhaps the so-called war on terror has made some of us cynical or hesitant to involve ourselves in trouble and turmoil that seems far removed.  But I also see a spirit of optimism and responsibility among millennials that might enable us to take up the challenge for peace that the government has largely avoided.

We want to know what you think, consider these questions and let us know what you think in the comments below or tweet @The_Fulcrum

What do you think Canada’s role in international peacekeeping should be?

Is peace still a significant or defining Canadian value?

What are some of the challenges to peace in our lifetime?

Pearson’s speech: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1957/pearson-lecture.html