Address by Minister Dion to the Second Forum St-Laurent sur la Securite Internationale [St. Laurent international security forum]

You will understand that I am unable today to present the definitive architecture of the Government of Canada's international security policy. That policy will be developed by the government and the Prime Minister in the comings weeks and months.

However, I am able to outline the key directions set out in the mandate letter I received from the Prime Minister.

I want to thank the Forum St. Laurent sur la Securite Internationale [St. Laurent international security forum] for giving me this opportunity. I am delighted that the forum, an initiative involving three francophone universities to foster debate on military, diplomatic and geopolitical issues, includes Laval University, where I studied, the University of Montreal, where I taught, and, I mustn't forget, the University of Quebec at Montreal, which gave me one of my most prolific co-authors, Prof. Jacques Bourgeault.

The St. Laurent forum's conception of security is similar to that of the Government of Canada's: it embraces a wide range of issues, including nuclear proliferation, geopolitical rivalries, migrations, ethnic and religious tensions, access to potable water and climate change. It covers current sources of insecurity and provides a comprehensive framework for achieving peace and progress.

Our government is committed to making Canada a determined peacebuilder. To achieve that goal, convincingly and responsibly, we must consider today's international context and current sources of instability. In doing so, we must be fully informed, seized by the need for action and always inspired by the principle of responsible conviction.

What are the problems we face today?

The international scene is characterized by mounting instability in some regions and by more global challenges that concern all humanity. But we must not lose sight of the progress being made. The news is not all bleak. Let us remember the Cold War: we lived through times of tension so high that the world came within a hair's breadth of nuclear war. That is why Canada is still a staunch advocate of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, promoting, among other initiatives, a treaty to ban the production of fissile material, the key component of all nuclear weapons.

Other advances are creating positive perspectives: the agreement between Iran and the international community on nuclear power, warming relations between Washington, D.C., and Havana, the Paris treaty on climate change, the progress of democracy and, finally, free elections in Burma [Myanmar], in Tunisia and in other countries in Africa. We need to highlight these signs of hope and avoid painting a uniformly one-dimensional picture of the state of the world today.

That said, I am very much aware of current instabilities, and it is them I would like to discuss now.

I believe we face three kinds of threat.

First of all, there are the classic geopolitical conflicts, linked to territorial and resource aspirations and to the clash of national ambitions. These include tensions in the South China Sea, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Russian aggression against Ukraine and the nuclear threats of the ideological regime from another era that holds sway in North Korea.

Canada cannot ignore these tensions, threats or conflicts. It must step up and act responsibly. It must hold its ground and seize every occasion to promote dialogue and peaceful solutions.

Take the example of our relations with Russia. We have opened up a dialogue with Russia, in accordance with our allies. But at the same time, also together with our allies, Canada will continue to push for, and indeed to push harder for, strong international sanctions against Russia for its aggression against Ukraine. We will advocate for this tried-and-true combination of firm and frank dialogue, deterrence and diplomacy in NATO meetings in Brussels in May and June, and in Warsaw in July, during which a central focus will be given to relations with Russia.

Second, in addition to tensions between states linked to conventional geopolitics, global insecurity is being fuelled by what might be called a syndrome of mistrust. Communities and populations that have lived peacefully side by side, forging family ties, have come to fear, hate and attack each other. The Cold War has gradually been succeeded by the exacerbation of tribal tensions, the clash of old nationalisms, the revolt against glaring inequalities, the corrosive impact of endemic corruption and, of course, increased sectarian extremism, culminating in globalized terrorism. The bloodshed began in post-Soviet territories and spread to too many regions of the world.

When neighbours and refugees or other foreigners are marginalized or persecuted because of political, religious, ethnic or racial differences, all the ingredients are in place to exacerbate mistrust and provoke an explosion. In Darfur, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Yemen and Libya, the effects of such mistrust have been catastrophic.

A millenarian, apocalyptic ideology has also emerged-an unacceptable distortion of the Qur'an, which condemns to death all who refuse to submit to it. This ideology, whose first victims are Muslims themselves, must be fought with the utmost determination by all of civilization.

One new element in the equation is the impact of new technologies on those tensions and conflicts. The Internet can be used to promote tolerance and a better understanding of others, but it can also be misused to fan the flames of intolerance and mistrust. Cyberspace has become a new battleground for these conflicts, one where distance no longer matters and attacks can be made anonymously, without any warning. Old troubles can thus be amplified by new technologies.

To counter this new threat, bilateral action is not enough. Multilateral action is essential. That is why our government is re-engaging in multilateral institutions, especially the UN and including the Security Council, we hope, where we intend to be an active and constructive member. We are throwing our full support behind the Secretary-General's Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism. We will also do so as participants in peacekeeping operations. A number of our allies are calling on us to act, especially in francophone territories, where there are many fragile states and where most blue helmets are deployed.

Canada's responsibility, as envisioned by our prime minister and our government, is to demonstrate, in word and deed, that diversity must be considered an asset to humanity, not a threat. Openness, respect and acceptance of difference must be our message for all. We must be the champions of diversity.

For countries like ours, who wonder how peace can be made to prevail in the present context, the solution is not outrageous militarism.

Military intervention must remain a last resort, to be deployed only when we have solid grounds to believe that effective and determined intervention would prove beneficial. And military intervention must never be contemplated in isolation. It must give way to diplomatic and development efforts in order to have any chance of restoring trust. And that is how we can responsibly fulfill our duty to protect.

Canada is ready to use force when it is in our interest to do so, provided that certain criteria, articulated by our prime minister, are met. Namely:

Canada's role and mission must be clearly defined;

Canada's role must be in keeping with Canadian capacity and expertise, and

the use of force should be based on a public and transparent argument.

In Iraq, Canadian interests are well served training and augmenting the ability of Iraqi security forces to combat the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] themselves.

It was with that in mind that our government decided to remain in Iraq, the goal being, of course, not only to help wipe out this horrible terrorist group, ISIL, but also to help Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish Iraqis establish a relationship of trust among themselves, without which their country would have no meaning.

This was the lens through which we rethought Canada's role in this part of the world. We must not only dismantle a terrorist group, but also prevent other groups of this type arising. We must vanquish the syndrome of mistrust and do our utmost to instill confidence.

That is why, in concert with our local and international allies within the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State, we have tripled our military training effort in Iraq, stepped up our intelligence gathering operations considerably, strengthened our aid and development programs in the region, increased assistance for good governance, and boosted our support not only in Iraq and Syria but in Jordan and Lebanon as well.

In Jordan and Lebanon, where the focus of our assistance is on the large population of young refugees that these two countries have welcomed, emphasis is placed on creating jobs for and training these young refugees. This assistance provides them with a glimmer of hope for a better future, contributes to building positive relationships among them and the communities that have taken them in and eases the stigma that would force them out of the region. At the same time, the Government of Canada has exceeded its goal of welcoming 25,000 refugees to Canada and integrating them into society.

We must maintain a presence everywhere, including in Saudi Arabia and Iran-both countries symbolizing the tensions between the Sunni and Shiite world.

Which brings me to the third source of instability, one that, beyond the classic geopolitical issues and the syndrome of mistrust, is plaguing our world. I am talking about the state of crisis in which our ecosystems find themselves. Climate change and access to potable water are the most pressing manifestations of this crisis. It is endangering all of humanity and forcing us to craft new diplomatic and technical tools in order to avoid its catastrophic effects.

There is not enough awareness of the connection between climate change and international security. Without reprising the details of a speech that I delivered on this subject on March 30, I will simply point out that the evidence is increasingly compelling that climate change is driving up the risk of conflict.

A recent G7 report entitled A New Climate for Peace identifies various ways in which climate change multiplies risks in fragile states. It exacerbates droughts and other disruptive natural phenomena. It deprives communities of elements essential to survival, such as water and food. It causes migrations that place a heavy burden on meagre resources in affected countries. And it can lead to societal dislocation, to tension and to violence.

During an international summit I attended on humanitarian assistance in Somalia this February in Istanbul, there was scant mention of the unprecedented drought ravaging the country, as though it were not a major cause of the conflicts tearing apart the Somali population.

Let us look at the Syrian example. The drought from 2007 to 2010, the worst ever recorded, produced disastrous harvests throughout the country and a mass exodus of farm families to urban centres. According to a report by the United Nations Development Programme, nearly 75 percent of farmers in northeastern Syria lost all of their crops, and livestock producers lost 85 percent of their livestock. According to another UN report, upwards of 800,000 Syrians were unable to provide for themselves on account of the drought. This environmental catastrophe and the ensuing migration put significant strains on cities that were economically weakened and subject to water stress.

Climate change did not cause the civil wars in Syria or in Somalia. The causes of the political upheaval are multi-faceted. But climate change has amplified the risks, in Syria as elsewhere. Of the 33 countries in the world where water is scarcest, 14 are in the Middle East and North Africa.

Historically, water-related disputes have been resolved through diplomatic channels. But that could change with the acceleration in climate change, the increased frequency of flooding, and the increasing variations in water flows and in the volume of hydro generation necessary for agriculture, energy production and human consumption.

Seen through this prism, the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change is good news for the world's population. The Honourable Catherine McKenna, the Canadian minister of environment and climate change, played a positive role in this. Looking ahead, the emissions reduction targets set in Paris must be reached. We also need to develop a true water diplomacy. Canada has much to offer and must do more. We have world-class expertise in water management through watersheds. We can share this expertise with the rest of the world.

In addition, Canada must develop expertise in the phenomenon of climate migrations, and we must support research into the links between climate change and conflict prevention.

In closing, we must recognize that in a world where rising intercommunity mistrust, a jihadist ideology thirsting for death and ecosystems in crisis add to classic geostrategic tensions, the stakes are enormous-dizzying, in fact. Such ills cannot be eliminated, of course, but we must mitigate them. Canada must do its part, responsibly and with conviction, in cooperation with its allies.

Let us not minimize our importance. Canada has the means to influence questions on global security, with a large military budget, effective diplomacy and armed forces, solid and varied expertise in development assistance, technological and intellectual know-how, and a tremendous innovative and entrepreneurial spirit. Let us put these strengths to use for the good of the world.

Canada is a peaceful country that has never had an empire but fought courageously when necessary for the causes of peace and justice. A country-the size of a continent-fortunate enough to have two international languages as its official languages and to belong to both the Commonwealth and La Francophonie. A country that has helped build multilateral institutions and that belongs to both the G7 and the G20. A country whose European roots, location in the Americas, window onto Asia and multicultural population give it a connection to all the world's continents, and with an indigenous population that bestows a sense of depth and continuity over time. Such a country has a lot to offer.

Here is a country that embodies confidence, tolerance and respect for differences, in a world afflicted by mistrust and xenophobia. A country that is strong, not in spite of its diversity, but because of it.

People everywhere want to believe that this can be true in their homelands as well, that their countries can find strength in their diversity-cultural, linguistic, religious, ethnic, social or other.

When Ban Ki-moon said recently in Austria that he was "alarmed by the growing xenophobia here [Austria] and elsewhere," he was appealing to all of us. And Canada must respond to this cry from the heart. Acting responsibly and with conviction, Canada must prove itself a committed architect of peace.

Thank you.

SOURCE: Government of Canada