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What can be learned from the Canadian peacebuilding model?

Canadian troops in Kabul during the changeover between German troops and the official entry of the Ca- nadian army in into the Internatio- nal Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. BBC News.

Canada’s economic power and long lasting security and peace have enabled it to contribute significantly to peacebuilding in other parts of the world. As a strong advocate of international governance and multilateralism, it has worked energetically on deepening the role of the United Nations as well as institutionalizing networks. It has also played a crucial role in participating to the academic debate defining peacebuilding. The Canadian vs. Japanese views have illustrated a lack of consensus. Both of them focus their peacebuilding policies on different human security perspectives, respectively the more narrowly defined “freedom from fear” vs. the broader “freedom from want” perspective. The Canadian model relies more on military capabilities than on economic development while Japan stresses the importance of health care, education and economic security.

Since the elaboration of its second Master Plan, Spain has declared, through an explicit framework, its intention to increase its role as a peacebuilding actor. Spain can learn from Canada’s longer experience in peacebuilding. This article doesn’t pretend to be an exhaustive analysis of the Canadian peacebuilding model nevertheless, it highlights important aspects which Spain could consider such as: Canada’s vital role in the international scenery; the strengths and weaknesses of a nationally designed strategy based on a rather short- to medium term understanding of peacebuilding with a strong military approach; and an outstanding success in creating a culture of peacebuilding and coordination promotion.

Canada has led the creation of an international framework based on the assumption that the individual must be protected through multilateral efforts.

The country initiated the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) which gave birth in September 2001 to the report “The Responsibility to Protect” justifying humanitarian (military) intervention in situations of gross human rights violations.

According to this report, the Canadian conception of human security puts particular emphasis on “the prevention of physical violence and the promotion of stable and democratic states that provide human rights and have a legitimate monopoly over the use of force.”1

Following this line, Canada has been a protagonist in developing International Humanitarian Law through significant campaigns such as to ban anti-personal landmines, for the creation of the International Criminal Court, against child soldiers, to ban conflict diamonds, and the Security Council resolution on women, peace and security. The country has also encouraged the ratification and implementation of international conventions in international criminal law, as well as supported the creation of ad hoc tribunals (in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda or the Special Court of Sierra Leone). In 2005, Canada promoted the Creation of a Peacebuilding Commission inside the United Nations infrastructure.2

The Canadian effort at the international level has been based on an agenda marked by the prominence of disarmament and human rights/rule of law issues. It has successfully obtained a growing awareness among the international community of the necessity to institutionalize peacebuilding measures.

In terms of nationally designed strategy, Canada contributes to peacebuilding in the world through a short-to medium term approach with well formulated and seemingly attainable goals. The Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force (START) under the authority of the Minister of Foreign Affairs has put in place various projects in Afghanistan, Colombia, Haiti, Sudan and elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East.  The START has created The Global Peace and Security Fund (GPSF) and its sub-programs, which in 2006-2007 provided for $140 million in international assistance to “support peace processes and mediation efforts, develop transitional justice and reconciliation initiatives, build peace enforcement and peace operations capabilities, promote civilian protection strategies in humanitarian contexts, and reduce the impact of landmines, small arms and light weapons.”3

In the Canadian peacebuilding agenda military and non-military dimensions are often intertwined, defence taking over development. According to a Ploughshares Working Paper, Canada’s defence spending is about 76% of total spending on international peace and security.4 The Government of Canada’s peacebuilding strategy has been strongly influenced in the aftermath of 9/11 by a renewal of military. Canada is the third country with the biggest troops in Afghanistan (2,800) after the United States (59,000) and the UK (9,000). Its strong contribution to the war has cost the lives of 127 Canadian soldiers and will cost more than $ 11-billion for tax payers. Its role is to lead security and reconstruction in the Kandahar province and has pledged to end combat missions in 2011 against NATO’s will, which urges Canadian troops to keep combat troops after that date. Their mission has been described as crucial, especially in Deh-e-Bagh, “the site of a Canadian pilot project that appears to have morphed into a blueprint for how NATO as a whole will attempt to rebuild Afghanistan.”5 Spain, which has deployed a significant amount of troops in Afghanistan since 2002 under the ISAF (International Force for Security Assistance) could interact with Canada and other countries involved in the region for a better coordination in between the military and civil aid.

Canada has distinguished itself with its ability to create a peacebuilding culture. The country has developed a coordination framework within its own institutions and with external actors and has succeeded in creating a space for debate within civil society.

It has successfully proved its commitment to coordination. START works in close cooperation with various partners: country-specific divisions in Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Correctional Service of Canada, the Department of National Defence, the Canada Border Services Agency, international non-governmental organizations, the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission, and the wider UN system.6

Citizen participation is central at all levels of the Canadian Federal Government which is “experimenting with innovative approaches to strengthen citizen participation in policy processes through the Voluntary Sector Initiative. The use of the Annual Peacebuilding and Human Security Consultations, as well as government-NGO dialogues on specific country and thematic issues, offer important opportunities for public engagement in international conflict prevention policy processes.”7 Many civil society organizations have developed within the Canadian and international arena. The Canadian Council for International Cooperation obtained CDN$247 million in private source funding (corporations, individuals, foundations and other NGOs) for international co-operation in 2001.8

Peacebuild (formerly CPCC, Canadian Peacebuilding Coordinating Committee), formed by 55 members from non-governmental organizations and institutions, academics and individuals follows strong peacebuilding objectives: “1) increase interaction among and between civil society actors and government involved in peacebuilding activities; 2) contribute to knowledge generation and sharing within Canada and globally; 3) Increase cooperation in joint programming at all levels; and 4) Increase overall effectiveness of peacebuilding interventions.”9

Broadly speaking, the Canadian peacebuilding model is based on multilateralism and a rather short-to medium term approach of peacebuilding. Its military component is often criticized for not paying enough attention to development and long term measures like the Japanese view proposes. Nevertheless, its goals are well formulated and achievable and Canada has been and still is a strong protagonist in defining peacebuilding, creating an institutional framework and coordinating various actors’ policies. The creation of a space for debate within civil society is a very positive aspect and Spain should encourage the creation of such a dialogue.

However, there still isn’t a common definition on peacebuilding and as the Canadian model has illustrated, the relationship between defence and development isn’t always clear. Even though a certain consensus has been achieved regarding the multilateral efforts needed to protect human security, the deep causes are not tackled sufficiently and Spain should include this reality as bottom line of its strategy.

Spain and other countries, which have recently entered the field of peacebuilding inside their policy making, should implement strategies according to their national security agendas and to the changing international scenery, for a positive contribution to peace and human security. Being new in this area it has a certain advantage regarding its flexibility and should use it for a better coordination between its Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. As rightly argued in the DFID (UK’s Department of International Cooperation) White Paper recently published “It is critical to bring together development, defence and diplomacy efforts to forge a comprehensive approach towards a shared outcome: peace”.

1.- David Bosold and Sascha Werthes, “Human Security in Practice: Canadian and Japanes Experiences”, IPG, 2005, p92.

2.- Canadian Action Agenda on Conflict Prevention, December 2004,

3.- Year in Review, “Mobilizing Canada’s Capacity forInternational Crisis Response, September 2006-August 2007”,Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, February 22nd 2008.

4.- Erngy Regehr, “Why is Canada in Afghanistan?”, The Ploughshares Monitor, Spring 2006, volume 27, no.1.

5.- Steven Chase and Omar el Akkad, “NATO boss wades into Canadian politics with Afgani plea”, The Golbe and Mail,, 13thAugust 2009.

6.- Ibid.

7.- Canadian Action Agenda on Conflict Prevention


9.- peacebuild webpage,


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