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Lloyd Axworthy

Lloyd Axworthy


An ‘affirmation of ordinary life’ at a global level Add to ...

Lloyd Axworthy was foreign minister of Canada from 1995 to 2000. He is chair of Cuso International.


Amid the clamour and angst of civil strife, extreme weather, Donald Trumpisms, terrorist threats and economic pessimism, we search for some genuine glad tidings, some hopeful signs to propel us into 2016.

As surprising as it may seem, hope beckons with a recent trending of events that heralds a rebirth of international collaboration and the emergence of more effective diplomatic leadership.

Let’s begin with the UN, that oft-maligned world institution seen by many as an overblown talk shop. In the past six months, the United Nations has sponsored and hosted international initiatives that have resulted in agreement on a new set of international sustainable development goals; major reforms in transparency leading to an open process for choosing the next UN secretary-general; peacekeeping interventions in several countries to deter acts of genocide and ethnic conflicts; tough new Security Council financial sanctions against the Islamic State, sponsored by the Americans and Russians; and the climate change summit in Paris that brought together 183 countries agreeing on a new platform to tackle perhaps the most significant global risk of our time.

To top off the year’s end, the Security Council unanimously adopted a motion setting out a path toward a Syrian peace process beginning with a ceasefire. This coming together of Russian, U.S., Arab and Iranian negotiators to kickstart talks in the UN, along with a similar initiative led by the Americans and Italians to find a peaceful solution in Libya under UN auspices, shows a reinvigoration of UN-based diplomacy.

We are witnessing a wave of smart, courageous leadership: German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ethical stand in accepting the first large wave of refugees in Europe; the Obama-led treaty with Iran on nuclear non-proliferation; and the activism of civil society, international civil servants and the French government in forging the Paris climate agreement.

International and local health organizations were heroic in arresting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. And the re-emergence of the Canadian government as a positive player in multilateral forums as demonstrated by its focused refugee settlement plan adds to the cadre of value-based international leaders.

These examples put paid to the doomsayers who forecast a fractured world, civilization clashes, a return to raw power politics based purely on national interest. Inherent in these events lies the willingness of countries and leaders to find consensus on crucial global issues. It has been a constructive process of reform of existing institutions and practices and a renewed realization that sovereignty of states is not an immutable, rigid principle but one in which nation states can accommodate, and can live by tenets of rights and the rule of law.

Not that all is well. Conflicts and war still victimize hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people. The inequality gap widens. Significant action on controlling emissions and insuring adaptation to the negative impacts of climate change need a fast track. The growing reality of the broad-scale global migration of people from homelands beset by violence, drought and oppression calls for an extensive global, collaborative effort. The threat of terrorism must be met with a full-court press that includes military action but not exclusively so. And the time has come for a thorough-going international debate on cultural inclusion and a balancing between religious rights and civil, social obligations.

Around the world there seems to be a regaining of our political footing and a rediscovery of the imperative of co-operative action. Behind it is a continuing broadening of the base of people, worldwide, who understand the need to work together, who are less accepting of bad air and bad government. The “affirmation of ordinary life,” as defined by philosopher Charles Taylor, is slowly building a global constituency in support of good government based on humane values.

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