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Janice Gross Stein is the Belzberg Professor of Conflict Management in the University of Toronto’s political-science department and senior adviser to the U of T president on international initiatives.

In this series, Rudyard Griffiths, chair of the Munk Debates, Canada's leading public-affairs forum, discusses issues and trends just over the horizon with renowned analysts and policy-makers. Janice Gross Stein is founding director of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, where she now teaches political science.

Mr. Griffiths will be moderating on Monday night the first ever federal election debate devoted to foreign policy issues. Watch the debate live starting at 7:00 p.m. EST on globeandmail.com

You think the international global order is changing in fundamental ways. How so?

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We are at one of the hinge moments that come quite rarely. In major parts of the world right now, the old order is breaking down and no new order is yet in sight. These moments in history are dangerous.

As the Italian philosopher Gramsci once said, when the old order dies and the new order is not yet born, what you have is barbarism.

How does the refugee crisis play into your analysis?

It is at a scale unprecedented since the end of the Second World War, which underlines the point that we are in a moment of dramatic transition. Millions of people are on the move, and the fundamental problem is the lack of governance, the breakdown and collapse of social order.

From the West's perspective, it's not that the current numbers are that overwhelming. The issue is rather that there are no boundaries to this problem. There seems to be almost limitless numbers of people who would, if they could, leave Syria, leave parts of Iraq, and leave Afghanistan. I fear we are at the beginning of a refugee crisis unlike any that we've dealt with when the international order was in reasonably good shape and could cope with large but limited numbers of people from Vietnam or East Africa. The problem facing the world now is of an entirely different magnitude.

The situation you are describing sounds exceedingly difficult to resolve.

The crux of the problem isn't simply trying to put back together failed and failing states. It is much more challenging. What is important isn't just that Syria is riddled with violent conflict, as are large parts of Iraq; it's that the order that governed this part of the world for the last 100 years is breaking apart. The capacity to re-engineer these broken societies has to come from inside the regions. The old order, where governance solutions can be imposed from the outside, is gone for good.

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But after Rwanda, didn't the West say, 'Never again' – didn't we develop the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine?

I think that period of history is over. There is now an appropriate humility and sober-mindedness about what outsiders can do when they intervene forcefully in another society. Yes, you can achieve very long-term gains sometimes, but increasingly you run the risk of compromising the people you are trying to help. The activist liberal order has come to an end.

What you're saying is hard for a lot of people to accept.

Yes it is. Throughout this last half-century, we've been optimistic that the rest of the world is going to look more like us, and that, as they develop, they will become more like us. I think that is the hubris that we need to puncture now. And we need to understand that people will find different governance solutions. Their economies will look very different from ours. And we're going to have to learn to cohabit in ways that we haven't had to in at least a century, if not longer.

To what extent are these difficult issues part of our election campaign?

Elections are not the best times to have deep debates about policy. But, in a curious way, I think they do reflect the tug-of-war that's internal to all three leaders as they think about the world. There are these nostalgic refrains among Canada's leaders about a world in which the principles we were committed to were clear.

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It is important not to indulge in that nostalgia, but to think strategically about where a country like Canada can matter to a world that is under stress.

So where can we make a difference?

In the Middle East, I would look at our relationship with a small country such as Jordan. This is a strategic state that is at the intersection of so many struggles, where we can focus our energy. But we have to focus and we have to decide where we're not going to be. And that's really hard, in a country that is as diverse and as multicultural as Canada, and where our governments, regardless of their political stripe, are constantly being pushed by parts of our domestic population to engage.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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