Lloyd Axworthy is president emeritus of the University of Winnipeg and a former Canadian foreign minister; Allan Rock is president of the University of Ottawa and a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations.
After almost five years, Syria's war is now a world war. Myriad countries, including Canada, have deployed strikes on its territory. Its position at the centre of a region that has major security, energy and economic significance to the world means that even as we withdraw our jets, we cannot look away. The Syrian war can no longer be seen as a tragic but isolated event in a far-flung region. Nor can the Islamic State be seen as the only threat arising from the conflict. The war in Syria is a calamity with global repercussions and one that requires a co-ordinated international response.
One element of that calamity that cries out for an urgent response is the plight of the region's refugees, and the enormous impact they have had on the countries in the region that have accommodated them.
The flood of refugees into Europe only became "a crisis" in our minds when a tiny percentage of the Syrians who have been camping out in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan for years decided that conditions were so dire they would risk the perilous trip to Europe. For four years, those countries have been responding to streams of refugees on a scale not seen since the Second World War.
Syria's neighbours are now collapsing under the weight of their own hospitality. According to the World Bank, the stress of playing host to more than one million refugees in Lebanon is estimated to have cost an extra $1-billion (U.S.) from 2012 to 2014, and likely caused 170,000 Lebanese to slide into poverty.
History provides a template for an effective response. In the aftermath of the Second World War, leaders developed a plan to rebuild and stabilize Europe and, in turn, reinvigorate the global economy after six destructive years of war. The Marshall Plan led to billions of private- and public-sector investment dollars streaming into Europe.
Much like Europe nearly 70 years ago, Syria's neighbours today are experiencing weary, war-torn economies with massive unemployment, dysfunctional social services and huge numbers of refugees. A plan to help Syria's neighbours survive and stabilize – much like the Marshall Plan – would help a region in freefall and serve as an incentive to drive progress on a political solution.
On Nov. 15 and 16, Turkey will hold the G20 summit of the world's richest nations in the city of Antalya, just across the eastern Mediterranean from Syria.
Turkey is at the crossroads between Europe and the Middle East. More than two million Syrian refugees reside there – 50 per cent of all the refugees from the conflict. This will be the setting for a summit focused on economic and financial co-operation among countries that represent more than 85 per cent of global GDP.
The G20 summit will also be Justin Trudeau's debut on the global stage. The Prime Minister has vowed to regain Canada's place as a global champion of peace and stability. The summit presents Mr. Trudeau with a golden opportunity to advance that effort, and to signal that "Canada is back."
The Prime Minister's pledge to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year is a great first step. He can now build on that strong start by addressing the plight of refugees in the region and supporting the countries playing host to those groups.
Mr. Trudeau should encourage other leaders to rapidly ramp up funding and resources for Syria's neighbours. He might also task Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion to start consultations toward an agreement that will lay the foundation for a new redevelopment and recovery plan for the region.
By showing an awareness of the burden carried by Syria's neighbours and a willingness to stabilize the region by investing in their recovery, Canada can make a real contribution as the world works toward a regional solution.
Canada has a proud history of leadership in global crises. The first ever deployment of United Nations peacekeepers in 1956 came about due to the tireless efforts of Lester Pearson to resolve the Suez Crisis (and for which he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize). Today, Mr. Trudeau can once again showcase Canadian international and moral leadership by orchestrating a new initiative to support, stabilize and rebuild a crucial region deeply affected and destabilized by the continuing Syrian conflict.
Canada and Canadians are ready to play, once again, a positive role in the world. The G20 summit on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean provides Mr. Trudeau with an opportunity to do just that.