BUILDING COMMUNITY IN THE GLOBAL VILLAGE
Towards a New foreign Policy for Canada
By Mark Hathaway
SHALOM IS A PEACE WHICH IS NOT SIMPLY THE ABSENCE OF VIOLENCE AND WAR, BUT A STATE OF JUST AND HARMONIOUS RELATIONSHIPS WHICH GUARANTEE TRUE PEACE. CANADA'S FOREIGN POLICY MUST BE BASED ON JUST AND COMPASSIONATE RELATIONSHIPS WITH ALL PEOPLES, AND INDEED ALL LIVING BEINGS, WHO INHABIT THE GLOBAL VILLAGE.
For many Canadians, Foreign Policy conjures up images of diplomats doing their work behind closed doors, far removed from the concerns of common citizens. We still tend to see foreign affairs as the realm of professionals who deal with issues far too complex and delicate for wider public involvement.
Unfortunately, there are many in the newly-renamed Ministry of Foreign Affairs who would like to keep it that way. It would be a grave mistake to let them have their way. The world is an increasingly inter-dependent system, one in which the division between external and domestic affairs is becoming ever-less clear. Policies such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), though technically in the 'external' realm, have a very definite impact on all Canadians. Likewise, our foreign policy has an impact upon others in the global village.
One example of this is the Canadian government's promotion of 'structural adjustment' programmes which require that countries reduce tariff barriers, remove subsidies, cut social spending, and allow free-reign for foreign investment in exchange for debt renegotiation. These programmes have had grave consequences, especially for the people of the world's poorer nations; countless lives have been lost through the malnutrition, preventable illness, and violence which these programmes have spawned. Ironically, these same programmes are now being applied in Canada itself, with dire consequences for our own people.
As Scarboro missioners, we have witnessed the effects of the new global economics throughout the world. In the Dominican Republic, economic 'free-zones' (where corporations can assemble products without paying local taxes) provide work for many, especially women, but at the price of exploitative wages, the erosion of workers' rights, and environmental degradation. In Brazil and the Philippines, rain forests are being destroyed to pay an endless foreign debt or to create new reservoirs to provide cheap hydroelectric power for industries; in the process, complex ecosystems are destroyed and the poor are left without sustenance. Everywhere, unemployment and underemployment are rampant. The gap between rich and poor grows, harming especially women, children and indigenous peoples. Vital government services in education and health are eliminated as more and more of national budgets are dedicated to servicing debt. People's efforts are increasingly directed to the struggle for survival, leaving ever less time for creativity, relationships, and the joys of life. Meanwhile, governments become more and more authoritarian, using strong-arm tactics to implement policies unpopular with the vast majority. Human rights are eroded as a result.
AS CHRISTIANS, WE MUST NOT BE AFRAID TO CHALLENGE CONVENTIONAL ECONOMIC WISDOM. INDEED, IF WE ARE TO TRULY LIVE OUT OF GOSPEL VALUES, WE MUST CHALLENGE A SYSTEM WHICH IS RAPIDLY DESTROYING ALL LIFE ON THE PLANET.
WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCEWE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
As Canadians, we all have to take responsibility for the way our own government has contributed to this crisis. Viable alternatives do exist to our current policies; we must work together to see that these alternatives are given serious consideration. An excellent opportunity for doing so hag now arisen: The Canadian government has embarked on its first major foreign policy review in eight years. The process began in March with a parliamentary debate and a two-day 'national forum.' It will continue on through June with public hearings across the country. This is a time, then, when all Canadians should express their opinions and ideas on how Canada should act as a member of the global village.
As a contribution to the review process, the Canadian Council of Churches has prepared an ecumenical statement entitled "Peace with justice in a Global Community". Reflecting theologically, the document uses the biblical concept of shalom as a point of reference for our foreign policy. Shalom is a peace which is not simply the absence of violence and war, but a state of just and harmonious relationships which guarantee true peace. Canada's foreign policy must be based on just and compassionate relationships with all peoples, and indeed all living beings, which inhabit the global village. The ultimate goal is that of koinonia, the biblical ideal of community.
With the end of the cold war, Canada has an opportunity to model a new kind of foreign policy, to be a leader among the world's nations. To date, however, we have not seized this opportunity; instead, we continue to promote economic and political relationships based on profit and personal gain. Given the reality of a global ecological crisis which threatens all life on the planet and an economic crisis costing thousands of human lives each day, such a response is clearly not only inadequate but deeply unethical. True peace and global security can only be achieved by addressing the vast inequalities which cause billions to suffer while a small minority profits. True community can only be achieved when we demonstrate a profound respect, indeed a reverence, for the ecosystems which sustain all life. Human rights must be protected and promoted as an integral whole encompassing economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights. Special concern must be shown for those who have been most adversely affected by the current system of exploitation including refugees, women, children, farmers, labourers and indigenous peoples. We must cease to pursue limitless growth and instead strive for asustainable, healthy life for all in balance with nature. Canada's foreign policy can be refashioned to reflect these values. Concretely, some major aspects to be taken into account include:
- 1. Promoting Equitable and Sustainable Human Development
Canada's new foreign policy should rethink the whole traditional idea of 'development.' Development should not be seen as synonymous with economic 'growth.' Such growth often benefits only a small minority while the large majority of people and delicate ecosystems are harmed. Scarboro missioners have witnessed countless 'development projects' such as the Balbina dam in Brazil which have led to the destruction of both a local ecosystem and a way of life, leaving thousands impoverished. Canada must re-examine its role in institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank (the latter of which funded the Balbina project), to whom we contribute money in the name of 'aid.'
Instead, we should promote equitable and sustainable human development, a development which empowers people to live a better life without degrading the environment. To this end, at least 60 percent of our Official Development Assistance should be allocated to programmes aimed at building local communities through small-scale, sustainable projects using simple technologies and the expertise already present in the people. (Currently, a large proportion of the 'aid' budget actually goes to subsidizing the exports of Canadian businesses.) Special attention should be given to empowering women within their local communities. Non-Government Organizations such as the Canadian Catholic Organization for DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE (CCODP) and the Inter-Church Fund for International Development (ICFID) already have expertise in this area which could be further tapped by increasing the proportion of aid channeled through them.
- 2. Protecting and Promoting he Integrity of Creation
Our current patterns of consumption and pollution have grown to a point where the global ecosystem may be irreparably damaged within the next thirty years. Concerted action by the entire world community is necessary to avert this disaster, a disaster which has already taken a devastating toll. In countries such as the Philippines, Scarboro missioners have witnessed how a tropical paradise has been largely transformed into a desert in a matter of several decades. Despite this devastation, logging continues on a major scale. Meanwhile, transnationals such as Dole and Delmonte permanently devastate the soil through the intensive cultivation of pineapples.
The ecological crisis is also an opportunity to unite the world around a common cause: saving the life of the planet. Canada's foreign policy should reflect this goal by promoting the United Nations Biodiversity treaty, by working multilaterally for the prohibition of the patenting of biological life, and by requiring an ongoing assessment of trade and foreign investment policies for their environmental impact. As well, we should work to develop and strengthen treaties covering carbon-dioxide and ozone emissions as well as the production of nuclear and chemical wastes. A proportion of development assistance should be directed to environmental preservation and restoration along with the development of nonpolluting alternative technologies.
Most importantly, though, our foreign policy must cease to actively promote an economic system which leads to massive environmental destruction. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seems to think that they have a duty to promote the interests of transnational corporations, even if this is done at the cost of destroying God's creation. Only widespread, concerted public pressure is likely to change this orientation.
- 3. Promoting Respect for Human Rights and Democratic Participation
Not only is there a willingness to sacrifice nature in the name of profit, the same also applies to human rights. Several years ago, the Inter-Church Committee on Human Rights in Latin America (ICCHRLA) was meeting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the situation of Peru. At that meeting, on behalf of ICCHRLA, I pointed out the tremendous human costs that had come as a result of the implementation of a brutal structural adjustment programme in that country. Over half the population now lives in extreme poverty, wages are only a tiny fraction of their value several years ago, malnutrition is rampant, and many children have abandoned school. Social violence has risen as a result. Violent insurrectional movements have flourished. At the same time, the government has grown more authoritarian and civil rights have been violated on a massive scale. Democracy has been effectively suspended.
The situation did (and does) clearly demonstrate the link between economic policies and human rights violations; structural adjustment has eroded the rights of Peruvians in the political, social, and economic spheres. Yet, the reaction of our government officials was to praise the "economic reforms" while lamenting the "unfortunate" abuse of human rights which was its result. In fact, the Canadian government has long promoted structural adjustment policies through its participation in international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.
A new foreign policy for Canada must prioritize human rights over our (or more precisely, a tiny minority's) economic interests. All human rights must be seen as an indivisible whole necessary for the preservation and enhancement of life. Mechanisms should exist to monitor and assess the human rights situation in all nations, and this mechanism should be accessible to public participation. In cases where governments severely and systematically abuse human rights, Canada should cut bilateral aid and impose trade and investment sanctions, preferably in concert with other nations. We should also support the development of a vigorous civil society in all corners of the globe by assisting organizations promoting human rights and participatory, grassroots democracy.
THE CHRISTIAN VALUES OF JUSTICE AND COMPASSION IMPEL US TO FIND A WAY TO PARTICIPATE IN THE PROCESS, AND PARTICIPATE EFFECTIVELY. THE LIVES OF MILLIONS OF PEOPLE AND THE HEALTH OF THE GLOBAL ECOSYSTEM DEPEND ON DECISIONS WHICH LIE IN PART IN THE REALM OF 'FOREIGN' AFFAIRS.
- 4. Promoting Economic Justice
As the preceding sections have already demonstrated, the promotion of a more just and sustainable economic model must be the foundation of a new foreign policy promoting shalom. Essentially, economics deals with relationships, how we share the resources necessary for life. As Christians, we mustn't be afraid to challenge conventional economic wisdom. Indeed, if we are to truly live out of gospel values, we must challenge a system which is rapidly destroying all life on the planet.
Canada's foreign policy can contribute to building a more just economic order by ceasing to promote structural adjustment programmes and by working multilaterally to eliminate the debt burden of poor nations. In place of structural adjustment, we could promote 'development pacts' which outline specific targets in areas such as basic needs, the respect for human rights, gender equity, and employment levels. The participating parties would enter into an agreement based on true mutuality; Canada would have specific targets of its own, and would agree to reduce its own wasteful consumption and to support projects of sustainable development.
Another urgent area for reform is in the area of multilateral trade agreements such as NAFTA and GATT. Presently, these agreements are little more than a 'bill of d rights' for large transnational corporations. This needn't be so. Trade and investment have a vital role to play in promoting economic justice, but the rules governing trade must give preference to the needs of poorer nations and populations. Human rights guarantees and environmental standards should be an integral part of all new trade agreements. As well, these agreements should include structures for authentic public participation; they should not take away democratic sovereignty, but rather invite participation in economic decisions. As well, structures should be created within the framework of these agreements to effectively monitor and control the activities of transnational corporations.
Finally, international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund must be democratized so that the citizens of the global community can exercise effective control over their policies. Currently, these institutions wield immense power, but there is virtually no way for the public to affect the economic policies coordinated by these organizations. Canada should refuse to make new financial commitments to these institutions until they are deeply reformed or replaced by new, more open structures.
Foreign Policy is indeed a complex subject, but it is also one which is simply too important to be left to the 'experts.' The Christian values of justice and compassion impel us to find a way to participate in the process, and participate effectively. The lives of millions of people and the health of the global ecosystem depend on decisions which lie in part in the realm of 'foreign' affairs.
Mark Hathaway is a Scarboro lay associate member who worked in Peru from 1982 to 1990. Since his return to Canada, Mark has worked as coordinator of Scarboro Missions' Department of Lay Association (now known as the Lay Mission Office). He is currently working with the Justice & Peace Office as co-director.