Dallaire’s “will to intervene” initiative forces us to think about how war and genocide could be prevented

The proclamation Mayor Gregor Robertson has scheduled to declare tomorrow, Nov. 12, as “Will to Intervene Day” in Vancouver is a modest but important contribution to Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire’s continuing quest to create a more peaceful world.

Dallaire, in Vancouver to promote his latest book on child soldiers, is asking Canadians to begin a debate on when and how Canada should intervene to prevent genocide, something we failed to do in Rwanda or the Balkans.

Still haunted by his inability to halt the death of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, Dallaire has embarked on a lengthy study, in partnership with Dr. Frank Chalk of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, to determine when and how countries like Canada can prepare to prevent another such episode. (The study is directed by a blue ribbon team, with an advisory group that includes Ed Broadbent, Michael Ignatieff and Hugh Segal.)

The conclusion, not surprisingly, is that intervention requires political will, supported by an informed electorate, and delivered by appropriately trained and equipped armed forces . While force is always a last resort, Dallaire refuses to preclude its use.

Dallaire hopes to build that “will to intervene” by provoking a grassroots debate.

How should Canada prepare itself for future challenges focused on “peacemaking,” as opposed to “peacekeeping,” as in places like Cyprus, or straightforward warmaking, as in Afghanistan?

As Dallaire and Chalk point out, the threat can come from many directions, for many reasons, and is never a surprise. The continuing conflict in Darfur could be considered a climate change war, as much as a civil war, because of the consequences of drought. The battles raging in the Congo, or the collapse of Somalia into continuous warfare, may seem distant, but have direct consequences for Canada by cutting off access to strategic resources or providing a springboard for international terrorism.

In each case, proactive intervention could prevent enormous harm, even genocide. How such intervention could be justified — and distinguished from post-colonialist “interventions” with very different motives — are important questions Dallaire and Chalk are prepared to take on.

Is this really a relevant discussion for municipal politics?

The presence of local elected officials at every war memorial across Canada today should provide part of the answer. Another part lies in the grassroots municipal response, co-ordinated by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, that provided important resources to survivors of the tsunami that ravaged the communities ringing the Indian Ocean. Finally, it is obvious that municipal governments, as much as the provinces or Ottawa, will have to find resources for refugees from such crises who find their way to Canada.

Here’s the text of the proclamation:


WHEREAS mass atrocities such as genocide, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing offend the conscience of humankind; and

WHEREAS the genocide and ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and the Balkans underlined both the importance of Canada’s will to support international intervention and our need to improve our readiness to make our intervention effective; and

WHEREAS mass atrocities often create conditions that produce concrete threats from terrorism, piracy, and other forms of lawlessness on the land and sea; and

WHEREAS mass atrocities engender the spread of warlordism and trigger enormous flows of refugees and internal displacements that accelerate the incidence and spread of infectious diseases; and

WHEREAS Canada and its armed forces have a long and proud tradition of participation in international efforts to restore peace and end conflict that must be sustained and updated in the face of new and unprecedented risks of mass atrocities; and

WHEREAS, mobilizing the domestic will to intervene, as proposed by General Romeo Dallaire and a group of eminent advisors, is an essential prelude to mounting the international cooperation necessary to preventing mass atrocities;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that I, Gregor Robertson, Mayor of the City of Vancouver, do hereby declare Friday November 12, 2010 “Will to Intervene Day” in the City of Vancouver and urge the Government of Canada to implement the recommendations of the Will To Intervene study.

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