Column

Lloyd Axworthy: a profile in stubbornness

He is consistently wrong. No self-respecting rat in a Skinner maze would keep on pressing the same lever.

Barbara Amiel January 18 1999
Column

Lloyd Axworthy: a profile in stubbornness

He is consistently wrong. No self-respecting rat in a Skinner maze would keep on pressing the same lever.

Barbara Amiel January 18 1999

Lloyd Axworthy: a profile in stubbornness

Column

He is consistently wrong. No self-respecting rat in a Skinner maze would keep on pressing the same lever.

Barbara Amiel

Whenever I read a pronouncement from Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy, I am thrown back into the world of the late Sixties and early Seventies. One can hear the antiwar songs and smell the stoned bliss of the Haight-Ashbury gang. In those days, the radical left preached flower power. Today, politicians like Axworthy preach “soft power.”

In the Seventies, he liked the North-South dialogue. In the Eighties, he was a free-spending employment minister under Pierre Trudeau. Now, hé is advocating a unilateral renunciation of a nuclear first strike by NATO, and last week Axworthy announced his plans for Canada’s so-called reform of the United Nations. This included an affirmative action plan that would increase Third World representation on the Security Council in order to make the United Nations more “accountable.” In essence, Canada wants to limit the influence of the big powers —especially the United States—and to increase that of poorer, Third World countries.

The flaws stick out like a three-pièce suit at a Grace Slick concert. We are all against war, civilian deaths, drug smuggling, terrorism, land mines and so forth. The question, as always, is how best to achieve these admirable goals. Axworthy, for example, led Canada’s effort to get a UN land-mines treaty. The United States was excoriated for not signing it. But, as our estimable UN Ambassador Robert Fowler pointed out on As It Happens, the United States has “been among the countries most active in all our collective efforts to get rid of the damn things.” This remark is key. If protecting civilians from land mines is your policy aim, about the worst thing you can do is sign a treaty banning them. ITte treaty will be observed only by countries who now use land mines as sparingly and safely as possible and will be totally ignored by rogue regimes. The United States is making sure their land mines become inoperative after a certain time period as well as developing anti-tank mines rather than anti-personnel mines. Land mines do serve a purpose, which is very often to save lives.

Hostilities might well have sporadically erupted in a number of places but for the use of mined borders such as that between North and South Korea. The fundamental problem with Axworthian policy is this: it ignores—or it doesn’t cross anyone’s mind—that demands for equal representation and “fairness” by Third World countries are demands based exclusively on Western values. Notions such as human rights and equality are entirely the constructs of our culture.

It is not that other cultures don’t have values. Angola, Rwanda, Somalia, Nigeria, South Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran and many of the poorer countries have fundamental values that range from courage to self-sacrifice to family life. We also share some of the metaphysical values of the world’s great religions. But it is

Western political values that are being demanded and invoked in criticism of the West’s hold on the United Nations. Yet, but for these values the United Nations wouldn’t exist. In a sense, the Axworthy plan is suicidal for the West: what is being asked here is that our notions of egalitarianism, equal representation, civic virtues, freedom of speech, assembly and religion should be invoked to give power over us to countries that hold none of these ideas in their own sociopolitical structures.

The Security Council and the United Nations must be more “accountable,” says Axworthy. To whom? To the 75 per cent of the world that knows nothing of democracy or human rights? There are ways to help Third World nations, but not by our suicide. Stopping ethnic and tribal bloodshed is a separate matter. Much of the conflict in Africa is the consequence of boundaries drawn by the West without regard to tribal affiliations, and that region may require a nasty period of time to shake down. Is this horrible and bloody? You bet. Is it necessarily wrong? I don’t know.

Historically, groups have always needed to establish their boundaries and spheres of influence. Sometimes, so-called peacekeeping simply extends the bloodletting. The Axworthy approach sees the world as a place of good guys and bad guys. This is behind Canada’s simplistic endorsement of an international criminal court and our tendency to interpret human conflicts and politics as though they were ordinary police matters. Again, Fowler on As It Happens-. “Through something like the International Criminal Court we can set up a regime of laws that will render individuals accountable...”

Host Mary Lou Finlay: “So, try and arrest and put all the bad guys in jail.”

Fowler: ‘Yeah, to some extent.”

Reducing geopolitical questions in the Balkans, Africa or the Middle East in this way is demeaning and paternalistic. These are tabloid solutions for tabloid minds.

Yet Axworthy is intelligent and was always destined for the power elites. He simply got stuck in the youthful errors of his Students for a Democratic Society radical student years. By now, people with similarly skewed world views have captured most of the influence in our judicial system, media, academia and government. They reinforce each other. Axworthy is that intriguing type of human being utterly incapable of learning from experience. He and his supporters have been proven wrong on every single one of their major ideas since the 1960s. No self-respecting rat in a Skinner maze would keep on pressing the same lever. But they do. A friend once told me not to ascribe to malice that which can be explained by stupidity. Or, as Shaw put it in his play Saint Joan, “Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination?”

I guess so, while the Axworthys of the world are in office.