What does success look like?


It’s a good question, and I have plenty of answers for it, but they never flow from my tongue as easily as I want them to. How do you know when you are successful?

When one of your primary goals is to advance policies and actions that support a more peaceful world, it can be hard to know when you’ve done it right. And when the right thing happens, can you take credit without blowing your own horn or acknowledging the contributions of many others seeking the same goal?

Take the example of our push to have the Canadian government focus on more than the military mission in Afghanistan.

Since there is no military solution to this conflict, a negotiated peace is required. A negotiated peace requires negotiators, and negotiations. No easy feat in a protracted armed conflict, but unless you invest in diplomacy you can never get there. Canada does not hold the cards to singlehandedly broker an Afghanistan peace; but it could contribute far more to the process than it is currently.

In Dec 2009 The Canadian Council of Churches sent a brief to the Prime Minister calling for a diplomacy surge and support to local and regional peacebuiding in Afghanistan. Ernie Regehr was a primary author of the brief along with a small group of other church and ecumenical staff. A polite letter of acknowledgement was received dated Jan 29, 2010 from the Minister of Foreign Affairs with a reiteration of Canada’s (then) six priorities for its Afghanistan mission.

On Nov 17, 2010, Mike Hogeterp and I represented The Canadian Council of Churches before the House of Commons Special Committee to speak to the Dec 2009 brief and answer questions. Immediately prior to this appearance, the Prime Minister had announced the extension of Canadian Forces presence in Afghanistan for three more years, 2011-2014, focused on training Afghan National Security forces. The six priorities were reduced to four and the diplomacy surge and local reconciliation themes we had advocated were, well, missing in action.

On March 11, 2011, the Special Committee on Afghanistan released a report entitled, “Recommendations on Non-Military Aspects of the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan Post 2011.”

Recommendations 4 through 8 and 14 through 18 hit our desired themes, echoing the CCC brief from Dec 2009, but also paralleling recommendations made in other civil society interventions at the Committee.

Between our appearance before the Special Committee on Nov 17, 2010 and the report being released on Mar 11, 2011, Mike and I, and colleagues from CARE Canada and Peacebuild met with members of Parliament who sat on the special committee in caucus-specific settings to put more detail to our recommendations.

So what did we get? A special Committee report of the House signed off on by members from all parties with recommendations that generally support some of the things we have been pushing. Still, this committee does not bind the government. Implementation of these recommendations is still not guaranteed.

Now that the election dust has settled, we’ll be back at it in Ottawa talking, writing, pushing, hoping, waiting. We have a plan. We are committed to following through.

Have we been successful? Well, we can say with certainty that we have been listened to and some of the recommendations have moved from our brief into a report from MPs. Some of these MPs are important players in their parties, including the Conservatives, who now hold majority power.

Project Ploughshares didn’t act alone. We are still some distance from having our recommendations for Canada contributing to building peace in Afghanistan implemented. But this is what success sometimes looks like. Incremental, persistent, principled engagement over time.

photo: Roxanne Clowe/DND

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