Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 35 Issue 2 Summer 2014
Since the end of the Second World War, Canada has been a strong supporter of multilateralism to assist in the resolution of armed conflicts and to advance peaceful solutions to conflicts that could result in war.
It may be strange, therefore, for people to realize that Canada’s Foreign Ministry, now known as DFATD (Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development), has never specifically encouraged or specialized in mediating conflicts. There is no recognized career track for Canadian foreign service officers with skills in mediating conflicts.
The foreign ministries of other nations, such as Norway and Finland, have provided resources, training, and longer-term political commitment, even when national governments change, to diplomatic interventions to resolve armed conflicts in different parts of the world. This is, in part, why there is an Oslo Accord on peace in the Middle East from the 1990s, but nothing like an Ottawa Accord on peace related to a specific conflict.
Canada’s usual diplomatic high cards—being bilingual, a cosmopolitan and multiethnic citizenry, no (external) colonial history, a close and trusted neighbour to the United States, and a constitutionally strong believer in “peace, order, and good government”—have not been played systematically in the complex game of international mediation.
Certainly there are Canadian diplomats who, in the course of their work in troubled parts of the world, have been engaged in conflict mediation efforts. But these efforts have been undertaken without sustaining infrastructure and support for the concept of mediation. No formal mechanisms exist in DFATD to preserve a corporate memory of these isolated initiatives. Career incentives for specialization and application of mediation skills do not exist.
In addition to formal diplomatic skills and resources, a wealth of Canadian civil society expertise on conflict mediation could be enlisted in track two diplomacy and grassroots peacebuilding to support formal conflict mediation efforts.