Ten years ago, I was a member of the federal Foreign Affairs Committee, at a time when the country was still struggling to find its legs following the Great Recession. Parliament was forever seized with domestic concerns and regional politics, the only exception being the conflict in Afghanistan and Canada’s tenure in that part of the world.
I had made the suggestion to call upon the International Crisis Group (ICG) to give testimony to our committee, especially since they were intricately involved in the efforts of South Sudan to become the world’s newest nation. And at the time the Harper government was struggling with how to recognize the new presence on the international scene. The ICG agreed and attended two sessions in Ottawa.
I continue to recall the opening statement of the ICG team. They reminded committee members that, while Western nations remained absorbed with their economies, hotspots were brewing around the world, and that nations that ignored those impending problems did so at their great risk. They turned it into a seminal moment when considering the tumultuous events in Russia and China, and the heightened temperature between the European Union and Britain.
The ICG came out again recently, reminding the world powers that their fixation on the pandemic was perhaps blinding them to areas of dissension that could, if left unattended, lead to regional or even global conflict.
Top of mind for most are the potential repercussions of the American promise to get fully out of Afghanistan. Will a Taliban resurgence turn into something far greater? Could the Taliban remain largely muted, in respect of the peace pathway that President Biden hopes will create a more secure future? Canada should be more interested in this dynamic, since it was an integral part of the coalition force that initially entered the region after 9/11, and it remains its longest war. Our lack of attention to this danger could well undermine any advantages gained through the costly loss of 158 Canadian military personnel.
While Russia has relaxed tensions in the last few days on its border with the Ukraine, the possibility of an all-out war there, potentially drawing in other players from both sides of the conflict, is a serious threat.
And what are we to make of China’s taunts and threats with its military might? The superpower recently sent a record number of its jets into Taiwan’s air corridors, in a sign that China and its president might be looking to undertake something controversial in light of its centenary on the horizon. Some military observers believe that these two superpowers are working together to up the pressure on a weakened America and a distracted Europe.
Part of the concern in these heightened scenarios is that the United States cannot necessarily be counted on to help either Ukraine or Taiwan. Sure, Biden talks a good line about being there for its friends, but privately, even at the Pentagon, some are worrying that the cost might just be too high.
ICG president Robert Malley reminded anyone who would listen a year ago that the legacies of economic downturns, the lack of swift COVID vaccine success, and the resurgence of China and Russia could spell trouble while the rest of the world is centred on pandemic recovery.
The problems of Syria, Libya, and Yemen have hardly receded, he notes, and the reality of an extra 150 million people falling back below the poverty line since the pandemic began is disheartening. Poverty has always remained one of the key sources of discontent and violence. The lines between economic dissatisfaction and security unrest are becoming increasingly stark
This becomes a special problem in countries like North and South Sudan, Venezuela, and Lebanon, where unemployed youth are growing restless for much-delayed opportunity.
And then comes climate change. Much of the developed world views this as a debate about taxes on carbon, and technology. Millions, possibly billions, in poorer nations experience it as a loss of crops or water, and as forced migration to areas where the climate is more conducive to growth. The West’s reticence to aggressively deal with the sustainability of the planet will not increase refugee numbers substantially, but create the kind of social unrest that will inevitably result in regional conflicts across the globe and perhaps especially within the Sahel region of northern Africa.
Ethiopia, Somalia, Iran, Turkey, the South China Sea – the list is consolidating and intensifying at the same time. It is understandable that citizens the media are focused on the welfare of Canadians, the sustainability of their jobs, and the security of their healthcare. Governments don’t have such an excuse, for their purpose is to secure a safer and healthier world for their citizens and that will involve engagement – diplomacy, military collaborations, trade opportunities, immigration, and international development.
Ignore these and we might enter a new future better prepared for pandemics but surrounded by a sea of conflicts, a declining planet, and nations teeming with anger that could ultimately undo much of what has been built and developed over the decades.