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New world frameworks are needed

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What can the missing Malaysian airliner and the Russian takeover of Crimea have in common, aside from competing for airtime on the 24-hour news channels?

Let's consider this common thread: Both events demonstrate the absence of any working, collaborative governance system to deal with crisis, coupled with the irrelevance of many of the post-Second World War multilateral agreements and practices. We are witnessing the danger of over-relying on an outmoded concept of statecraft called sovereignty.

Look at the facts. Two weeks after the disappearance of flight MH370, there is a grab bag of reports, often contradictory, based on various countries' tracking systems, always with the codicil that sources can't be revealed for security reasons. In the meantime, search efforts are bungled because of the ill-co-ordinated decision-making of individual states, the airlines and the military.

How can it be, many ask, that in this world of high-powered digital technology and intensive surveillance of millions of personal records that we can't find 239 people entrapped in a very large aluminum cylinder?

In Ukraine, decades of effort to secure peace in Europe by a complicated network of diplomatic agreements, trade pacts and regional institutions fall apart in the face of a determined Russian president living out the Tsarist dream.

Where is the Security Council? It is hung up by the Russian veto. Where is NATO's robust response, as in Libya? Stymied by an aggressor that has nuclear weapons and big gas reserves. And where is the leadership of the United States, Europe, Canada and the IMF in coming to the economic rescue of Ukraine? Right now, it needs real assistance and not conditional loans.

The point of the comparison is to draw attention to what is an unraveling consensus around building an international system based on rules and collaboration. International leadership is missing in the search for solutions to what former UN secretary general Kofi Annan once called "problems without passwords," and a retreat into nation-state near-sightedness and self-interest. This prevents serious co-operation, whether it be in disasters, environmental destruction or governments that persecute their own people, and in the case of Russia, become outright aggressors.

It's time to begin focusing on this atrophying of the international order and begin looking at alternatives to existing frameworks and institutions. With the exception of the International Criminal Court, the emergence of the G20 and the concept of R2P (responsibility to protect) as a modifier of sovereignty, there has been a dearth of international innovation in the 21st century. As a consequence, international governance is falling tragically behind the need for solutions.

I can relate the experience of one group that is addressing itself to this need for new architecture. The Aspen Institute sponsors a group of former foreign ministers chaired by former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright. I have the good fortune to be part of this network. Meeting in different parts of the world over the last several years and drawing on the experience and knowledge of the past statesmen, buttressed by experts and academics, the Aspen group has been wrestling over reform and change in the multilateral system and how to more effectively mobilize actions to curb acts of violence against civilians, in particular in places such as Syria.

On April 1, Albright will be speaking in Toronto on this subject of new architecture for international security, bringing to bear the ideas that have been discussed and examined by this Aspen group. It is in aid of launching a new think-tank in Canada dedicated to the development of progressive public policy solutions -- the Canadian Centre for Progressive Policy.

This will be a good chance to lift the sight line from immediate crises to begin an examination of how we can consider a better way of governing a dangerous world. This has been a particular skill and interest of Canadians over the years, going back to the time of Lester B. Pearson. And, as we see in the case of the mystery plane and Crimea, the need for new thinking of how we govern together is paramount.


Lloyd Axworthy, president of the University of Winnipeg, is a former foreign affairs minister of Canada.



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 28, 2014 A11

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