This week in the Vancouver Sun, UBC philosophy professor Andrew Irvine offers an opportunity for a Canadian statesman or stateswoman to make a real and lasting contribution to world affairs and maybe win a Nobel Peace Prize in the process. We are pleased to reprint his proposal below.
How to win a Nobel Peace Prize: Egypt, Tunisia and beyond
By Andrew Irvine, Vancouver Sun February 23, 2011
It would be a mistake to think that the hard part is over.
In Egypt a tyrant has been replaced, not with an orderly constitutional succession, but by a military dictatorship. The country’s constitution has been suspended and its parliament has been dissolved. Without continued pressure from Egypt’s citizens, there is no guarantee that free and fair elections will be held in a timely way.
Even so, recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere present the West with an important opportunity. During the 20th century, Canada led the world in inventing effective, international mechanisms for modern, wide-scale peacekeeping, and Lester B. Pearson, who would later become prime minister, won his Nobel Peace Prize for his role in resolving the 1956 Suez Crisis as a result.
During the 21st century, citizens around the world have a similar opportunity to create new international institutions capable of assisting emerging democratic states in their transition.
Democracy requires much more than just free and fair elections. Successful, long-term democracy requires the recognition of freespeech and free-association rights for all of a country’s citizens.
It requires the effective separation of church and state and, within civil government, the effective separation of powers. It requires a wide range of legal and due process rights, adherence to the rule of law, and the existence of resilient, national institutions capable of instituting and defending all of the above.
Yet today the United Nations no longer involves itself even in direct election monitoring, leaving such work to be done by a variety of municipal bodies and non-government organizations.
In contrast, imagine what could be achieved if, upon request by a transitioning nation, an international team of experts was available to assist and advise a transitional government on everything from election preparation and police training to constitutionalism and the rule of law, as well as to assist with election monitoring.
Such teams could be composed of experts from the world’s leading democracies, including Canada, India, South Africa, France, Denmark and Australia. Like peacekeepers, they could remain in place for months or even years, in an advisory capacity, when requested to do so by a host nation or its citizens.
Unlike simple election monitoring, which focuses on just one aspect of the democratic process, such teams could assist political parties, independent media outlets, members of the judiciary and ordinary citizens as they prepare for life in a democracy. Unlike military efforts to introduce a pax Americana, such a process would leave all key decisions in the hands of the host nation.
This month Egypt has taken an essential first step on its road to democracy.
But the desire for democracy, as important as it is, is rarely by itself enough to ensure a democracy’s success.
Canada already has an enviable record of assisting emerging democracies. For over 20 years the International Peace Operations Branch of the RCMP has helped nations around the world as they have attempted to rebuild and strengthen civilian police forces.
Projects such as the Elections and Registration in Afghanistan Project, and the International Mission for Monitoring Haitian Elections, which have been funded through the Canadian International Development Agency and Elections Canada, have made a real difference.
With such experience Canada is in an ideal position to lead the global community in establishing new international mechanisms, not dissimilar to those for peacekeeping, but intended to assist transitional governments as they move toward democracy, sharing with them lessons learned by other nations in similar circumstances.
As change begins to sweep through parts of Africa and the Middle East, governments and ordinary citizens alike will no doubt be looking for alternatives to the two traditional responses to a citizenry’s demand for change: revolution and repression.
Measured transition towards full constitutional democracy may be a welcome third option, at least in some parts of the Middle East, just as it was in parts of Eastern Europe during the 1990s.
Just as UN peacekeeping has been the main mechanism over the past half century that has assisted in the creation of conditions for lasting peace, democratic transition teams could assist in the creation of conditions for lasting democracies throughout Africa and around the world.
Which political leader will be visionary enough to lead the way?
Andrew Irvine is a professor of philosophy at the University of British Columbia.
First published in the Vancouver Sun, February 23, 2010.