Sign Up

The Ultimate Human Right

How can the global community secure functioning public institutions in failed states?

May 7, 2004

How can the global community secure functioning public institutions in failed states?

Failed states pose an unprecedented global security risk. But the world is still grappling to find an appropriate response. In this Globalist Document, Canada's Prime Minister Paul Martin argues that his country’s approach of stressing the “Three Ds” — defense, diplomacy and development — is the key to rebuilding failed states.

The ultimate human right is the right to personal security — and so the first duty of government must be to protect its citizens.

That responsibility is being tested by an array of threats that is unprecedented in our times: Rogue states, failing and failed states, international criminal syndicates, weapons proliferation — and terrorists prepared to act with no concern for the cost in human lives, including their own.

Once protected by oceans, today's front line stretches from the streets of Kabul to cities in the United States and from the rail lines in Madrid to cities across Canada. Our adversary could be operating in the mountains of Afghanistan, in the cities of Europe — or within our own borders.

There is no home front. The conflict is not 'over there'. Our approach to security must reflect this reality.

True security is much more than simply defense against attack.

It is a conviction that we will be most secure when citizens in all countries are able to participate fully in national life, when they can see clearly that their own well-being and freedom require a functioning state that listens to them and — ultimately — is accountable to them. The key ideas here are "functional" and "accountable."

If we have learned one thing over the decades of foreign assistance, it is this: Countries will not work — cannot work — unless they have public institutions that work.

And the best way to make sure those institutions do work is to have them accountable to the publics they serve. Foreign aid is important. But its benefits are clearly circumscribes when functional and accountable institutions are not in place.

We saw this in Haiti. Almost 10 years ago, Canada, the United States and other countries intervened and helped to restore the democratically-elected President to power. We poured in lots of aid — and made solemn commitments to stay the course.

The problem was that we did not succeed in building the institutional structures that Haiti needed if it was to have any chance of standing on its own feet. Now, we are there again. This time, the international community must stay until the job is done properly.

Indeed as a specific thrust of Canada's role in the world, we intend to focus our international efforts much more on helping countries to build the institutions of modern government they need to provide security — and the means to a decent life for their citizens.

In Canada, we refer to the three Ds — defense, diplomacy and development. This means we are integrating our traditional foreign policy instruments more tightly — especially when responding to the need of vulnerable states to build up their own capacity to govern themselves.

As Afghanistan has demonstrated, even the presence of foreign troops cannot guarantee security unless there is also progress towards a political settlement.

But, equally, there will be no political settlement unless security is established. And proper economic development needs both — security and political stability — if it is to work.

The common thread in the three "Ds" is capacity building in all areas of governance. Too often, people focus only on one dimension — and neglect the rest.

We see this approach occasionally in discussions of public security. Experts tell us, "Do some police training, build a prison or two. And then, once the situation settles down, pack up — and leave."

This isn't good enough. The three Ds means building public institutions that work and are accountable to the public for their actions. Not just policing, but also government ministries, a system of laws, courts, human rights commissions, schools, hospitals, energy and water and transportation systems.

It means working on many levels at the same time — and doing so in ways that reinforce each other. It also means a vibrant private sector.

No country's economy can succeed unless it creates the conditions where its own people have the confidence to invest in their own futures — and that won't occur unless the institutions that ensure stability and freedom from corruption are in place.

Institution-building sounds straightforward, but it is in reality a very difficult proposition. There is a fine line to be walked between assistance and interference. There is a need to promote modern methods, without dismissing valued local traditions.

There is no one blueprint, but there is the old advice: Play to your strength. And it is because of this that we believe Canada can — and will — play an important role as countries in stress come to grips with the need to build the institutions of modern governance.

As a major industrialized nation — but never a colonial nor a superpower — we have certain unique advantages, as we focus much more than we have in the past on institution building as the essential foundation of a secure, modern state.

Editor’s note: This essay is adapted from Paul Martin’s speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washignton, D.C., on April 29, 2004.