Who's the World's Sheriff - the UN or the U.S.?
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 14 Apr 2004, p. 307-318
MacKenzie, Major General (Ret'd) Lewis, Speaker
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Item Type
Some personal reminiscences. The timeliness and importance of the topic. The UN's original role. The Security Council trapped in a 1945 time warp. The veto. The council's work during the Cold War. The evaporation of the relative stability. Issues and problems for the Security Council. Some disasters. National self-interest. The continuing controversy regarding last year's war in Iraq. The speaker's support of the UN. The importance of being precise when criticizing the UN. Discussion about current events and Canada's role. Canada's overdue foreign and defence policy review underway now. The speaker's top two national vital interests. Canada's big bill to pay.
Date of Original
14 Apr 2004
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Major General (Ret'd) Lewis MacKenzie
President, General MacKenzie Enterprises
Chairman: John C. Koopman
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests

Major General (Ret'd) Reginald W. Lewis, CMM, CM, CD, Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; Matt Stephens, Grade 12 Student, North Toronto Collegiate Institute; Reverend Paul Kett, St. Paul's Anglican Church, Uxbridge; Major General (Ret'd) Bruce J. Legge, CMM, CM, KSt.J, ED, CD, QC, Past President, The Empire Club of Canada, Partner, Legge & Legge, Former Major General Reserve, Canadian Land Forces and Former Colonel Commandant, The Logistics Branch; Colonel Gary Stafford, 32 Brigade Commander; Alek Krstajic, Chief Marketing Officer, Consumer Markets, Bell Canada; Tim Reid, President, Strategic Investor Relations and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Tom Clark, Host, W-Five, CTV Network; Rebecca MacDonald, Chair and CEO, Energy Savings Income Fund; and The Hon. James K. Bartleman, Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario and Honorary Vice-President, The Empire Club of Canada.

Introduction by John Koopman

The British Empire is a Victorian irrelevance for much of today's generation, but a century ago Britain was the undisputed sheriff of the world. It was the largest empire in history and as close to world domination that has ever been achieved.

The Empire, like all human institutions, was not without fault. When Imperial authority was challenged, as it was in India in 1857 or South Africa in 1899, the British reflex was brutal. When famine struck in Ireland in 1840 the response was at best negligent and in some measure positively culpable.

Yet the British Empire was also one of the great modernizing forces of history. The Imperial enterprise, even when it did not live up to its ideals, and no generation ever does, was at its core a duty-driven progressive force, the essence of which Kipling caught in verse when he wrote (and I take some poetic license):

Take up the Empire's burden--The savage wars of peace--Fill full the mouth of famine And bid the sickness cease;

Where the Empire went it took with it the common law, English forms of land tenure, representative assemblies and the notion of liberty itself.

Without the British Empire the structures of democratic capitalism would not have taken hold around the world. Empires that adopted alternative models--the Russians, the Chinese and the Spanish-imposed incalculable misery on their subjects. It is no accident that countries colonized by Her Majesty are for the most part free and materially wealthy and countries colonized by other colonial powers are often poor or politically shackled. The Britannic monarchal system is frankly the most reliable guarantor of personal liberty and material well-being in the world. It is tempting to argue that it all would have happened anyway, but it would not be true.

In some sense the British Empire was always self-liquidating. Whenever the Empire behaved despotically there was always a lively critique of that behaviour from inside British society itself. Once a colonized society had sufficiently adopted British institutions, it became very hard for the British to prohibit that very political liberty to which the Britons themselves attached so much significance.

But there is obviously a new sheriff in town. Whether it wants to or not, the United States must now assume the mantle of empire. Let us hope that the Americans understand what Kipling understood a century ago: empires would never be popular, and his words are applicable to America today:

Take up the Empire's burden--And reap its old reward:

The blame of those ye better, The hate of those ye guard-

Major General Mackenzie is a 36-year veteran of the Canadian infantry. He has served on nine peace-keeping tours of duty. In May of 1992 he assumed command of Sector Sarajevo in Yugoslavia. Leading a contingent of soldiers from 31 countries he opened the Sarajevo Airport at the height of the Bosnian Civil War. Following the September 11 attack he was appointed an advisor to the provincial government on counter-terrorism and emergency measures.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming retired Major General Lewis MacKenzie to the podium of the Empire Club of Canada.

Lewis MacKenzie

Considering the name of this club and its history it might be a surprise to some that I've been invited here to speak. Back in the early '90s our government was conducting public hearings on immigration, dual citizenship, the citizenship oath and related matters. The hearings were not receiving much coverage and as I was subject of a fair amount of media attention at the time the committee asked me to appear as a witness. During my opening statement I indicated that I had reviewed our citizenship oath and was concerned that a total of six of nine sentences dealt with the Queen, her heirs and successors while absolutely no mention was made of loyalty to Canada. I suggested changes that would merely adjust the emphasis. The next day one of the Toronto papers had a headline that read, "MacKenzie says, `Dump the Queen!"' I know how John Manley feels.

Like most speakers I rarely address the advertised subject. However in this case the question "Who's the world's sheriff?" is both timely and important--particularly for Canada.

In 1994, I was in a massive Minneapolis cathedral making a presentation somewhat critical of the UN's inability to run large peace operations in the post-Cold War world. At the end of my speech an elderly gentleman approached me and said, "General, you are entirely correct in everything you said, but you have to remember that when we created the UN in 1945 it was for one purpose and one purpose only and that was to make sure we didn't have World War Three--so I guess it's been a success so far." As he turned and walked away I asked, "Who was that?" Someone replied, "Oh, that's Harold Stassen, a past multi-term governor of Minnesota. He ran for the U.S. presidency as an independent a number of times and ... he is the last living signatory of the 1945 UN Charter drafted in San Francisco!" Needless to say I chased him down and we stayed in touch until his passing three years ago at the age of 94.

I share this story because it's a reminder of the UN's original role, which dealt primarily with international peace and security. None of the 50 original countries signing on in 1945 were from the Third World and most of them were on "our" side--the winning side in WW2. The majority of the current 191 member states--35 new members since the end of the Cold War--are from the developing world and frequently vote against the West in the General Assembly.

While all this dynamic change has been taking place in the General Assembly, the Security Council has been trapped in a 1945 time warp. Just about everyone knows that each of the Security Council's permanent five (Perm 5) countries--the U.S., the U.K., China, France and Russia--have a veto. What is lesser known is that the veto only applies to two categories of council business--international security issues and--conveniently--Security Council procedures. In other words, any attempt to change the membership of the Perm 5 or any of the rules governing the use of the veto would have to survive a vote to do so without one of the Perm 5 countries objecting. Fat chance!

The result of all this rigamortis has been a frequently dysfunctional Security Council.

Throughout the Cold War, the standoff between the U.S. and the Soviets made the council's work pretty simple. None of the Perm 5 involved themselves in traditional peacekeeping in places like the Middle East, Africa or Central America. Other countries like Canada, Norway, Sweden, Fiji, Senegal and some 20 others provided the troops to missions where there was actually some peace to keep.

The implications of failure, resulting in thermonuclear exchange between the two superpowers during the Cold War, were horrendous. However, the world itself was a relatively stable place where everyone knew which side they were on and acted accordingly.

All that relative stability evaporated with the demise of the Soviet Union in the late '80s. All the Cold War constraints were removed and accumulated old grievances from the Balkans to Africa, to Kurdistan to the Caucasus, to the Philippines and numerous points in between exploded with internal conflicts--and the Security Council, because of the national self-interests of the Perm 5, wouldn't and couldn't adjust to the new challenges.

Starting with Yugoslavia in 1992, UN military intervention missions were launched using outdated Cold War criteria. Security Council members naively assumed that the belligerents wanted the UN to intervene, that minimal budgets for best-case scenarios would be adequate, that the use of force in self-defence would be sufficient and that the various missions and their commanders would have plenty of time to get up to speed once they arrived in the mission area.

What followed was 10 years of unmitigated disasters for the Security Council and the world. First was the tentative response to the all-out war in the Balkans--not quickly as my colleague Romeo Dallaire has stated but a full year after the fighting started; the declaration of "UN safe havens" that the UN couldn't defend, with the resulting overrunning of Screbinica; an initial UN force so inadequate in Somalia that the Pakistani troops couldn't get out of their camp in Mogadishu until a U.S. led intervention force rescued them, followed a year later by the UN abandoning the entire mission; the genocide in Rwanda while the Security Council actually debated the definition of genocide; the murder of UN civilian staff in East Timor before the UN asked Australia to intervene and save the day; the pathetic UN initial response in Sierra Leone that had to be rescued by the British; and to cap it all off the imposing of counter-productive sanctions on Iraq and, if recent revelations prove to be true, corrupt UN management of the related "food for oil program."

The record was so bad that the Secretary General initiated a study to determine what went wrong and what should be done to avoid such failures in the future. The resulting Brahimi report concluded that the UN must ensure the following: adequately fund and man each mission before deploying it, prepare for worst- not best-case scenarios, tell the Security Council everything it needs to know, issue clear mandates, and finally, develop a rapid reaction force. All good recommendations in a large, costly, academic report that has changed nothing and is gathering dust under the shadow of the veto.

Yet another internal study laid the blame for the disasters of the Balkans and Rwanda at the feet of the UN. Koffi Annan apologized when in fact the apology should have been issued by the real guilty party--the Security Council. Mind you, the text of any apology would have been vetoed by one or more council members and would never have seen the light of day.

I dislike admitting it, but when it comes to the use of force to stop conflict and the killing it is not the moral issues that spur us to action, no matter how graphic the pictures on the 6 o'clock news. Nations, particularly the Perm 5, are motivated by national self-interests; it's that simple. The U.S. involvement in the Balkans is a good example. The U.S., wisely in my opinion, avoided involvement in the Balkans--until the conflict became an election issue during the Bush Sr. vs Bill Clinton 1992 presidential campaign. Bush was against U.S. intervention, Clinton was for it; Clinton won. "We are in for six months," he said. Twelve years later the U.S. is still there.

It's impossible to address the subject of this talk without mentioning the continuing controversy regarding last year's war in Iraq. Those that argued--as Canada did--that everyone should have waited until the Chief Weapons Inspector made his umpteenth "final report" before expecting the Security Council to authorize the use of force were conveniently ignoring the Security Council's track record for the previous 13 years. There would have been no resolution authorizing the use of force no matter what Hans Blix's report concluded. It was not in the national self-interests of at least two of the Perm 5 members to authorize such force and they would have exercised their veto. On the other hand it was in the national self-interest of the U.S. to intervene.

I'm a 1983 alumnus of the U.S. Army War College, a sort of post-graduate one-year course to prepare general officers for senior command. One of the sacrosanct principles stressed throughout the year states that you never change your objective once you commit to war. In Canada's military we call it, "Selection and maintenance of the aim." Initially, the U.S. leadership said the objective was all about, "removing links with terrorism" and when that didn't stick with the public it morphed to "removing weapons of mass destruction" which quickly morphed to "regime change" which also didn't have legs, so the spin went back to removing weapons of mass destruction. By this time the public was to put it gently, confused.

Fortunately, I committed myself to paper early in the process and penned a piece, "Doesn't genocide count?" My argument was that we didn't need weapons of mass destruction or links with terrorists to justify intervention considering that Saddam had exterminated at least 500,000 of his own people since the end of Gulf War One. That fact combined with the whispered but obvious strategic importance of the country--and the region--to the world's economy added up to intervention.

What I find somewhat curious is the fact, that at the lowest point of the Security Council's credibility in the 59 years of its existence, Canada--at least the prime minister of the day because there was no parliamentary debate--abandoned our historical allies and said, "We will follow the Security Council's lead on this." In other words, we will subordinate our sovereignty to a dysfunctional international committee in Manhattan. This decision from the same prime minister who a few short months later addressed the UN's general assembly and in a brilliant speech called upon nations to intervene with military force as a last resort if a state's government was abusing or not protecting all of its citizens! Talk about short-term memory loss. What did he think Saddam was doing?

Having said all this you might erroneously deduce that I'm not a staunch supporter of the UN. In truth, I am because there is so much more to the UN today than there was in 1945 and these newer agencies do some brilliant work, many of them with Canadian leadership and influence. I'm an unabashed fan of the United Nations International Children's Fund (UNICEF). It shared space in my Sarajevo headquarters and I've watched it alleviate the suffering of children while operating on a shoestring budget. I've also worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and have seen its challenges increase exponentially since the end of the Cold War. I'm the national patron of the Canadian arm of International Community for the Relief of Starvation and Suffering (ICROSS), an Irish charity that sends medications to East Africa where the AIDS infection rate in some villages is over 80 per cent. I see the World Health Organization (WHO) working there--even if Mel has never heard of them--and our own brilliant Stephen Lewis putting a human face on this tragedy, The International Criminal Court, with which I have some problems, nevertheless puts war criminals where they belong. My old friend Sergio de Mello, the UN's Human Rights Ambassador was recently killed in Baghdad and Louise Arbour will take over from him. Louise Frechette whom I knew as our Deputy Minister of the Defence Department is the UN's Deputy Secretary-General.

So it's important to be precise when criticizing the UN. The executive branch and its agencies led by the world's senior civil servant Kofi Annan do some outstanding work. Millions of people's lives are improved as a direct result of their efforts.

On the other hand, the Security Council's record disqualifies it from touching important issues of international peace and security with a 10-foot pole. As a debating society where all members are not equal it is an expensive and high profile embarrassment. It will never reform because the 1945-designated Perm 5 countries will never relinquish their closely held veto rights.

Yet, there are those that continue to suggest that the UN should "take-over" from the U.S. in Iraq. They fail to realize that UN civilian staff cannot be ordered to go anywhere--they have to volunteer--and they have a nasty habit of pulling out at the first sign of violence. When I visited Somalia in 1993 while hosting a documentary on the UN, I asked the UN head of mission why the UN agencies had all left until the U.S. showed up and stabilized the situation. He replied, 'We didn't join the UN to get killed!" Yet the private non-governmental organizations (NGOs) stayed. Last year, after the first attack on their UN head-quarters in Iraq, the UN left and is only now thinking of going back; the private NGOs stayed. Lets face it. If I was an Iraqi insurgent who was against any new UN presence in Iraq, I'd immediately kill or kidnap a few UN staff on their return to Baghdad knowing the rest would soon leave.

On November 12, 1989, when the U.S. public woke up to the sound of the Berlin wall coming down and along with it the end of the Cold War, it was a bit like a dog chasing a bus; it's really fun for the dog until he catches it and has to do something with it. The U.S. had been leading the battle to win the Cold War and then, overnight, thanks to President Regan's imaginary Star Wars and President Gorbachev's vision, the U.S. was the last superpower still standing. And so, not because the U.S. wanted the job, but because the UN Security Council has demonstrated over and over an inability to deal with serious security issues, the U.S. gets the sheriff's badge with all the costs in blood and coin. Some people might not like that development but I'm suggesting reality, not wishful thinking.

Mind you, in the future I see a multitude of multi-national organizations that have U.S. participation being intimately involved in security issues and not always with U.S. leadership or presence on the ground. Some examples--NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) with Turkish leadership, a good option in my mind for Iraq, OAS (Organization of American States), OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), CANUKUS (Tripartite Agreement between Canada, U.S. and UK), G8 and the G20 at the president/prime minister level as suggested by Prime Minister Martin--could all take on transnational and regional security challenges. Did you notice? Canada is a member of each of those organizations and those memberships come with obligations; obligations that we can no longer fulfill in accordance with our potential. It's one thing to say NO to Canadian participation on a particular mission because we believe it is not in our national self-interest to say YES. That is our sovereign right, but it's an entirely different matter to be forced to say NO because we don't have the capacity to participate and therefore can't say YES.

There is a long overdue foreign and defence policy review underway right now. I can only pray that the review will clearly identify our national vital interests, as they are what should dictate our foreign policy and how we structure and equip our military. My top two--and I'm pleased to be in very good company here because I have heard Michael Ignatieff emphasize the same two--are:

Number one: securing the nation not only at home but also abroad, where major threats normally fester prior to export to our shores. (Sometimes with Canadian taxpayers picking up the tab and no, I'm not talking about the Khdar family--yet! I'm referring to the tax-exempt "charities" that raise monies for terrorist groups right here under our noses). That means making a creditable contribution to our own defence, relevant to our capacity to do so, and thereby contributing to the defence of North America. It also means having an expeditionary capability, which we gave up in the early '60s. That means having a light, lethal 800 to 1,000 man unit--no Internet cafes; no exercise machines; you fight with what you can carry on your back--deliverable by air--and an equal sized unit at sea on Canadian ships ready to intervene on order. The remainder of the 4,000 to 5,000 souls comprising our rapid reaction force would be deliverable by sea as follow-up reinforcements. No more hitchhiking rides around the world and requesting help when we get there, thank you very much!

Number two vital national interest: maintaining close--not subservient or belligerent--relations with the U.S. How do we make a major step in that direction? Implement vital interest number one! We are the only country in the world that can turn living next door to the world's sole remaining super-power into a problem. The other 189 countries in the UN would kill to be in our position. Mind you, I'm not surprised by our attitude. Back in the late '90s when we were voted the number-one nation in which to live, the first thing we did was apologize! Six years ago Japan was number one and we were number two. The following year we were one and Japan was two. A fellow Canadian said to me, "You have to watch those Japanese; they stole our second place!"

I honestly believe that as a nation your obligations to those less fortunate than yourself are proportional to your blessings at home. That being the case, we have, with all our warts, a big bill to pay. Parts of our bill will be settled through the good offices of the UN but those dealing with peace and security and the application of force will be more effectively and efficiently dealt with through our participation in multi-national organizations led by the new sheriff in town the U.S. Like it or not, that's the reality of the world we live in and it's important that we earn a say in the decision making by recreating Canada's capacity to live up to those obligations.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Tim Reid, President, Strategic Investor Relations and Director, The Empire Club of Canada.

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Who's the World's Sheriff - the UN or the U.S.?

Some personal reminiscences. The timeliness and importance of the topic. The UN's original role. The Security Council trapped in a 1945 time warp. The veto. The council's work during the Cold War. The evaporation of the relative stability. Issues and problems for the Security Council. Some disasters. National self-interest. The continuing controversy regarding last year's war in Iraq. The speaker's support of the UN. The importance of being precise when criticizing the UN. Discussion about current events and Canada's role. Canada's overdue foreign and defence policy review underway now. The speaker's top two national vital interests. Canada's big bill to pay.