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International cooperation can take many forms, some of which are highly institutionalized forms of cooperation, others of which are not. One of the most discussed – and controversial – form of institutionalized cooperation is “multilateralism.” At its heart, the concept of “multilateralism” rests on the relatively simple notion that when three or more states choose to cooperate it is with the expectation that their cooperative arrangement will yield roughly equal reciprocal benefits. For example, when three or more states agree to an alliance partnership it is with the expectation that the security guarantees they offer to each will be reciprocated – that is, an attack by a hostile force against one of the members of the alliance will rally the others to its defense.
Ambrose Bierce's definition of a Hydra – as a kind of animal that the ancients catalogued under many heads – captures some of the definitional quandaries associated with the concept. “Multilateral” literally means “many sided.” It is typically used as an adjective, not a noun or a verb. “Multilateralism,” however, is a noun – but a noun to describe what? A set of belief systems about how the world should be organized? A set of norms or principles for action that are informed by the expectation of reciprocity? A description of different kinds of world order? A description about international institutions and how they should operate? A description of international negotiation processes? A surrogate for “international regimes?”
The issues of political, legal, and constitutional accountability in sending Canadian forces into harm's way have come to national attention because of debate about the 1999 NATO Kosovo War. These issues of accountability have to be understood within the context of Canada's parliamentary traditions and long-standing commitment to international peacekeeping and the United Nations. Debates about the forms of authorization and accountability have become increasingly pronounced in recent years.
On the one hand, there is growing concern about the UN's international peace and security role and the general political accountability of the five permanent members (P-5) of the Security Council to the wider membership of the UN. On the other hand, there are important domestic political accountability issues, too. Many parliamentarians, particularly those in opposition, feel that successive governments neither adequately informed parliament nor sought approval from it when Canadian forces have been deployed in peace operations. Ironically, this frustration seems to parallel a trend towards greater – not reduced – levels of consultation and parliamentary debate by the current Liberal government. In the aftermath of the Somalia Inquiry, issues of civilian control of military personnel and operations, as well as civilian responsibility to the military, have been especially salient. Somalia provoked calls for improved systems of accountability within both the military and civilian hierarchies in Canada's defense establishment.
This chapter first discusses the constitutional and legal context of the use of military force by Canada.