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Navigating a New World: Canada’s Global Future

by Lloyd Axworthy

Each passing month brings a more urgent need for the world to puzzle out the future of its beleaguered multilateral institutions. So it’s tempting to pick up a book by Lloyd Axworthy, Canada’s foreign affairs minister from 1996 to 2000, in the hope that it will provide quick and succinct answers. But resist that temptation. Otherwise, you’ll never get past the bureaucratese of the opening chapters and make it into the diplomatic case studies that form the riveting heart of the book.

Navigating a New World is largely an analysis of Axworthy’s time at foreign affairs, describing international crises and conundrums in which he thinks the world’s multilateral institutions triumphed or failed. Axworthy presents cases ranging from the anti-landmines treaty process to the International Criminal Court, from Rwanda to Kosovo, and from Kyoto to the debate over disarmament.

His observations return to a few key themes, namely the need to channel international efforts toward preserving human security. He also uses examples to point out Canada’s diplomatic strengths, explain why we should not blindly follow American foreign policy, and illustrates the kind of situations in which soft-power strategies succeed. These middle chapters are interesting because they provide a first-hand, high-level look at global issues we’re all somewhat familiar with. They also provide a necessary corrective to the simplistic debate over the role of the UN Security Council by demonstrating how a range of other organizations – including the G8, NATO, the Human Security Network, and the UN General Assembly – can complement or kickstart Security Council progress.

The style of the closing two chapters, in which Axworthy outlines his recommendations, hopscotches between so many domestic and international issues that the reader can’t help but be confused. No doubt Axworthy is right when he claims that all these issues are connected, but the book’s clarity suffers. Navigating a New World is undoubtedly worth chewing on, though perhaps more in the way a cow approaches its supper: expect to attack the contents several times in order to absorb their full value.