Canada and the Use of Force: Reclaiming Human Security

International Journal (Canadian Institute of International Affairs), Vol. 59, pp. 247-260, 2004

14 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2008

See all articles by Jutta Brunnée

Jutta Brunnée

University of Toronto, Faculty of Law

Stephen J. Toope

University of Cambridge

Date Written: 2004


The events of 11 September 2001 propelled the issue of global terrorism to the top of the international agenda, and prompted dramatic shifts in international political dynamics. Although there is wide agreement that the world is facing complex security challenges, a harsh debate has opened up over the appropriate responses. Building on the existing rhetoric of the "clash of civilizations," this debate was initially cast as one between the west and Islam and emerged immediately upon the invasion of Afghanistan. What is now apparent is that fissures have broken open within western culture that may be equally wide. The most pointed disagreements pit the political and cultural elites of "Old Europe" against those of the United States, but the phenomenon is broader, setting traditional allies such as the United States and Canada in opposition to each other. Moreover, within western states, political divisions over the war in Iraq accentuated a widening chasm between "liberal" and "neo-conservative" forces.

Around the globe, the debate over responses to global terrorism has raised hard issues concerning the interplay of security concerns, human rights, democratic governance and the use of force. Within the US, influential voices are articulating a merging of these concerns in a way that fundamentally challenges the concepts of state sovereignty, non-intervention and political independence. Fear seems to be the driving force for normative change. This fear is accentuated by the now-recognized vulnerability of the infrastructure of modern society, and by uncertainty as to who will be targeted and by what horrific means of attack. All values are becoming subsumed within the value of security, justifying the use of force against other states in an ever-broadening set of circumstances. Canada is particularly implicated in these developments for they threaten to subvert the goals of the human security agenda that has defined recent Canadian foreign policy. The basic premise of that agenda has been that security concerns should be evaluated primarily on the basis of the well-being of people rather than the physical security of states. In the vast majority of cases, the promotion of human security calls not for the resort to military force but for measures that build social and economic capital and improve local governance. In the face of recent developments, Canada must reclaim, and probably recast, the human security agenda. It should also resist arguments for excessive reliance on the use of force. Moreover, caution is warranted where human security arguments are deployed to bolster defensive considerations that do not actually rise to a level justifying the use of armed force under international law.

Suggested Citation

Brunnée, Jutta and Toope, Stephen J., Canada and the Use of Force: Reclaiming Human Security (2004). International Journal (Canadian Institute of International Affairs), Vol. 59, pp. 247-260, 2004, Available at SSRN:

Jutta Brunnée (Contact Author)

University of Toronto, Faculty of Law ( email )

78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5
416-946-7353 (Phone)
416-978-7899 (Fax)

Stephen J. Toope

University of Cambridge ( email )

Trinity Ln
Cambridge, CB2 1TN
United Kingdom

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