Post-national security

24Jun10

Ten years ago, Mark Kingwell wrote in The World We Want about the challenges of what was then seen by some as a new phenomenon: the notion of global citizenship. He argued then that thanks to the rapidly changing realities of an increasingly “global world”, we ought to reflect on the idea of citizenship itself to understand how it could work in a “post-national” world.

Disagree or not with the notion that nation-states are increasingly meaningless, but give the following passage some thought.

Countries that were formed in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century rounds of unification, or emerged in strength after the upheavals of world war in the twentieth, no longer appear viable. In many cases, including Canada, the nation of yesterday is increasingly reduced to the economic colony of today, beholden to market forces. A member of the G7 (or G8 if that other crumbling nation-state, Russia, is invited; or even more lately, the G20), Canada nevertheless lacks power in arranging its own affairs. Some of this is de facto, as when our cultural experience is overrun by wave upon wave of American consumer products. But some of it comes from sheer lack of will, as when, during the Vancouver meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in 1997, Canadian leaders were cowed and even embarrassed by the demands of a visiting foreign dictator who did not wish to confront a few student protesters.

And then think about it in relation to current events — say, the G20 summit that has shaken up downtown Toronto. Start with this, from yesterday’s Globe:

The moment Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided Canada would host this week’s G20 meeting, Toronto was fated to become a fortified city.

Police and military leaders decided that Muskoka, host of the G8 summit, could not also accommodate the G20 to follow. So they were forced to accept that dozens of world leaders would be crammed into the densest corners of Canada’s largest city – and that, to protect them, authorities would need to install three-metre-high fences and summon thousands of police, leaving residents bemused and bothered.

This is the new reality of hosting global summits in an urban setting, when the only thing officials agree on is that they can’t spend too much to safeguard against the nightmare of playing host to an international incident.

“It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” said former top Mountie Norman Inkster, arguing today’s realities bear no resemblance to the last time Toronto hosted such a summit – when he was commissioner in 1988. “This is an entirely different scene now.”

The ranks of world leaders and entourages attending such summits are swelling to the point that smaller communities cannot accommodate them. And the decision to host not just the G8 but the G20, with its attendant entourage, is about more than the mere addition of numbers – it’s about adding group of countries with diverse political baggage, which in turn multiplies the flanks authorities have to protect in one of the world’s most multicultural cities.

“The ethnic mix that makes Canada the wonderful country it is brings with it some of its challenges,” Mr. Inkster said.

As soon as Canada decided to host the G20 summit in its largest city, was there any doubt it would come to this? And was there ever any doubt that this isn’t the real issue?

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One Response to “Post-national security”

  1. 1 Gordo

    This reminds me of HK back when WTO had its conference here. A bunch of Koreans had come over just to protest. At the time I thought it was just our geographical location in the middle of East Asia that’s attracting a bunch of visiting protesters, but nope these protests at these summits seem to get worse when you got more world leaders there to be mad at.


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