e Minister Paul Martin laid out a vision yesterday for a more muscular United Nations that could quickly and aggressively intervene in humanitarian crises, identify human-rights abusers and police international arms agreements.
In his first speech to the UN General Assembly, Mr. Martin staked his ground as an ardent multilateralist, prepared to sacrifice some of the sovereign rights of nations for effective international protection of populations.
It is a position sure to meet resistance from many countries which fear interference in their internal affairs.
Mr. Martin criticized the UN Security Council for dithering while people in the Darfur region of Sudan were massacred and driven from their homes by government-supported militias.
After more than a year of debate, the Security Council recently passed a resolution threatening sanctions if Sudan does not stop the violence, and endorsing an African Union peacekeeping force for the region.
Mr. Martin announced that Canada will provide $20-million to the AU force, and called on other countries to ante up.
"It is good that the international community is moving but it has taken far too long," the Prime Minister said, adding he would have preferred a more "robust" resolution.
"The Security Council has been bogged down in debating the issue. . . . The fact is, though, that while the international community struggles with definitions, the people of Darfur struggle with disaster."
He said the UN, as part of a reform process now under way, should adopt a principle called "responsibility to protect," which would assert the right to intervene in a country when the government is unable or unwilling to protect its own citizens.
The Security Council should establish clear thresholds for deciding when nations have failed their citizens, he said.
Mr. Martin acknowledged that his call for a more interventionist UN would be a tough sell for many countries that fear their sovereignty would be compromised.
In the case of Darfur, China long objected to the UN's interference in the internal affairs of a member state.
"There is no doubt there are going to be some countries who are more resistant to the notion," he said in a news conference after the speech. But he said those countries might see some benefit in an enlarged UN presence in policing nuclear non-proliferation or preventing the "weaponization"of space.
While Mr. Martin's speech was met with only polite applause, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe drew an enthusiastic response when he condemned the interventionist tendencies of the United States, Britain and their allies.
(His biggest applause came when he remarked: "There is but one political god: George W. Bush, and Tony Blair is his prophet.")
Mr. Mugabe, who has faced international pressure over his despotic rule, said the UN is composed of member nations and should not infringe on their sovereignty.
Canada's position does have some high-level support. A panel, appointed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, is expected to issue a report on UN reform later this year, endorsing the principle of "responsibility to protect."
Mr. Martin said the UN should also play a greater role in stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction. But on the issue of non-proliferation, he pulled his punches, dropping references in the written text to North Korea and Iran as posing proliferation threats.
On a day when Iran's nuclear ambitions had become an election issue in the United States, Canadian officials insisted Mr. Martin skipped the contentious lines because of time constraints, though he saved a mere 20 seconds by deleting them.
The Prime Minister also used his UN speech to restate his government's opposition to weapons in space. Yesterday, he called for a UN-led effort to ban such weapons.
His Liberal government is facing a controversial decision about whether to participate in the U.S. missile-defence system, which critics contend will spark an arms race in space. Mr. Martin told reporters the current missile-defence system would be either land- or sea-based and said Canada will not participate in any system that sends weapons into space.