You can count the minutes before calls for more military spending join the general clatter in the current election.
But what if there were a countervailing set of pressures? What if instead of demanding a boost for defence, pols felt obliged to press for the diversion of funds to a Department of Peace?
It's a scenario many anti-war theorists believe is not only credible but critical. It's time for Canada, they believe, to go beyond traditional peacekeeping and undertake the sophisticated work of conflict resolution and peace-building. These are skills that can't be learned on the fly but require a department dedicated to nurturing them.
In fact, citizens in 11 different countries including Canada are lobbying their governments for such a change in the traditional way defence and foreign affairs are organized, reports Bill Bhaneja, a retired Canadian diplomat and senior research fellow at the University of Ottawa.
He recalls being embarrassed when European Union NGOs asked him if Canada could contribute a few thousand trained professional peace workers to go abroad. "I said I am not aware of any such Canadian government program,' he says.
Bhaneja believes there's wide agreement in the conflict-resolution community that what we do with our defence money is obsolete and out of touch with Canadians' desire to be true global mediators. It's also partially responsible for botched post-war reconstruction.
"Countries with economic dependence on weapons development and war machinery will instead have to start working for demilitarization, focusing on ways to champion human rights and justice for the marginalized within and outside their borders," says Bhaneja.
Although the government currently dispenses international aid and promotes disarmament, democracy and human rights, he says, the problem is that these are "buried and accorded low priority" in eight separate federal departments, including Foreign Affairs, National Defence, the Canadian International Development Agency and the International Development Research Centre.
"In each of these there is a range of activities, and not all of them are carried out. Foreign Affairs thinks it does peace-building; Defence thinks it does peace-building. Even CIDA thinks its poverty alleviation mandate is peace-building. But there is no focal point, no coherent framework, no integrated approach."
Organizing a campaign for a bureaucratic change in Ottawa may be a tall order, but Bhaneja has managed to gather some high-powered support. Former Liberal Foreign Affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy is on board, along with ex-senator, writer and chair of the Middle Powers Initiative Doug Roche.
"It's time to give peace a profile in Canada and concentrate government's attention on the fundamental values of this country, which are building the conditions for human security and peace,' says Roche from his home in Edmonton. "There is a considerable amount of work being done, but it is time to focus it and channel it.'
Meanwhile, among some non-governmental organizations on the front line of peace lobbying in Ottawa, there is hesitation. Ernie Regehr, a senior policy adviser at Project Ploughshares, worries about the isolation of peace-building in a single department. And he notes that "peace-building and human security have a kind of profile in government that they haven't had for a long time."
He concedes, however, that the current impetus for peace promotion in Ottawa may not be strong enough - but wonders whether centralization is the way to go: "Is the pace going to be changed by reorganization, and is that going to galvanize some political will? That is a difficult judgment to make, I think."
At the same time, Regehr and others have noted that Canada's self-image as a world peace broker has been tarnished by our counter-insurgency operations with U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
A report written by Regehr and Peter Whelan argues that our level of military expenditure is excessive. Of our $16.3 billion spending on international peace and security, 76 per cent is devoted to defence. "The most prominent threats to [people's security] come from non-military sources such as unfavourable economic, social and political conditions,' the report asserts.
Bhaneja does not see a Canadian department of peace duplicating the diplomatic activities and programs of his former employer, Foreign Affairs. He describes the latter as largely "reactive" to crisis points in the world and not set up to do the kind of long-range planning, research and education required for institution-building in troubled or failed states.
Rather, the former diplomat wants Canada to follow the example of Germany, where the government-supported civilian peace service is funding the training of peace workers in conflict resolution. These people are sent into the field in countries like Colombia to work with such grassroots groups as Peace Brigades International, the Nonviolent Peace Force and the Christian Peacemaker Teams.
The difference is that a national government can train and export non-violent peace workers on a scale that would not be possible with these kinds of volunteer-based organizations, he explains.
Although Bhaneja would not comment on the NATO-led, military-based development missions in Afghanistan (the so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams), he questions the ability of soldiers anywhere to engage in peace-building. "They are in the business of fighting and winning wars,' he says.
Veteran peace worker and trainer Lyn Adamson says peace-building work would receive a major boost with the establishment of a government peace department. "I could certainly see a role for that, absolutely.'
Adamson was formerly with Peace Brigades, which primarily uses small teams of visible international volunteers to accompany local activists in potentially violent circumstances. She's now on the international board of the Nonviolent Peaceforce, an NGO that envisions sending thousands of experienced, salaried peace workers, not volunteers, into conflict zones instead of troops.
The uncertain fate of the Christian Peacemaker workers taken hostage by an unknown group in Iraq should not be used to dismiss the value of peace-builders in countries that have invited them, says Adamson. "It is inevitable that there will be some loss of life in the non-violent alternative. But to put it in perspective, it should be noted that PBI has sent well over 1,000 team members into the field in such places as Colombia, Indonesia, Haiti and Mexico's Guerrero and Chiapas regions since 1981 and has not suffered a single fatality."