Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Losing a seat on the UN Security Council not a national disaster for Canada

It won't make any major ripples in the flow of international relations, but Canada just lost a vote in its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, for the second time in ten years.
Canada was up against Norway and Ireland for the two 2-year seats available in the "Western Europe and Others" group of the ten temporary elected seats on the Council (replacing Belgium and Germany as their 2- year terms expire). Canada received 108 votes from the 192 countries, but Ireland received 128 votes and Norway 130 (the threshold was 128, or two-thirds of the possible votes).
Apparently, the election all works through a rather convoluted vote-swapping system, where deals are struck in return for later votes on other issues. It involves cozying up to dictators, and making deals with countries with which we have very little in common. It doesn't sound exactly wholesome to me, I have to say.
Various excuses and explanations have been offered, including Canada's comparatively late start in its campaign (2015) compared to the others (2005 and 2007), and the way in which Canada's US-Mexico free-trade negotiations has sidelined international engagements over the last few years, but these do rather sound like lame excuses. Questions have been asked as to whether China involved itself, whether we remain too close to the delinquent USA, or whether Canada's hard line on Israeli illegal settlements were an issue (both are considered unlikely, but, hey, in politics anything is possible).
That said, this was hardly an embarrassing debacle nor a resounding denigration of Canada's political manhood. It was, though, still a loss, and an unexpected one in most people's eyes. And it was pretty clear that Justin Trudeau, who considers himself a strong internationalist, had really set his mind on it. His 2015 slogan that "Canada is back!" looks a bit feeble right now, and it may be time to tone down the "The world needs more Canada" chant, because clearly it doesn't.
The Conservative opposition is, predictably, making hay from it, calling it a failed Trudeau vanity project. But it was no more a vanity project than it was when Conservative Prime Minister Stepher Harper pursued (and lost out on) a seat ten years ago. The NDP are calling it a wake-up call and an indication that Canada is not doing enough internationally (e.g. in international development and peacekeeping missions), which is probably about right. Norway outspends Canada hugely in international aid on a per capita basis, and Ireland makes one of the world's highest per capita troop contributions to UN peacekeeping missions. Fairly beaten, I'd say.
Countries see a seat on the Security Council as a big deal, as a way of flaunting their national brand on the international scene, and as a way of pursuing issues close to their own hearts in a most public visible way. But the reality is that the Security Council is completely dominated by the five permanent members - USA, Russia China, UK and France - which have veto rights on anything that goes through the Council, and are not afraid to make use of it (particularly China and Russia). Partly for that reason, it has been a perennially under-achieving arm of the UN, and possibly not the most important international club Canada could belong to anyway.
And what company would Canada have found itself in anyway? The current temporary elected members of the Council are Belgium, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Germany, Indonesia, Niger, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, South Africa, Tunisia, and Vietnam. It's not really a must-join club, and membership is clearly not a reflection of power and influence in the world.
So, a setback to the Canadian brand perhaps, but, in the scheme of things, not a national disaster. And, no, it doesn't mean that the world hates Canada. And a final thought: would we really desperately want to belong to a club run by bullies like Russia, China and the USA anyway?

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