Despite the Prime Minister’s recent high-profile trips to Africa and the Caribbean to garner votes, Canada’s campaign for a two-year stint on the UN Security Council is still a long-shot. The countries competing with Canada in the secret ballot election by the UN General Assembly for one of two seats are two UN stalwarts, Norway and Ireland.
Consider the following:
Canada’s foreign aid spending is less as a percentage of gross national income (GNI) than it was under the Harper Conservatives, and recent promised increases only take effect in 2023. Norway at 0.94 percent has already exceeded the UN goal of 0.7 percent of GNI (Canada’s is 0.28 percent), while Ireland at 0.31 percent is both ahead of Canada and has committed to reaching the UN goal.
For an excellent article on why increased official development assistance (ODA) helps Canada as well as the intended recipients, see: Cutting foreign aid comes with a strategic cost (Nicolas Moyer, policyoptions.irpp.org, 18 October 2019).
Canada’s contribution to UN peacekeeping is also at an all-time low, following the end of our valuable but truncated support for the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Apparently the government is in consultations with the UN over a possible new contribution to MINUSMA, which surely begs the question why we did not commit to three years in the first place, as the UN had requested (and as our predecessors, the Dutch and the Germans had done).
As for Norway and Ireland, having never “left” UN peacekeeping in the first place, they are both rightly regarded as reliable, credible, consistent contributors.
For a reminder of the problematic circumstances under which Canada departed the Mali mission, see: Canada to send team back to Mali to help Romania minimize gap in evacuation (Canadian Press, via cbc.ca, 28 August 2019).
Our much-professed commitment to human rights and international law does not extend to joining most of our allies in ceasing our arms exports to Saudi Arabia, despite grave breaches of human rights by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and horrendous repression within Saudi Arabia itself. Norway suspended its military exports (while Ireland had none to begin with).
For a recent article on how international pressure on Saudi Arabia (absent Canada) may finally be starting to pay off, see: Saudi-led coalition starts courts martial against Yemen strikes air crews (Patrick Wintour, theguardian.com, 12 February 2020).
Voting with the USA and Israel against most UN resolutions in support of Palestinian rights under international law not only contradicts Canada’s actual policy but also isolates us from virtually every other UN member state, including Norway and Ireland.
Canada did summon up the courage to vote its principles on the Palestinian right to self-determination. See: Canada reverses UN stance on Palestinians in break with U.S. over settlements (Evan Dyer, cbc.ca, 20 November 2019). But we failed to muster a word of protest over Trump’s sham of a Middle East “peace” plan.
Rather than joining with the vast majority of the international community in condemning illegal U.S. sanctions against Venezuela that targeted vital food and medicine, we joined in U.S.-led regime change efforts. Norway and Ireland backed the European Union-led effort for a negotiated solution. In turn the Canadian-led Lima Group pledged to also work with them (as American plans for fomenting a military coup fizzled).
And there are many other areas, explored in past blog posts, where Canada has fallen short, including nuclear disarmament initiatives (where Ireland shines).
Independent or “ready-aye-ready”?
Quite aside from Canada’s poor UN track record over the past four years, the elephant in the room is surely our willingness (or demonstrated lack thereof) to take public positions at odds with the USA.
Since Trump took office in January 2017, the strategy that the Trudeau government has pursued to survive his presidency has been one of attempting as much as possible to stay out of Trump’s crosshairs:
The Trudeau government has adopted a fairly successful policy for handling the Trump administration: act friendly, lay low and try not to attract too much attention in the hope that it will one day all be over and normal programming will resume. (Evan Dyer, CBC journalist)
But Security Council members have to stand up and be counted when voting time rolls around.
The Chrystia Freeland Problem
The problem of what kind of Security Council voting independence Canada might exercise in the event Trump is re-elected in November 2020 is further compounded by the astonishing fact that Deputy Prime Minister Freeland continues to have responsibility for “overseeing Canada -U.S. relations” while Foreign Minister Champagne is mandated to “support” her in this work. RI President Peggy Mason comments:
Back when Freeland was both Foreign Minister and Minister for Canada-USA trade, the rest of Canada’s foreign policy was largely an after-thought. Now that we finally have a full-time Foreign Minister, he does not have the lead on Canada’s most important bilateral relationship.
And when looked at from the point of view of Canadian actions in the UN Security Council, it means that Champagne will take a back seat to Freeland on every vote or discussion where the USA has an interest.
Whatever the outcome of the Security Council election, one thing is sure — Foreign Minister Champagne will need strong support inside and outside Cabinet to implement a meaningful UN role for Canada.
Engagement with Civil Society
Minister Champagne’s mandate letter also includes the following:
It is also your responsibility to substantively engage with Canadians, civil society and stakeholders, including businesses of all sizes, organized labour, the broader public sector and the not-for-profit and charitable sectors. You must be proactive in ensuring that a broad array of voices provides you with advice, in both official languages, from every region of the country.
Sustained, substantive engagement with civil society requires concrete mechanisms to enhance Canadian capacity for policy analysis and dialogue on peace and security within and without government. One such mechanism, the Canadian Centre for Peace, Order and Good Government, was the subject of a recent blog post. See: New Peace Centre needed to balance defence industry-funded think tanks (31 January 2020).
We call on Foreign Minister Champagne to develop concrete mechanisms for sustained, substantive engagement with civil society as an indispensable part of enhancing Canadian capacity for UN leadership on peace and security.
Photo credit: Wikimedia images.