Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly has made a number of things clear about his attitude towards that organization.
The first is that his government would very much like Canada to be elected to one of the temporary seats on the UN Security Council when UN members vote in October.
The second is that, in aid of the first, he would like it to be understood that he and his government are strong supporters of the United Nations:
As a founding member of the UN, and the seventh-largest contributor to its finances, Canada has been a consistently reliable and responsible participant in UN initiatives around the world. This was so in the earliest days of the UN. It was so during the difficult days of the Cold War, of de-colonization and of the struggle against apartheid. It is so today.
Being a UN buff is something of an evolution (if we can use that term) for the Prime Minister, who has occasionally been heard to express contempt for the UN in the past, but clearly all things are possible when an election is on the line.
The third thing made clear in the Prime Minister’s speech is that UN peacekeeping continues to be held in contempt by his government. Not that he mentions the word. In what must be a first (in the last 50 years or so, anyway) for a Canadian Prime Minister speaking to the United Nations, nowhere in his speech does the term peacekeeping even appear.
And not without reason. There’s very little to boast about when it comes to Canada’s peacekeeping record of recent years.
Canadian governments were once proud to declare that Canada had participated in nearly every UN peacekeeping operation, and that we were often the largest single contributor of troops to such missions. But as Canadians for Peacekeeping‘s report Canada & UN Peacekeeping (see also the graph above) demonstrates, it has been at least five years since Canada has made more than a token contribution to UN peacekeeping.
There are currently 100,000 military and police personnel serving on UN missions; Canada contributes 157 police officers and 64 military personnel to that total.
With our Afghanistan mission ending, the demand for UN peacekeepers larger than it has ever been, and the government keen to demonstrate its UN bona fides, the PM’s speech would have been an ideal occasion to announce Canada’s recommitment to UN peacekeeping. That he did not surely says all we need to know about the chances of such a recommitment any time soon.