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Canada on the UNSC?

Edward Campbell

Army.ca Myth
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This issue has been simmering in official Ottawa for a month or so. Now former DND Deputy Minister Bob Fowler has brought it to the fore in this web comment, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from today’s Globe and Mail web site:

Web-exclusive comment
Canada's bid for a seat at the table is worth saving


Special to Globe and Mail Update

May 22, 2008 at 1:08 AM EDT

Last week, The Globe and Mail reported that the Canadian government was considering withdrawing its bid to seek election to the United Nations Security Council in the fall of 2010 — a startling state of affairs that suggests the government has no confidence in its own foreign policy.

Canada has served six times at the UN's "High Table," and it was my privilege to conduct the campaign that secured us a seat in 1999 and 2000 and to represent Canadians on the Security Council for the first 20 months of that term, serving twice as council president. It was a hard-fought campaign waged over three and a half years and, until the vote in early October, 1998, we never assumed that we would prevail over one of our friends and rivals, the Netherlands and Greece, for those two seats. Once on the council, we were able to improve the way the United Nations pursues its peacekeeping vocation by ensuring that the mandates of peacekeeping operations specifically protected the weak — the women and children caught up in the horrors that blue helmeted forces are sent to manage.

We also used our chairmanship of the Security Council's Angola Sanctions Committee to name and shame sanctions busters (including sitting heads of government) who were shipping arms to the rebel movement, UNITA, which was financing their predations with blood diamonds. Once the arms suppliers and unscrupulous diamond merchants had been subjected to such scrutiny, the supply of fuel, ammunition and weapons to the rebel movement ceased, which led quickly to its military defeat and the end of a vicious 25-year civil war. All of which proves it is possible to make a difference through service on the Security Council.

While some countries have considered Security Council elections to be some kind of measure of national standing, Canadians, have tended to see it as far more than a beauty contest. To us it is a kind of international civic duty — a platform from which every 10 years or so we can help improve the way the world manages threats to international peace and security, which, of course, is the essential purpose of the United Nations.

Since the Second World War, Canadians have believed that an effective, universally agreed, rules-based system of global management is essential to the maintenance of world stability and, not incidentally, our strongest bulwark against the hegemonic tendencies of our powerful neighbour. Our reliance on multilateral solutions to emerging threats to the peace and to challenges ranging from, the ravages of new pandemics to climate change, is founded in the harsh reality that there are no other effective ways to manage such issues and, as a result, Canadians have invested heavily and wisely in keeping such institutions working as effectively as possible.

Since shortly after the UN Charter was signed in 1945, the United States has been, at best, ambivalent about the UN and, once it became the undisputed world power, successive administrations have sought to diminish any institution that might constrain that power.

Assuming we maintain our candidacy in the 2010 election to the Security Council, our peers at the UN will decide which among Canada, Germany and Portugal would bring the least balanced, the least independent, and the least constructive perspectives to that executive forum. That country will not be elected.

Article 23.1 of the UN Charter outlines the basis on which nations should be judged worthy of Security Council membership. Highlighting the contribution of candidates to the maintenance of international peace and security and to "the other purposes of the UN," how do we do against such criteria?

According to UN records, as of April this year, Germany was the 29th largest contributor of troops to UN peacekeeping operations. Portugal was 41st, and Canada was 53rd, tied with Mali.

Countries vote almost exclusively in their self-interest. In the course of my campaigning from 1995 to 1998, I met many times with each of my colleagues who would cast the votes. Each was motivated by a unique complex of inputs, not unlike those that inform voters in national elections. Through our close friends in the Caribbean, I was introduced to the 37 members of the Alliance of Small Island States, all of which are members of the UN. Even 12 years ago they had one over-arching concern: avoiding being submerged. This group is unlikely to find Canada's performance on climate change overly inspiring. We do, however, have time to change that.

Africa is the only region where the gap between the world's rich and poor is widening. The 53 states in the African Group at the United Nations were intrigued to learn from our prime minister at the G8 meeting last summer that the Canadian government was shifting its international aid and foreign policy priorities away from Africa.

Over 70 per cent of the Security Council's business is African and, in its peer review of Canadian aid delivery, published last October, the development assistance committee of the OECD noted that Canada's 2006 official development assistance performance was 9.2 per cent less in real terms than in 2005, and that our assistance fell to 0.30 per cent of gross national income in 2006 from 0.34 per cent in 2005, putting Canada 15th among 22 donors in terms of aid as a share of national income. This too could be changed.

The Middle East is also an area that generates its full share of threats to peace and stability and Mideast matters come before the Security Council with great frequency. UN member states — particularly Israel, the U.S. and the 56 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference — measure the posture of candidates very carefully. Canada, of course, won a Nobel Peace Prize for playing, in the UN context, a constructive and innovative role in the Middle East half a century ago.

Effective engagement in this fraught region requires patience, risk, measure, great diplomatic skill and a profound knowledge of the troubled history of the region. But, above all, it demands balance, fairness and credibility. Recent statements by the Prime Minister and recent votes at the United Nations suggest our balance on Middle Eastern questions needs some attention.

Candidates are also judged on the vision, commitment and, particularly, the independence they would bring to the Council. If indeed we are going to play our full part in helping the UN to work smarter, cheaper and more effectively, rather than merely echoing tiresome blather about "reform," let's demonstrate that we still have such a capacity.

Given effort and attention, we could mount a credible campaign for a seat on the Security Council, and we will prevail if we project forcefully and confidently, by word and deed, the message that we are a nation committed to the principles of the UN Charter, that we are sensitive to the interests and concerns of others, that we are balanced and considered in our foreign policy judgments, and that we march to nobody's tune but our own.

Robert Fowler was a foreign-policy adviser to prime ministers Pierre Trudeau, John Turner and Brian Mulroney, and Canada's longest-serving ambassador to the United Nations.

The issue of being or not being a candidate for election to the UNSC is not a “settled issue” in official Ottawa. There are voices raised against the issue: saying that the UNSC is worse than useless, in and of itself, and that the election process is deeply flawed, resulting in “fixed” results reflecting “block votes” by e.g. the 47 Council of Europe nations and the 79 member African, Caribbean and Pacific Group. Canada, it can be argued, is setting itself up for defeat, à la Australia in 1996. Here is a paper that sets out the UNSC election business.

I think most Ottawa insiders, Bob Fowler included, are, however, of the view that we should and could secure a UNSC seat – but at the expense of some foreign policy reversals.

Some of the issues that would require ‘reversal’ include:

• Foreign aid – we do not live up to the promises that we (through Conservative and Liberal governments alike) have made for generations, ever since Lester Pearson was PM back in the mid ‘60s;

• Israel – Prime Ministers Chrétien and Martin changed our traditional (post about ’75) pro-Palestinian stance beginning in 2004/05. Prime Minister Harper has continued in that new model. The Ottawa insiders oppose this;

• Africa – Canada’s commitment to Afghanistan means that Africa has taken something of a back seat. That’s a real problem, I think, because Africa is likely to be more dangerous over the next half century than the Islamic Crescent.

I agree with the Ottawa insiders on the first and last points – we should change our aid funding and policies and our strategic preoccupations. If our foreign affairs people cannot manage two ‘big’ files at once then we need new, better people. But: We are right on Israel and we should continue to oppose the terrorist states and their friends and supporters in Europe and Africa – and damn the consequences.