Trudeau’s Security Council Bid

Trudeau’s Security Council Bid

As published in the Victoria Standard: October 25, 2017

Seven years after Stephen Harper’s failure to secure a Canadian seat on the United Nations (UN) Security Council; Trudeau’s Liberals are seeking a 2021 spot on this influential body. The council’s five permanent members include nuclear-armed China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. As well, there are 10 rotating seats and Canada may be eligible for one of those temporary positions. The current non-permanent members are: Bolivia, Egypt , Ethiopia, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Senegal, Sweden, Ukraine and Uruguay.

One of the perks of permanent member status is the ability to arbitrarily veto resolutions of the UN General Assembly even when the Assembly votes with an overwhelming majority. Therefore, the UN’s democratic aspect is akin to a high school students council; fully autonomous until the principal disagrees with their decisions and decides to intervene. Naturally, the five permanent member states are also the world’s dominant military and economic powers; so it could be said the United Nations actually operates according to the logic of force rather than reason.

Canada last held a Security Council seat in 2000; this date coinciding with 911 and the War on Terror’s early phase. The Harper government’s failed 2010 bid was scuttled mainly by his domestic obsessions and the belatedly nature of Canada’s UN campaign. European support secured Germany’s seat and was largely responsible for Portugal’s edging past Canada to take the second opening. Other reasons for the failed Canadian bid were cutbacks in foreign aid and international frustration with Harper’s refusal to take serious action on the negative effects of global climate change.

As well, Harper’s staunch support for Israel was poorly received in a General Assembly that largely supports Palestinian statehood in spite of consistent U.S. vetoes of any pro-Palestinian resolutions. While defending Canadian support for Israeli exceptionalism, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird once told the UN General Assembly that Canada will not "go along to get along with some moral relativist crowd at the United Nations…." Conversely, Baird seemed happy to support the other moral relativists in Tel Aviv and Trudeau’s stance differs only in tone.

In spite of Trudeau’s noble rhetoric, the UN Human Rights Committee noticed the vast gulf stretching between Liberal rhetoric and their performance on poverty reduction, housing, education and women’s rights. In 2016 the Committee admonished Canada for its appalling neglect of Indigenous people in all the categories previously mentioned. The Human Rights Committee was particularly critical of Canada’s approach to the education of Indigenous children, the matter of missing and murdered Indigenous women and First Nations’ right to protect their traditional lands from destructive mining and energy projects.

It is worth stating that Canada’s vaunted reputation as a UN peacekeeper has deteriorated over the last two decades as the military has shifted its focus to NATO interventions and expanding Canada’s Special Forces capabilities. This change pleases those Canadian conservatives who are deeply hostile to the United Nations concept in general. They generally support U.S. style unilateral foreign policy and aggressive peace-making over traditional peace keeping missions. The disastrous Somalia mission was a prime example of Canada’s commitment to supporting U.S. geopolitical goals in nations destabilized by decades of Cold War intrigue. Unfortunately, Trudeau seems willing to continue this policy with Middle East combat missions and East European NATO commitments destined to annoy Russia.

To secure a 2021 UN Security Council seat Trudeau’s Liberals must somehow distance themselves from their own failures and those of the Harper regime by distracting attention from the striking similarities between the policies of the past and current governments. While Canada can never reinvent its Blue Beret era of peace keeping and relatively generous foreign aid; it might be enough to create that hope internationally. As well, Trudeau must somehow minimize the damage done to Canada’s international reputation by Harper’s conduct while simultaneously soothing resentments in the Middle East, East Asia and Africa. Of course, the Liberals must consider the opinion of the extremist regime in Washington who care little for the opinions of the less powerful.

Finally, Trudeau’s considerable investment in public funds and civil service efforts may be wasted when the actual influence of non-permanent membership is considered. While middle powers like Canada, Sweden and Japan are important international players; their opinions matter only when linked to the interests of permanent Security Council members like the U.S. and China. Until the United Nations eliminates the power of permanent members to veto resolutions; the international body will never develop its full potential for promoting peace and prosperity. It is unlikely that Trudeau or any ambitious leader would publicly acknowledge the hazards of symbolic democracy at the United Nations.