Canada’s Obsession with the United Nations Security Council

3 minute read
Chart displaying who has been serving on the United Nations Security Council

Winning a seat at the UN Security Council (UNSC) makes for good politics in this country. For more than half a century, Canadians have identified themselves as leaders in peacekeeping missions around the world. We can thank Lester B. Pearson, who arguably pulled the world back from the verge of war in 1956 as he orchestrated a UN peacekeeping mission in the middle east during the Suez Canal crisis. It was there and then that Canada, a middle power, gained its place on the world stage and gave Canadians a sense of pride and ownership over the UN peacekeeping idea.

In 2020, Canadians still relish the idea of actively participating at the UNSC and advocating for international peace and security. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made it a priority in his 2015 election bid to pursue a seat on the security council, dubbing it the ‘Canada is back’ campaign. With the UNSC vote just around the corner, the time has now come for Trudeau to put his money where his mouth is. He knows that winning a seat would solidify his reputation as a well-respected international leader and bump his popularity numbers back at home. But the stakes are high if the Prime Minister does not deliver on this promise as he will surely be criticized for coming up empty handed given the amount of effort and money that’s been put into the UNSC campaign so far. More importantly though, to lose this seat would be a sobering moment for Canadians who think the world likes us.

Some might think it should be an easy campaign for Canada to win, but upon closer examination, we can see how many obstacles our government faces and the amount of politicking that happens at the UNSC in order to secure a place as a non-permanent member. For starters, it is no secret that our ongoing diplomatic spats with China (Huawei issue), Russia (Crimea sanctions) and Saudi Arabia (human rights concerns), present challenges given their influence over other voting blocs. To complicate things further, Canada is seeking support from member countries in the middle east, but that won’t be a walk in the park given the tension around Israel’s annexation plans for part of the West Bank. Since the Trump Administration reversed long-standing US foreign policy that had viewed Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as ‘inconsistent’ with International Law, Arab League countries keep a close eye on how Canada votes on key UN resolutions and how our government addresses Israeli actions. It is hard to say if recent efforts to bolster Canada’s public support for Palestinian self-determination will have secured those votes. 

This makes it all the more important to court African and Asian countries. It is impressive the amount of time that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet have spent this past year or so courting leaders of African nations in pursuit of their support. But endorsement in Africa often comes with a price tag; usually promises to dedicate more money for development. Even with all the efforts made by our government, we can’t forget that China has huge influence over the African continent, given it owns most of the infrastructure there and also generously gives foreign aid money to the continent.

Let us not kid ourselves; this entire ‘Canada is back’ campaign will come down to a numbers game. To win a seat at the UNSC, we need support from two-thirds of the members (more than 128 votes) to beat out Norway or Ireland. The secret ballot vote is scheduled to be held on June 17th. Because of COVID19 restrictions, the Council has adopted a new voting arrangement, where a voting representative must show up at a designated venue during a specific time slot to cast their ballot. It means that Canadian representatives will not be able to do their politicking on the floor of the UN Security Council’s Assembly Hall. Instead, the Prime Minister and his team will likely be busy campaigning these next few weeks by making phone calls to world leaders to earn their support. Will the new voting arrangement work in Canada’s favour or against it? Only time will tell. 

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