Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

The United Nations graces a door at the world body's headquarters in New York. (STAN HONDA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
The United Nations graces a door at the world body's headquarters in New York. (STAN HONDA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Globe Essay

What to do if Canada wins a seat at the Security Council table Add to ...

Victory is not in the bag, but chances are still good that Canada will win a seat in the UN Security Council election to be held on Oct. 12. We have been elected every time we have run, roughly once each decade, since 1948; governments from Pearson and Trudeau to Mulroney and Chrétien have built a solid reputation at the UN for Canada over many years; and we have been campaigning for this election off and on since we last left the council in 2000. Our ambassador in New York has been burning the midnight oil for several years pursuing the 128 votes we need to get elected. The G20 and G8 summits and the Olympics, serendipitously in Canada this year, will at least have shown Canada as a significant country, in spite of the extraordinary costs. But is this a case of needing to be careful of what we wish for? If we win, can Canada carry its end of the electoral bargain? What should Canada do for the next two years on the council? And why should Canadians care about it all, anyway?

More related to this story

There is no doubt that Canada can play this game. We proved it the last time we served on the Security Council, when we implemented a well-thought-out agenda, from leading the fight on blood diamonds, to promoting the creation of the International Criminal Court, to protecting civilians caught up in armed conflict, to promoting "smart sanctions" against recalcitrant regimes, and more. That Human Security agenda still resonates strongly internationally, even if the term has been excised from Canada's current diplomatic lexicon, for ideological reasons.

But do we have the ideas to succeed this time? What should we actually do on Jan. 1, 2011, when, if all goes well, we take our seat? The possibilities are endless but here is a decalogue of suggestions.

First and foremost, we need to take ourselves seriously again, to pursue an active foreign policy informed by facts and compassion, rather than by ideology and partisan calculation. To get back in the game at the UN, we should tear a page from the British playbook, and make ourselves indispensable, or at least so valuable that others seek our help. The world body provides us with a key platform for promoting our ideas and protecting our security interests, notably on arms control and disarmament; human security, human rights and democracy; and poverty alleviation and aid accountability. It should be possible, for example, for the Harper government to advance its maternal and children's health objectives in the council, because conflict aggravates the risks for women's health.

Second, we need to take the UN seriously again. We need to recognize that in a shrinking and integrating world, as the financial near-meltdown showed, good global governance has become an end in itself, or very nearly so. The processes of global governance have also become an integral part of pursuing the goals of security, safety, prosperity and dignity, internationally as well as nationally. A lot of water has flowed under the UN's bridge since 1945, and the institution has its problems, which are largely the consequences of an increasingly integrated and complex world, in which power is shifting and consensus is scarce on just about everything but the law of gravity. It is all the more important, therefore, that Washington, Beijing, Brasilia, Berlin, Brussels, London, Paris, Moscow, Delhi, Pretoria, Tokyo, Ottawa and all the other leading capitals find a shared vision, and engage constructively in New York. Further, despite the emergence of new institutions, especially the nascent G20, we need to recognize that the world still needs the sexagenarian UN to succeed, and it also needs the synergies that are possible if the two entities co-operate. U.S. leadership is key and Chinese engagement is increasingly important. But Canada can help, too. And we can work from our seats at both tables to promote co-operation between them.

Third, Canada, the country that invented "the responsibility to protect" civilians in conflict, should participate again in UN-led military operations and upgrade their capability. We rank an embarrassing 49th in our contributions to UN-commanded missions. Even if we count our contribution to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, as professional and dedicated and costly as it has been, we still would not rank in the Top 10 troop contributors. Moreover, after Afghanistan, we will have a high-quality military force, both combat-capable and operationally savvy. We should use it to good advantage. There are strategic benefits in working through the UN with its greater international legitimacy and its capacity for peace-building, which are absent in American-led coalitions of the willing, and even in NATO operations.

Single page

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories