Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

An official looks over empty chairs ahead a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York on Sept. 20, 2017.

STEPHANE LEMOUTON/AFP/Getty Images

John Packer is the Neuberger-Jesin Professor of International Conflict Resolution at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law.

A cold shower is a good thing. It has the immediate benefit of bringing one to one’s senses.

In that way, Canada benefited this week in full view of the United Nations General Assembly as we lost a long-anticipated vote for one of the two temporary, two-year seats on the UN Security Council.

Story continues below advertisement

The result came fairly swiftly and clearly. Canada lost on the first ballot, finishing third behind Norway and Ireland for the two seats available.

The outcome was largely foreseeable, but the decisiveness of the vote is difficult to spin after all the hubris of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s touting that “Canada was back” from the dark days of the Conservative government. But when the votes were counted, Canada failed to garner even as many as Stephen Harper government won back in 2010. Whatever assets and advantages Canadian diplomats asserted, and whatever they may have promised, the effort obviously failed. One glaring aspect of the vote is that Canada’s perception of our place in the world does not reflect reality. Reliance on our purported status as a “middle power,” of the “Canadian brand,” of our “soft power” – none of that adds up. We just lost to two small countries each with about one-seventh our population, each less than a quarter of our GDP, neither of which enjoy seats at important clubs such as the G7 and G20 or memberships in the large multilateral organizations of the Commonwealth and La Francophonie.

Canada’s decision to seek a Security Council seat was ill-advised. We started very late – literally a decade after Ireland and nearly a decade after Norway announced their bids. The choice to contest was in itself not a friendly act among allies within the Western Europe and Others Group of UN member states (the regional bloc from which the eventual choice was made). By any assessment, Norway and Ireland also enjoyed advantages given their relative contributions to development assistance, peacekeeping and beyond. Both of our competitors clearly punch above their weight internationally – Norway through its stellar record in development co-operation and genuine leadership in global peacemaking, and Ireland through its outsize efforts leveraged through the force multiplier of its European Union membership.

Perhaps in the happy days following young Mr. Trudeau’s election in 2015 and his subsequent global toasting, there was some attraction in staking the bid. But many have since remarked upon the yawning gap between promise and delivery. While Mr. Trudeau cannot distance himself from this loss, some responsibility inescapably lays with Canada’s novice ambassador at the UN. After all, Canada’s hand was not necessarily a poor one. In real terms, Canada is a top-10 donor for UN Peacekeeping, a top-10 donor for total voluntary contributions, and a top-10 assessed contributor for the regular UN budget. Evidently, we just punched below our weight.

There is much that could be criticized about Canada’s international-development policy, including Ottawa’s recent silence in the face of the Trump administration’s shocking attack on the International Criminal Court and its support for Israel’s effective annexation of occupied territories. Canada’s claims that it stands up for the international rule of law are increasingly seen to hold little water and to be out of step with prevailing global challenges, which demand clarity of thought and determined action. Simply put: For many, Canada does not appear credible.

Perhaps more importantly, Canada placed a great many eggs in the basket of its Security Council bid. As other experts have also argued, this begs a major rethink of our overall foreign policy.

In our complex, interdependent and tumultuous world, preoccupation with purported “top tables” is folly. It is plain that the UN Security Council is presently dysfunctional and necessary reform is certainly not going to happen in the next few years. In fact, the United Nations itself is in trouble, as is the entire Bretton Woods system. By contrast, much is changing beyond the blue flag. Regionalism has substantially progressed, as have other bilateral and multilateral arrangements that address an array of global issues. Canada actually has important standing and could increase its influence in such forums and contexts. There, we could make a difference.

Story continues below advertisement

Two years being invested in a frustrating Security Council would have only been a diversion from the work that Canada can do to meet the diverse challenges of our time. We are now free to rethink our policy, redirecting our efforts and resources and pursuing both traditional and novel diplomacy in ways that matter. In this respect, Canada’s failure to win a seat at the Security Council should not be interpreted as a repudiation of Canada as a partner; after all, Norway and Ireland won their seats at least as much as Canada lost. Canada is still within the UN family, and so it will continue to be an important actor and free to act. How we should do so – to maximize our reach so that Canada’s bold leadership will be welcomed and followed around the world – should now be the focus of serious consideration.

Canada lost its campaign for a seat on the United Nations Security Council after starting an effort years behind eventual victors Norway and Ireland, but Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne says Canadian diplomats gave it their all anyway. The Canadian Press

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies