How Did Canada Lose to Norway and Ireland in Its Campaign for a UN Security Council Seat?

The Basics:  

  • The United Nations was formed in 1945, at the end of World War II.  There were 51 member countries.  Harry S. Truman was President of the USA and the UN's home was established in New York City.
  • The goal of the United Nations is world peace and security.
  • The Security Council is the power center of the UN.  It has five permanent members, the "big" winners of WWII:  the USA, France, the UK, Russia, and China.
  • On a rotational basis, other countries are elected by all 193 members of the UN General Assembly to occupy temporary, 2-year positions in the Security Council.
  • There are currently 10 temporary (non-permanent, 2-year) positions in the Security Council. The permanent members have remained the same since 1945.
  • The non-permanent positions are elected on a geographical basis, so Canada was competing against Ireland and Norway in what is known as the "Weog block" (Western Europe and Others).
  • In the 2020, three-country competition for two Security Council seats, Canada came in third behind Norway and Ireland.


Why did Canada lose?  The Said and the unsaid.

Here is a list of reasons I have surmised ("the unsaid") and I have read ("the said" which someone else has surmised):
  1.  Canada is a strong supporter of Israel.  According to Wikipedia, citing a CBC commentary by Evan Dyer, Canada's "consistent voting record in support of Israel" was an obstacle to its election.
  2. Over time, Canada has had a Security Council Seat for twelve years.  In other words, Canada has won this election process six times.  It was someone else's turn.
  3. Norway spent 2.8 million dollars campaigning for a seat; Canada only spent 1.74 million.  (Who knew there were campaigns for the seats?  Didn't we just put SNC-Lavalin on trial for paying bribes to foreign officials?)
  4. As part of the campaigning, Canada gave out free tickets to a Celine Dion concert.  Ireland gave out free U2 concert tickets.  (Turns out Bono is more popular in the UN than Celine.)
  5. Gender equity.  (This so ironic, it's almost funny.)  In Canada, we might think of our Prime Minister as the Poster Boy for gender equity.  The Security Council, as it turns out, is also very interested in gender equity.  The Norwegian Ambassador to the UN and the Irish Ambassador to the UN are both women.  Their election added two more women to the Security Council.   Canada's Ambassador to the UN and our candidate for the Security Council was Mark-André Blanchard.
  6. It's a fair guess that China did not vote for Canada.  Nor would any country under Chinese influence and, if the rumours are even half true, that would be a lot of votes.  After the vote, Norway's Prime Minister expressed the intention "to remain on good terms with China, Russia, and the United States."  Something Canada seems to have trouble doing.
  7. No-one I have read is saying so but I think it is a fair bet that the Trump White House would be unlikely to endorse a Canadian presence on the Security Council.  Trump's animosity toward Trudeau is well documented.  I can recall at least two incidents in which Trump described Trudeau as "two-faced" or words to that effect--The G7 and Davos.
  8. Why vote for the American lapdog?  Despite the exchange of insults between the President and the Prime Minister, Canada is perceived as being incapable of opposing or unwilling to oppose US hegemony.   The campaign for a Security Council seat has been going on at the same time as Canada has been holding Meng, the Huawei CFO, under house arrest to honour a US extradition request.  The arrest has been counter to Canadian interests while it serves American corporate and trade interests.  Historically, Canada has been elected to the Security Council once every 10 years under both Conservative and Liberal governments.  It has now been 20 years since Canada last held a seat.  Canada's willingness to sacrifice its own interests in order to accommodate an American "request" leads to the conclusion that electing Canada would simply be giving the USA another voice at Security Council meetings.

Does it matter?

According to Andrew Scheer, who seems to be in permanent bitch mode these days, the campaign was Justin Trudeau's "personal vanity project."  However, when the Harper/Scheer Conservatives failed to win a Security Council seat in 2010 "foreign affairs minister John Baird attributed the failure to win a seat to principled positions taken by Canada on certain international issues."  

I have gone looking for answers to the question "What are the benefits of a temporary seat on the Security Council?" and the answers have been neither tangible nor convincing.  "Having a seat at the table" is an interesting synecdoche but what does it really mean?  It's prestigious?  How does that prestige play out to be of any real benefit to Canada?

According to the rules of the Security Council, any one of the five permanent members can veto any proposal presented.  Hypothetically, if Canada were a member and presented an idea, all five of China, Russia, France, the UK, and the USA would have to agree before there could be any further discussion.  If all five permanent members wanted an idea to be discussed, they certainly wouldn't need Canada to propose it.  Or is the Security Council really about backroom deals, corridor conversations, and whisper campaigns?  If so, do they really need to be Security Council members in order for Ambassador A to lean over to Ambassador B and say, "Hey, why don't you let our citizens out of jail, and maybe we can sign a trade deal!"


Is the UN a dysfunctional bureaucracy?

The theoretical goals of the UN--"world peace and security"--could not be more desirable.  In practice, it appears to have fallen prey to the syndrome which plagues so many institutions, (governments, political parties, universities, security and police forces, even non-profit organizations and charities): a preoccupation with its own bureaucratic survival over the underlying raison d'être for which it exists.

Seventy-five years after it was first formed, Professor of International Relations, Jean-François Thibault, asks, "is the Security Council still relevant in its current form?"  Thibault is "not optimistic." We can only hope that the organization reinvigorates the goals to which it aspires before it expires.


Addendum

An astute reader of this blog asked me if there has ever been a case of the non-permanent members of the Security Council affecting the outcome of voting on a particular resolution.  I have browsed 500 (of the 2500 available) examples of Security Council votes.  In these 500 cases, there was not a single example of one of the 15 members of the Security Council voting against a resolution.  In a handful of cases, there were two or three abstentions.

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