Losing a Chance at the Security Seat Table

This is an opinion piece I co-authored with my sister on Canada losing a chance at the security seat at the United Nations. Why? Because we have not shown up when it comes to being a global citizen while others, including the Irish and Norwegians have. Voting Green will change that!

We lost the Security Council vote in 21 seconds. Now what?

By Erika Simpson and Michael Simpson | June 17, 2020

Any popularity contest, whether it be high school or the UN Security Council speaks volumes about the voters, and not just about the aspiring leader. What do they value? What do they want from their leadership? In 21 very long, silent seconds, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answered that question in advance of the June 17 vote for the hotly contested seat.

There is no doubt that COVID-19, inclusion, race, and populist leadership are rocking our sense of global security, adding to the long-standing questions of regional security in African hotspots like Mali or Sudan or the ever-present issue of nuclear proliferation so prominently brought to the fore in recent years by North Korea. So how did our feminist, liberal-internationalist, multilateralist Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, sporting a beard and long hair, measure up in the eyes of the world?

Perhaps no moment better captures the answer than our Prime Minister’s response to the press regarding a question about U.S. President Donald Trump, in which he paused for 21 long seconds before distancing Canada from the president. It was a moment caught between Canadian traditional quiet diplomacy, as a middle power, and a deafening display of outrage—accomplished by biting one’s diplomatic tongue in public. The moment, proudly shared on Twitter to his followers in the international community by Canada’s ambassador to the UN, Marc-André Blanchard, illustrated why we lost the seat. The world has noticed Canada’s complicity and does not approve.

Clearly, the world wants leaders willing to speak up, to risk relations with an increasingly unpopular president and openly speak truth to power. In his hesitation, the prime minister failed to show up, and it was noticed by the African and small island nations he has been courting for months.

Feminists and civil rights activists rarely bite their tongues! The international community is searching for solidarity and leadership willing to openly challenge the “me first” agenda of increasing populism in an era of COVID-19 and climate change. Ireland and Norway, have proven that putting money on the table for international development and peacekeepers on the ground is how to win the day. Actions speak louder than words and they definitely conquer silence.

Having lost, we need to dry our tears, stop gnashing our teeth, turn back to the grindstone, and seriously support the five pillars of Canadian foreign policy, including our fundamental respect for democracy with real money and real people. The prime minister needs to back the feminists in his cabinet, including the International Development Minister Katrina Gould, so they can put real feminist official development assistance (ODA) dollars on the table. If we want to earn a Security Council seat next time, we would do well to increase the percentage of Canada’s gross national income on ODA from 0.27 per cent to 0.7 per cent, as former prime minister Lester B. Pearson recommended decades ago in his role as one of the Three Wise Men. This was a target Mr. Pearson recommended decades ago, and a target Norway, at slightly more than one per cent of GNI, has passed.

We need to actually put peacekeepers on the ground, and more than just 43 personnel among the UN’s 82,000 uniformed peacekeepers currently deployed. Adding more Canadian soldiers and police to UN operations in African countries, like Mali—and possibly South American countries, like Venezuela—will burnish our image compared to Ireland, which has proudly extolled its contribution to every UN peacekeeping operation. Canada’s current number of soldiers places us in the lowest ranks of contributors, and belies the Canadian public’s perception that we are strong supporters of UN peacekeeping. Clearly, we were caught out by the international community and the only way back in will be with more peacekeepers on the ground.

On the thorny problem of nuclear proliferation, Canada should have at least participated in the debates surrounding the 2017 UN Ban Treaty (or the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons), which only needs 12 more ratifications to enter into force. Opportunities were lost to discuss nuclear disarmament, especially because the UN 2018 Conference on Disarmament was cancelled. The concept of a world summit is unlikely to be revisited in New York, especially given its COVID-epicentre dangers, so an invitation to Ottawa, perhaps via Zoom, to discuss ways to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty framework could be a new feather in Justin Trudeau’s cap, perhaps reminiscent of his father’s Peace Initiative in the 1980s, when Pierre travelled to 18 capitals at the height of Reagan’s Cold War against Russia.

Even high-profile decision-makers in favour of nuclear modernization recognize that if the 2020 NPT Review Conference—which has been delayed due to the pandemic to a later date—actually ends in debacle. That is highly likely, given current trends to tear up arms control agreements—then we must work harder toward the NPT Review Conference in 2025. Canada could take a lesson from Lloyd Axworthy’s playbook on landmines as he invited countries to Ottawa to discuss ridding the world of anti-personnel mines. Mr. Trudeau could do the same to discuss nuclear disarmament.

Now is the time to invite world leaders to Canada—cordon off Ottawa’s airport for COVID safety—and host a grand conference, perhaps in Gatineau, Que., at the Canadian Museum of History, because the Grand Hall will also remind world leaders of our aspiring reconciliation agenda with Indigenous People’s in this time of heightened racial tensions. Indeed, so much is possible for peace, despite losing the security seat.

Our approach at the UN towards Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals should—and simply must—be strengthened.We must demonstrate leadership on SDG 16 and prove how peace and justice is linked to the other goals such as climate change (13), poverty (1) and gender (5). Canada has a great deal to contribute on the COVID-induced agenda for disaster mitigation and the recent concern regarding a global food pandemic.

We can continue to sponsor conferences and promote multilateral, transparent and rules-based discussions without necessarily sitting at the UN’s Security Council table across from Russia, China, and France. More prominent solidarity, like Trudeau’s remarks at the UN’s high-level event on financing for development in the era of COVID-19, held last month, will build international confidence in Canada, particularly if it is backed up with action.

Ironically, Canada has an excellent record of support for UN (and NATO) infrastructure spending, plus we are very good at diplomacy —our diplomatic briefcases are bulging with soft power concepts and ideas based on combatting militarism. It may hurt to think that, despite the prime minister’s best efforts, the reward for a four-year campaign at a cost of approximately $1.5-million was a secret vote that cast us out. But the lesson is clear, next time we need to put our money and our people where our mouth is, as Ireland and Norway have clearly demonstrated. We should start now.