It’s the United Nations General Assembly this week. A time when world leaders get together and talk about the greatest problems facing the world right now. This year, the big items on the agenda are North Korea, the environment, human-rights violations in various nations and the refugee crisis. Canada’s got another thing on its mind this week too. We want a spot at the U.N. table, and that’s not as easy to get as you might think (if you do, in fact, think that getting a spot at the U.N. is easy).
In case you don’t remember, Trudeau actually ran for Prime Minister on the promise that he would try to get Canada back on the U.N. Security Council. Last year at the Assembly, he announced that Canada would be putting in a bid for a two-year term on the Council starting in 2021. So what does this really mean for Canada?
Here’s the deal with the Security Council
The U.N. Security Council consists of five permanent members (The United States, The United Kingdom, China, France and Russia) and ten non-permanent members that serve a two-year term and are elected by the general assembly. The U.N. itself consists of 178 other countries that aren’t on the Security Council. That means they can participate, but they don’t get a vote when it comes down to making U.N. decisions.
Canada has been a member of the U.N. since it was first established in 1945 at the end of WWII. We’ve held a non-permanent seat six separate times since then, the last time being in 2000, although we ran for a seat in 2010 and lost to Germany and Portugal. Now, Canada is up against Norway and Ireland for the 2021 seat.
Why would Canada want to be on the Council?
While a country in the general assembly can make their concerns known about any U.N. issue (with permission from the Council), only a country on the Council has the power to put in a concrete vote. It’s the difference between actions and words, really. Canada wants to be a part of the decision-making process at the concrete level.
It also means a closer relationship with those five permanent members. Canada already has pretty good relationships with most of those nations, but it pays to be in a room with them at the U.N.
What are the costs?
So how do you get those votes? It can end up costing the country millions of dollars to put up a successful bid (or an unsuccessful one). A lot of that money is for paying the salaries of staffers who will work at the general assembly to coordinate the election efforts.
Even more of it can go towards bringing other nations’ leaders to your country to visit and schmooze. Don’t think about it as bribing, think of it as showing other world leaders what your country has to offer. These trips are also opportunities to talk about your country’s goals and views on global policy.
Interestingly, having a seat doesn’t mean you have to pledge more peacekeepers to the UN or really even participate more. You just need to have someone at the UN in New York City in case there is an international emergency, but other than that, it’s mostly business as usual. How much you do during the time you hold a seat really depends on the state of the world during your two years on the Council.
So what’s the likelihood of Canada getting in?
We’re at a bit of a disadvantage as far as prep goes at this point. Countries usually get about 10 years to prepare and strengthen relationships with other countries before the vote. Canada has only left itself four years. Doesn’t look like time is on our side here.
Also, our proximity to the United States could either help or hinder us. It might be good to suggest that a geographical closeness with the U.S. means we have influence over the American president (remember, Donald Trump probably won’t be president anymore in 2021). That close relationship might also do us harm if countries would prefer less American influence in the room.
Either way, Canada will likely continue to participate in the U.N. as usual. Trudeau has pledged 600 peacekeepers to be deployed by the U.N. in a time of need, but they have yet to be called upon. For us, it’s pretty much business as usual, but it’s good to know what our country is doing on the global stage.