Canada Faces Tough Fights At UN, Prospects Of Bleak World: International Experts

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OTTAWA — Canada faces being reduced to a bit player in a broken world when — and if — it returns to the United Nations Security Council in 2021.

That is one of several sobering messages offered to the Trudeau Liberals by leading international thinkers and players at a foreign policy conference at the University of Ottawa this week.

justin trudeau united nations
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon at the United Nations headquarters in New York, Wednesday March 16, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)

The Liberals have pledged to re-embrace the world's multilateral institutions, especially the UN and have announced a Canadian run for two-year term on the Security Council that would start in 2021.

While Canada exerted some influence on its last Security Council term in 1999-2000 with then-foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy's human security agenda, things have changed.

Ian Martin, the executive director of the UN Security Council Report, says the days when the temporary members wielded any meaningful influence on the council are long gone.

UNSC not what it used to be

The Security Council's agenda is now dominated by its permanent five members — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — and the rotating, 10-country cast of temporary members essentially does their bidding.

"Canada needs to begin thinking about its future membership of the Security Council by recognizing just how bad is the current shape of the Security Council," said Martin, who has also headed UN missions in several countries.

"And unless things have changed significantly by the time Canada becomes a member of the council, that too will be Canada's experience."

Former Nigerian foreign minister Ibrahim Gambari, now the co-chair of the Commission on Global Security, Justice and Governance, agreed.

"There's an African proverb that you cannot dip your hand into the same river twice ... by the second time, it's not the same river," he said.

"Canada is coming back, hopefully, to the Security Council. But it's a different Security Council. It's a different world. It's a different United Nations."

"Canada is coming back, hopefully, to the Security Council. But it's a different Security Council. It's a different world. It's a different United Nations."

Walter Kemp, the Canadian-born vice president of the International Peace Institute, echoed what the conference was told a day earlier: the Liberals must avoid being seduced by the nostalgia of past accomplishments by Axworthy or Nobel Laureate Lester Pearson as it charts a new foreign policy.

"There's a feeling that Canada is back, but it's not as if Canada just left the room for 10 minutes and just came back," he said. "It's been disengaged for years and in the meantime, the room and the people in it have changed.

UN dying: Former Australian prime minister

Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd said the UN is "dying a death of thousand cuts" and needs countries that care for it, such as Canada, to help save it.

"Look folks, you have a great history . . . We're acutely conscious of Canada's long tradition of liberal internationalism," said Rudd, who is heading an international commission that is trying to fix the UN's faults.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion's new "responsible conviction" concept, which he outlined for the conference earlier, could yield results that strengthen international organizations, Rudd said.

"Canada's brain power and its global diplomatic network can be brought to bear."

Louise Arbour, the former Supreme Court of Canada justice and former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, said there are no guarantees that Canada will even get a seat. The 2020 Security Council election will include tough competition from the likes of Norway and Ireland.

"You know what? This is risky. Look at what the competition is going to be," said Arbour. "This is not a shoo-in."

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