10/05/2012 05:41 EDT | Updated 12/05/2012 05:12 EST

Minister Baird: Bullying Doesn't Belong in the UN

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird announces Canada is breaking diplomatic relations with Iran during an availability at the APEC Summit in Vladivostok, Russia, Friday, Sept. 7, 2012. Baird said Friday that the Canadian embassy in Tehran will close immediately and Iranian diplomats in Canada have been given five days to leave. He says he's worried about the safety of diplomats in Tehran following recent attacks on the British embassy there. He's also warning Canadians to avoid traveling to Iran. Baird says Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and has been spreading anti-Semitic hatred. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Adrian Wyld )

In what has been described as a "broadside" and a "blistering attack," Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird criticized the United Nations in his speech to the General Assembly earlier this week.

After listing some of the UN's many accomplishments, Baird implied that the UN was an organization with good intentions that went nowhere, stating "You measure results by measuring the results. Not by weighing best efforts. Not by counting good intentions. Not by calculating inputs." He concluded that "the United Nations must spend less time looking at itself, and more time focused on the problems that demand its attention." He then briefly commented on Canada's commitment to prosperity through free markets before spending fully half his speech arguing for a greater focus on security and interventions in Syria and Iran specifically.

Whether these views are simply borrowed from conservative thinkers to the south, or whether they are motivated by animus at perceived snubs -- Canada's failure to win a Security Council seat in 2010 and the recent censure by the Committee Against Torture in respect of our obligations to Omar Khadr -- is known only to the Minister, but they were sufficiently offensive that former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney offered rare public censure of the Conservative government.

According to the Globe and Mail, Mulroney called the United Nations "'a vital instrument" of the Canadian commitment to multilateralism. "We don't have the strength to impose our will or get our way at all times.... We need the instruments of international harmony," he said.

After more than 60 years, what have been the results of the UN's good intentions? Consider these five:

  • The UN was formed after WW2 to save us from the scourge of war and there has been no great power war since its creation. The UN is the most successful tool for peace ever created.

  • The UN also eradicated polio, something no single nation could ever have done, and in many other respects the UN is the greatest disease fighting tool ever created (except perhaps science itself, and with all due respect to Sir Alexander Fleming).

  • The UN also operates the World Food Program, and has been the most successful institution in world history at reducing hunger and poverty.

  • The UN helps normalize and standardize laws in many fields from international shipping to arms control, from the Antarctic continent to the polar sea-bed to the celestial bodies, and is not just the best but the only effective global institution for reaching such international consensus.

  • Finally, although there are many other reasons to support the UN, the UN is a democracy: the General Assembly operates on a one-nation-one-vote principle, and while the Security Council must and does reserve to the most powerful nations the ability to declare or deny a legal war, all the dictators that come to the UN must and have acknowledged that however despotic their own regime the world itself is governed by democracy and debate, not dictatorship and coercion. So the UN is also the greatest tool for spreading democracy ever.

It is not enough for the Minister to imply that the UN is a failure, and demand rhetorically that we judge by results. He owes it to Canadians and the UN to answer his own demand, to actually look at those results, and to replace his rhetorical implication with a reasoned judgment: Spreading peace and democracy. Reducing hunger, poverty, and disease. Providing the forum in which present and future problems can be resolved freely and diplomatically. These are not mere good intentions, but the real successes of the United Nations that all Canadians can support, and these are some of the benefits against which the expense of the UN must be weighed before making spurious attacks about its efficiency or bureaucracy.

Mulroney is right that "we need the instruments of international harmony," perhaps now more than ever in history. While the Minister's focus on security and armed intervention is lamentable as a matter of foreign policy, his comments about the effectiveness of the United Nations were simply wrong and seemed much better suited to a Wild Rose rally than the General Assembly.

If our government perceives that it is being snubbed by the United Nations, perhaps it should look at foreign and diplomatic policies instead of going to New York to pick up its proverbial marbles and return home.