Report: On The Road For A Canadian UN Security Council Seat


It has been announced, recently, that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would attempt to seek a temporary United Nations Security Council seat in 2020 (Axworthy & Rock, 2016). This is a step for Canada to re-engage with institutions that place global affairs as a primary responsibility (Axworthy & Rock, 2016). Canada’s previous run as a UN Security Council member was from 1999 to 2000, where it proved to be a leading player in establishing credibility back to international security (Von Riekhoff, 2002). But, if Canada wants to succeed another Security Council election victory, a number of factors need to be considered.

Getting a seat in an international institution comes at a price and Canada is no exception. First, this paper will address Canada’s contribution to its position after the 1998 election and assesses its former status as a power player in international relations (Von Riekhoff, 2002). Next, the challenges to achieving non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council will be discussed (Malone, 2000). Finally, the paper will conclude by examining the prospects of Prime Minister Trudeau’s goals, if he wins a 2020 seat, and explain the possible ability to rebrand Canada’s foreign policy as a temporary member of the UN Security Council (Standish, 2016).

The Security Council has become the foremost figure within the United Nations and has aided in the maintenance of international stability (Dreher et al., 2014). However, the Security Council is divided into permanent and non-permanent actors, which makes the non-permanent actors subject to limited influence on decision-making processes (Von Riekhoff, 2002). This is especially true, knowing the permanent members, such as the United States, Russia, and France can invoke their veto power, which enables them to effectively prevent any decisions that are deemed unfavorable to pass the resolution stage. Despite this apparent impediment for non-permanent countries, Canada has been recognized as a major actor during its run 1999 to 2000 (Axworthy & Rock, 2016). Canada’s goals on constructing human security policies and its interests in the prevention of rogue state leaders who abused their power propelled the United Nations into achieving much of their proposed ideas (Axworthy & Rock, 2016). As such, Canada’s unusually vigorous performance was dependent on a number of factors (Von Riekhoff, 2002). For instance, Canada’s policies focused on upholding swift momentum, which helped create a strong team of foreign policy professionals, who were led by a committed Foreign Minister that made sure that any UN initiatives were based on experience and thematic approaches (Von Reikhoff, 2002). This created a trend for the Security Council to open their doors for frequent collaboration between other non-permanent members, other international organizations, and other agents of civil society (Von Riekhoff, 2002). These continuous trends of accepting international communication energized sanction committees to create thorough investigations of regimes that threatened international security and peace (Von Riekhoff, 2002). This model was successful in producing economic and diplomatic sanctions towards Angola that soon became a standardized method to monitor accountability in terrorist operations, particularly after the events of the September 11th attacks (Von Riekhoff, 2002).

Today, a large part of Canada’s contribution to the United Nations is through the promotion of policies in relation to peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations (Badescu, 2010). Canada has continued to place civilian protection as its top priority and maintains its position to facilitate solutions to combat these problems (Badescu, 2010). As such, the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs has administered programs to generate debates on identifying the best solutions to issues regarding human security, which has led to numerous publications of appropriate training and strategies to improve the power of the UN and members of the international community (Badescu, 2010). Prime Minister Trudeau has made it clear that, if Canada is elected into the 2020 Security Council, Canada will remain as a political force in establishing efforts to further promote global engagement and unification (Standish, 2016).

Although Canada had a successful term as a non-permanent actor in the UN Security Council, such institutions have the tendency to allocate memberships based on relations between countries (Dreher et al., 2014). As such, compromises between populous countries are fundamental for any countries seeking temporary positions within the Security Council (Dreher et al., 2014). For instance, countries that benefit has a partnership with the United States’ military forces have an advantage of winning seats with the same concept being applied to other allies of the five permanent Security Council members (Dreher et al., 2014). The criticism of this approach is highlighting the power of the bureaucratic nature of international bodies and its influence toward countries seeking memberships to shift their values and align with the greater powers (Malone, 2000). This creates trust between the powerful players and the ones that want to be part of the game (Dreher et al., 2014). Monteleone (2015) states that once an international organization deviates from democracy and transitions into a bargaining environment, political coalitions will arise and long-term goals that were once sought during the decision-making processes would crumble. Such modifications might increase international participation, but for the wrong reasons (Monteleone, 2015). Soon it will be apparent that the voting behaviour of the UN Security Council will be replaced by sponsorships based on political alliances (Monteleone, 2015). If Canada wants to enter the game, the shift to a membership-sponsoring behaviour can affect Canada’s foreign policy.

Paquin and Bearegard (2013) explores Canadian foreign policy and any alignment to certain partners that might have been formed between 2004 and 2011. It has been determined that Canada’s foreign policy tends to be aligned with or based upon the foreign policies of the United States, Britain, and France (Paquin & Beauregard, 2013). The study explains that Canada, at certain times of international crises, has discarded their foreign policy independence and adopted behaviours of continentalism and trans-Atlanticism, in which its positions on global affairs are heavily dependent on cooperating with state partners rather than leading and managing debates on global disputes (Paquin & Beauregard, 2013). However, Paquin and Beauregard (2013) demonstrates a shift in Canada’s behaviour depending on which party is running the country. As such, Harper’s Conservative government took more stances without much interference from international partners compared to his predecessor, former Prime Minister Paul Martin (Paquin & Beauregard, 2013). The study was able to support the notion of the differences on global affairs between the Liberal and Conservative governments and their respectful methods in advancing Canada’s international interests (Paquin & Beauregard, 2013). Paquin and Beauregard (2013) also highlights the downward trend Canada seems to be heading in, as their continuous approach to be internationally dependent is abandoning Canada’s potential role to take charge of crisis management, leaving the United States and Europe to handle the decision-making processes.

Since the abandonment of democracy is a factor noticed in the Security Council election and decision process, it is beneficial for non-democratic actors to seize a position and build relations with the permanent members (Bueno de Mesquita & Smith, 2010). The opportunity has the potential to harm the prosperity of endangered citizens of rogue states, as well as generating compromises between the leading actors and their enemies (Malone, 2000). Furthermore, non-democratic actors can trade their political support for policy insurance and make sure their goals are met in the decision-making process (Bueno de Mesquita & Smith, 2010). As a result, promoting diplomatic sanctions against violators of international peace and security will be difficult to accomplish which, in turn, affects Canada’s stances of advocating international sanction committees (Dreher et al., 2014).

Prime Minister Trudeau’s move to globalization is contrary to his predecessor’s policy, in which Harper was heavily critical of the United Nations’ capability for global unification strategies (Standish, 2016). This move by Harper led to a clash of relations with allied leaders, such as U.S. President Barack Obama (Standish, 2016). As mentioned previously, the Conservative government, under Stephen Harper, attempted to demonstrate its independence on the world stage (Paquin & Beauregard, 2013). On the other hand, Trudeau made it his mission to see an increase of Canadian involvement in future UN peacekeeping missions, which was once a significant contribution of Canadian foreign policy (Standish, 2016). Standish (2016) suggests Trudeau’s image as a peacekeeping enthusiast is a strategic component to get Canada’s name mentioned in the Security Council election. Such strategies are seen as an opportunity for Canada to re-brand its foreign policy by re-engaging itself in international institutions, like the UN Security Council and developing policies opposite to Stephen Harper’s (Standish, 2016).

Another step to advance Canada’s bid for the UN Security Council seat is to gather supporters and create a relationship with other nations (Blanchfield, 2016). In this case, Canada was able to earn the support from Serbia, which is a key investment by the Serbian government and a vital endorsement for Canada (Blanchfield, 2016). After Canada lost its bid to Portugal in 2010, support from a European country is important to influence other European countries to support Canada, especially since Serbia is on its way to becoming a member of the European Union (Blacnfield, 2016). It is also the perfect bargaining chip for Serbia to use in order to increase Europe’s support for Canada if the European Union is desperate enough to want a Serbian participation within their group (Blanchfield, 2016). As such, the spread of Canada’s goodwill unto the international crowd is a satisfying way to place Canada’s platform of inclusion, diversity, and civilian rights at the table of the Security Council (Axworthy & Rock, 2016).

So far, it seems to be working. Canada has successfully launched itself as a leader in global affairs, such as by accepting Syrian refugees a few months after Prime Minister Trudeau took office (Axworthy & Rock, 2016). The results can be favorable for Canada in two contrasting ways (Axworthy & Rock, 2016). On one hand, this reduces pressure on the European countries to accept a large group of refugees but, ironically, the attention of Canadian inclusionary values have guided other countries to engage in possible refugee resettlements programs (Axworthy & Rock, 2016). As stated earlier, pleasing Europe is crucial to any sort of advancement in the Security Council platform (Blanchfield, 2016). As long as Canada stays true to its current values and reassesses the challenges of foreign policy alignment with popular actors, Canada should be able to have a steady path to winning a seat in the UN Security Council by 2020 (Axworthy & Rock, 2016).






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Wilson Adore

Wilson Adore is an undergraduate student studying Forensic Anthropology and Political Science at the University of Toronto Mississauga. He is currently a Freelance Writer for the OWP focusing on security politics, foreign policy and terrorism. He is also a writer representing Amnesty International Canada and a member of the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy Toronto Office.

About Wilson Adore

Wilson Adore is an undergraduate student studying Forensic Anthropology and Political Science at the University of Toronto Mississauga. He is currently a Freelance Writer for the OWP focusing on security politics, foreign policy and terrorism. He is also a writer representing Amnesty International Canada and a member of the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy Toronto Office.