Canada to bid for Security Council seat: A return to peacekeeping over open warfare?

If successful, Canada's bid will end the nation's longest absence from the Security Council since the founding of the UN.

Adrees Latif/Reuters
Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau arrives for a press conference in the lobby of the United Nations Headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York.

It's time for Canada reclaim its position on the global stage, said Justin Trudeau in announcing his plan to bid for a 2021-22 UN Security Council seat.

The Canada that was committed to solving global problems during the 1980s and '90s is back, he said.

"We are determined to revitalize Canada's historic role as a key contributor to United Nations peacekeeping, in addition to helping advance current reform efforts," Prime Minister Trudeau said in a speech at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

"And Canada will increase its engagement with peace operations, not just by making available our military, police, and specialized expertise, but also by supporting the civilian institutions that prevent conflict, bring stability to fragile states, and help societies recover in the aftermath of crisis.”

If it succeeds, this would end Canada's longest absence from the council in the history of the UN. Canada has previously held a seat on the council six times, most recently in 1999-2000. In 2010, Canada was forced to withdraw from competition with too few votes, Reuters reports.

Canada will be running against Ireland and Norway for the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) seat. That's one of the most competitive groups, say experts.

"There is the issue – or not – of the solidarity of the European Union," said Paul Heinbecker, who was Canada's UN ambassador during the 2000s, according to the Toronto Sun. "We were able to split the Europeans in 1999, but it's not obvious to me that you can do that again."

Canada has to prove it deserves the seat, analysts say.

"If we are going to jump the queue – and there may be good reasons to do so – we are going to have to mount a particularly effective campaign," said Fen Hampson, a professor at Carleton University and director of the global security and politics program at the International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ontario, CBC News reported.

Canada’s contribution has been declining over the years, the Economist notes.

Before 1995 governments of all hues pursued a generous foreign policy, even when Canada’s own finances were so rocky that this was hard to afford. Since then the country’s economy has improved but its external policy, reflected in defence and aid spending, has grown far meaner.

But over the past 20 years, “Canada has never contributed its fair share to international engagement, whether compared with what Canada committed in the past or with what other countries are committing today,” wrote Megan McQuillan and Robert Greenhill in their assessment of Canada's global engagement for the Canadian International Council.

Around the world, most people view Canada as a friendly country, though the majority don't know what is happening in Canada, found CBC and Montreal Gazette interviewers, underscoring the argument that Canada's influence has drastically declined.

To increase their role in the world, analysts say, Canada has to be clear about its agenda.

"Those supporting our candidacy will not only want to hear that 'Canada is back in the world,' but also what exactly is it that we are bringing to the world and prepared to do," Professor Hampson said.

The 15-member Security Council contains five permanent members with veto power – the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China – also known as the P5. The rest of the seats are distributed to regional countries on a rotating basis.

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