Thwarted by China and India’s political ambitions and Africa’s avarice, Canada must reflect upon the message that was delivered by the United Nations (UN) last week. Though this seems like a low-point in Canadian foreign policy, this setback does have a silver lining. We can now ask the question, “What does the UN truly mean to us?”
An organization that has become cumbersome and corrupt, it no longer reflects Canadian values nor does it serve our political interests. When it arose out of the ashes of the League of Nations, it was premised upon the ideal of collective security to ensure international peace and stability. States were only admitted to the Security Council because they were willing to contribute militarily to maintaining international order, as per a clause introduced by Canada. As a country trying to establish its ‘individuality’ in international politics, Canada became an active participant on the world stage, though Cold War politics influenced its part. Overseas development assistance and peacekeeping, in which Canada played a leading role in developing, were both products of this ‘war,’ changing in scope and understanding only after 1991 with the Cold War’s end.
The UN might still serve these principles, but the face and the power of this organization have changed and Canada has found itself marginalized. Domestically, our politicians are playing the ‘blame game’ while reminiscing on our past glories and postulating that we can once again become a prominent actor in world politics. There are talks of us becoming an environmental leader or undertaking other roles within the UN system, but in truth, do we want to continue on this path?
We have taken part in the UN system out of habit and existential angst, as if we would cease to be a country if we were not to fully participate within this organization. But have we asked whether the UN serves our interests? This is not to suggest that we should forego international politics altogether, isolating ourselves on the North American continent. There are plenty of other international fora that can still give us that presence on the world stage and would lend us a greater voice. The G8, the Commonwealth and La Francophonie are just three examples. Furthermore, our interests are more regional in nature and it is here where we should strive to make a difference.
Obviously, the UN is not going to go away over night, and so we should maintain our membership in this organization. We can quietly sit back in the General Assembly and watch and listen from the wings of this stage, allowing others to take on those responsibilities that we took on in the past. This would give us the opportunity to comment and vote upon matters that affect Canada when such issues arise. We should expend our political, military and economic energies on where they would best serve Canada, preserving our own interests as other states do, and shake off those shackles of tradition and the naïve faith in the international system, which have type-cast us.
It is through defining ourselves in this manner and not allowing or using the UN to define who we are, that would allow Canada to truly accept what it has become. This maturity in statehood would give us that sense of individuality that we have sought for nearly a century. Only then we would become the leader we see ourselves to be.
John Kennair is an international consultant and professor of laws who lives in St. Albert.