Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan
Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan
A little glazed over with all the COVID news? Weary of the reports, statistics changing every 15 minutes, the opinions, warnings, police orders? Not to diminish the importance of any of these, and of the dangers which this pandemic poses, but aren’t there other subjects worth at least a thought? Like … like the United Nations? The UN’s Security Council?
In the early stages of COVID, and now forgotten, we learned Prime Minister Trudeau was touring African nations – drumming up support for his government’s election to the UN’s Security Council. This is an important international body, but apart from being virtuous, polite Canadians, what would sell them on supporting our Canada? Do we really merit that seat? Or can we now promise to do better than the days of horse-trading, sabre-rattling, and corporate favour-collecting for foreign policy?
The Security Council is the UN’s headline grabber. The Assembly expresses the will of all governments, but the Security Council decides where the UN goes and where not – in fact most notable decisions of the Council are those NOT to act. The Council balances the ambitions and designs of the great powers. It’s the only branch of the UN which can impose mandatory resolutions on all UN members.
The Security Council bears a heavy load. It has 15 members – five “Permanent Members” who can veto just about anything (and who do so, regularly). The other ten are two-year terms distributed by the Assembly based on regions. Here’s the
difficulty with our government’s ambition: the Security Council is already divided and quartered with its policies. These divisions, once Cold War-mandated, are driven today by economic and military competition among the Big Five, where Canada is rarely neutral. The UN needs an independent voice here, members who can rise above partisanship – so, we might say, that’s perfect for Canada. After all (we trot this out every time) Canada invented the UN’s peacekeeping efforts …
And what a long time ago. Since then, the world has changed incredibly with the old order upside down. All this points to the need for independent and brave members who will deliver an objective judgement on the moves of the Big Five. How independent has Canada actually been, on an international scale?
For example, despite COVID, the US continues to threaten Venezuela. The US leads a group of client-states who object to Venezuela’s internal politics. Canada’s a loyal foot soldier for the US with Iran. That nation – unattractive as its government may be – is struggling under crippling US economic sanctions (as it battles a
terrible outbreak of COVID). The UN has called for lifting the sanctions during the pandemic (the US refuses). Likewise for the sanctions which have
crippled Cuba’s economy (they are condemned every year by the General Assembly, ignored by the US). Israel/Palestine, Syria, and Yemen are black holes for the Security Council, and Canada’s past has been one of support for the US.
Instead of pushing on, as if a pandemic had not just pushed the world together, isn’t the Security Council election a prime example of how we might change things in a post-COVID 19 world? It isn’t too early to think of recovery – and how we might do things a little better.
Can’t this pandemic show us a) that we are not all enemies but are inter-dependent peoples sharing one world – and b) show us how dependent we are upon
the natural world? Isn’t COVID showing us how destructive this un-cooperative posturing can be?
Glib hopes for new elections in Caracas or political prisoners released in Teheran or Havana will not work. We keep saying it’s a new world out there . . .
how new do we have the courage to make it?
This is not about foreign policy – it’s about our ability to learn from this pandemic and the upheaval it’s causing. It’s about doing things differently, from foreign policy to social safety nets. The world is different, larger than GDP and the Stock Market; it’s now about other people.