In Wake of Lost UN Seat, Canada Should Align With Traditional Allies

June 24, 2020 Updated: June 24, 2020


Canada’s campaign for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council that consisted of hob-nobbing with the world’s despots finally came to an end on June 17.

During the final days of the campaign, Canada sent a self-abnegating letter to all the U.N. missions that, among other things, pledged more financial support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to help Palestinian refugees and refused to recognize its ally Israel’s control over the Golan Heights. All in the service of promoting a two-state solution and a lasting peace. Appealing to the Arab voters, the letter strangely boasted that Canada continued to engage with the UNRWA even while it was under a U.N. internal investigation “related to alleged mismanagement.”

Never mind that the UNRWA’s humanitarian credentials have been completely undermined by reports of its complicity in Hamas’s efforts to indoctrinate children with its gruesome anti-Semitic ideology. Never mind that without the Golan Heights, Israel’s ability to defend itself from Hezbollah and other Assad allies would be abysmal. Never mind that the conflict isn’t rooted merely in economic or territorial grievance and can be solved essentially by providing more finances and encouraging Israel to concede to its opponents. This assumes Israel’s opponents receiving aid deep down share the same purity of motive as the good idealists among our policy makers.

The problem is that there’s a force denying Israel’s fundamental legitimacy as a country. But fantasies to the contrary are to be indulged by those who crave acceptance in the U.N., given the clout Third World despots have within it and the narrative they have established as a U.N. piety.

As I’ve written in these pages before, Canada has no choice but to engage in strong multilateralism to advance its interests. We can’t be taking anything the U.N. does or says as if it’s a divine decree, never to be questioned no matter how opposed it is to Canadian values or interests. A seat on the Security Council might have been useful; but with the tendency of late to refuse to stand up for consequential issues, the seat would have likely amounted to being little more than an act of symbolism.

Providing an analysis relevant to what is now ailing Canadian foreign policy, former American diplomat and historian George Kennan once distinguished between particularistic and universalistic approaches to the international system. The former emphasizes the “content over the form” of an institution, recognizing that “the thirst for power is still dominant among so many peoples that it cannot be assuaged or controlled by anything but counter-force.”

Being the gospel adhered to by the U.N. and Ottawa, the universalistic approach is described as one that assumes that a universal moral standard of behaviour can force power ambitions and national prejudices to “recede behind the protecting curtain of accepted legal restraint” that will reduce foreign policy to the “familiar terms of parliamentary procedure and majority decision,” Kennan wrote. This collapses quickly as it relies entirely on how the majorities in the international community choose to wield power.

The reality today is that the world is increasingly anarchical and fragmented as it becomes more competitive. Any calls to re-subscribe to the universalist vision are destined to fall on deaf ears, as nations are already adapting to the resurgence of a politics oriented toward particularism.

In traditional formulations, Canadian grand strategy has focused on political unity, independence, sovereignty, and securing access to markets. These are as good a starting point as they ever were in the current context, with areas such as the Arctic and the Indo-Pacific being especially crucial hot spots. During this shift in geopolitics, Ottawa should stand alongside Washington and support its efforts to oppose aggression from rogue regimes, while also taking advantage of other opportunities for strategic cooperation that are aligned with Canadian interests.

Kennan, who wrote scholarly histories of the relations between the USSR and the United States, averred that the only alliances that are effective as a counter-force to agitators are those “based upon real community of interest and outlook, which is to be found only among limited groups of governments, and not upon the abstract formalism of universal international law or international organization.”

There are now fruitful opportunities for new alliance blocs along these lines. A rekindling of relations with democratic countries and fellow middle powers in Asia such as India, Japan, and Taiwan are imperative to maintaining a secure region in the face of an ever-belligerent China.

In addition, the CANZUK countries (U.K., Australia and New Zealand) are about to begin talks with on a post-Brexit trade agreement, and Australian and New Zealand ministers say they are eager to do deals with the U.K. as their economies emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. CANZUK is something that should be considered natural for Canada, with our shared Westminster and common-law traditions, our heritage as members of the Commonwealth, and our proven effectiveness as a unit in deterring and fending off adversaries.

As the world reverts to something that resembles a pre-1945 order, it would be a most fitting reunion.

Shane Miller is a political writer based in London, Ontario. Follow him at @Miller_Shane94.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.