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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Canada loses out on UN Security Council seat due to Asbestos?

Note: India is an aspirant for UN Security Council's permanent seat. Although it won the non-permanent seat, it should ban asbestos with immediate effect for permanent membership.

Canada suffered a devastating blow both to its self-image and its international reputation, for the first time in 60 years losing a bid for a UN Security Council seat.

The 15-member council, the UN’s most important decision-making body, has 10 rotating seats. Two of these, assigned to Western-bloc nations, were up for grabs Tuesday.

Both Germany and Portugal — an afterthought nation with a population of just 10 million — beat out Canada in a stunning vote decision that could shift Canadians’ view of their country as a principled global player and international boy scout.

The vote result also could damage the profile of the Harper Conservatives, who are bound to be blamed for failing to safeguard what was assumed to be Canada’s proud standing in the world.

Canada is a founding member of the UN and the seventh-largest contributor to its finances. In recent years this country has made an outsized contribution to the UN-backed war effort in Afghanistan.

“Our failure to win a UN Security Council seat is Canada’s Hindenburg moment,” intoned the Rideau Institute, referring to the 1937 disaster in which a German airship was destroyed by fire.

The Ottawa-based institute, specializing in foreign and defence policy, attempted to explain the vote debacle:

“Canadians pride themselves on our global role, but Canada’s dismal performance on climate change, foreign aid, peacekeeping, asbestos, reproductive rights and the Middle East, has taken a heavy toll.”

It’s difficult to ascribe precise motives for the voting decisions of so many different countries. But what should be remembered is that the allocation of the two coveted seats reflected a numbers game.

And votes largely reflect crass self-interest — a notion that explains some of the questionable positions taken in the past by the UN.

After all, Libya votes. Iran votes. Somalia votes.

Let’s face it, Canada wouldn’t have been top pick Tuesday against the likes of Portugal and Germany in the eyes of:

• Other European Union countries, which would favour their own;

• Arab nations, miffed by the Harper government’s stalwart support of Israel. Conservatives as recently as Monday announced enhanced trade ties with the Middle East’s lone democracy;

• African countries, possibly perturbed by Canadian aid cutbacks.

Running for political cover, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon declared: “I do not in any way see this as a repudiation of Canada’s foreign policy.”

Rather, he blamed critical comments last month by Michael Ignatieff, as if foreign countries would heed any opposition politician’s musings.

The Liberal leader had questioned whether Canada had earned the right to a UN Security Council seat given its foreign policy record.

Ignatieff Tuesday insisted, “The responsibility for this vote lies squarely and exclusively with the Harper government.

“The blame game is a sign of a government failing to absorb the lessons of defeat.”

He pointed to what he termed Canadian neglect of Africa and China, and lack of action at the Copenhagen climate-change conference last year.

He also criticized Ottawa’s handling of a new conflict with the United Arab Emirates involving airline landing rights in Canada.

New Democratic Party critic Paul Dewar called the seat loss “devastating for our country’s reputation. We have lost our reach,” he said.

The Ottawa Centre MP lamented, “if we are not at the table we cannot get the job done. We cannot have influence with respect to UN reform, climate change and issues of peace and security.”

Veteran diplomat Colin Robertson said he was surprised and disappointed by Tuesday’s vote, having “underestimated bloc politics at the UN.”

The senior fellow at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs said Canada must not be discouraged.

“Internationalism serves Canadian interests. We should not disengage.”

byaffe@vancouversun.com

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