Global Policy Forum

Increased Security

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By Keith Fraser

January 20, 2010


This October, Canada will once again stand for election to a two-year term as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Assuming its campaign will be successful, Canada's timing could not be better. After years of stalled efforts, a consensus is building in the General Assembly for significant reform of the Security Council. Of the many reasons why Canada should sit on the Security Council beginning in 2011, a chance to advocate for an increased role for Canada on a reformed Council tops the list.

The Call for Reform

Virtually unchanged since the day it was established at the end of the Second World War, the Security Council is made up of five permanent members -Great Britain, Russia, the United States, China and France- and ten non-permanent members that are elected to serve two-year terms. Each permanent member has veto power over any proposed substantive measure brought before the Council.

For many members of the General Assembly, and to most observers, this organizational structure is no longer representative of the world around it. It ignores the current realities of globalization, multilateralism, population shifts, and the emerging economic powers. It also ignores new regional alliances such as the European Union and the African Union.

Furthermore, the veto power held by permanent members, a vestige of the oligarchy the victors in World War II bestowed on themselves, has been used largely to stifle debate and to delay or prevent necessary global action. This reliance on unilateral power is especially unpopular on today's world stage. With the recent global financial crisis, a swift, collective and coordinated response was necessary to stave off collapse of the world economy. In this new century, the fates of nations are no less interconnected when it comes to issues of maintaining global security.

Accordingly, the agreement being crafted at the UN is focused on making the Security Council more representative and more effective. The changes most likely to be adopted will be an increase in the number of Security Council members, including possibly an increase in the number of permanent members, and limits on the use of the veto. The General Assembly has also floated the idea of creating a "middle tier" where some members would be eligible for election to longer terms on the Council.

Not surprisingly, resistance is coming from the five current permanent members. Each one is in no hurry to see either their permanent status or their veto power diluted. Despite their public stance welcoming reform, in the last ten years the permanent members have acted to prevent substantive changes to the Security Council.  Nevertheless, with the call for reform reaching critical mass in the General Assembly, it appears that the writing is now on the wall. There may be some additional kicking and screaming, but, make no mistake, major reform of the Security Council is inevitable and it is coming soon.

Canada's New Role

Like the Security Council itself, Canada's place on the Council is also in need of reform. As Canada emerges as a leading and independent global power, Canada's national and foreign policy interests with respect to the various security issues of the 21st Century will likely diverge from those of the United States and Western Europe. In order to properly protect its interests, Canada will need to assume an increased role in the Security Council. Canada may have been content with having the United States and Great Britain as permanent members of the Security Council in the past because those countries' interests in maintaining global security were very much aligned with Canada's. That will not necessarily be true in this new century.

One such example is the disagreement over control of the increasingly accessible Arctic region, including ownership of vast reserves of natural resources and control of the Northwest Passage. Canada currently has no friends among the permanent members of the Security Council with respect to its ownership claims to this area. As energy resources become more critical, Canada's disputes with other Arctic nations, including Russia and the United States, are sure to become an issue of global security. Also, as the Arctic becomes more accessible, activity in the region will increase substantially. Oil tankers, Cargo ships and military vessels will all descend upon the region. Friend and foe alike will permanently transform the Arctic into an area of strategic importance. The resulting scramble into the region on Canada's northern border will directly affect Canada's and the world's security. As a result, Canada should take advantage of the call for reform to advocate for an increased role on the Security Council, including seeking permanent membership.

Similarly, the global security crises of the new century will likely include disputes involving the scarcity of resources, including the lack of energy, food, drinking water and arable land. Since Canada is one of the few countries that possess large reserves of these resources, it is again imperative that Canada be best positioned to protect its interests when the international community confronts these crises and starts seeking solutions for them. Canada can do this by seeking an increased role on the Security Council.

Then there is climate change. Most every nation considers climate change to be a significant threat to global security. According to CARE International, by 2050, up to 200 million people could be displaced due to climate change. Any solution to these problems will be a collective one and will require significant contributions from Canada. Again, to ensure that Canada's interests are properly protected in addressing such situations, Canada must advocate for an increased role on the Security Council.

Canada's Campaign

Unfortunately, notwithstanding Canada's need to take on an increased role in the Security Council, Canada is in danger of losing out to other candidates. Germany, Japan, India and Brazil each seek permanent membership and have joined together as the "Group of Four" to support each other's bid. African nations, which account for about 75% of the Security Council's business, have also banded together to advocate for a permanent seat for one of its members, most likely Egypt or South Africa.

Canada's efforts regarding Security Council reform on the other hand, have been much less ambitious. It has joined the Group of Friends for UN Reform, organized by Mexico, and the similarly themed Carlson Group out of Sweden. These groups focus on reforming the Security Council, not by enlarging the permanent membership, but by increasing oversight and by advocating for more efficient management. Most notably they call for limitations to the veto power. These are admirable goals and represent  crucial pieces of Security Council reform. Yet Canada, for its own sake, should strive for much more.

Over the last sixty years, Canada has built a sterling reputation with respect to its efforts on the Security Council. Canada has sat on the Council in every decade since the Council was created. This is more than any other country in its region.  Whenever Canada has sat on the Security Council, it has taken an active, leadership role. United Nations Peacekeepers were a Canadian invention. Canada was instrumental in creating and funding the Central Emergency Response Fund and the UN Peacebuilding Commission. In its last term, in 1999-2000, Canada championed the issue of Human Security, the protection of civilians at risk in areas of conflict. As a result, every UN sanction and peacekeeping mandate since then has included provisions for the protection of civilians. Canadians take enormous pride in Canada's accomplishments at the UN. While not a permanent member, when present on the Council, Canada has acted as the proverbial "Fifth Beatle," helping to guide the Security Council from one success to another. This record cannot be matched by any of the other countries seeking permanent membership.

As a nonpermanent member beginning in 2011, Canada is sure to participate in fashioning real reform of the Security Council. New threats to global security will provide Canada with the impetus to seek an enhanced role in the Council as part of that reform. Its contributions to the Council over the past sixty years will provide Canada with the necessary clout to demand it. Hopefully, Canada will.



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