That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Baird’s Korea rhetoric leaves us in the cold

North Korea, despite its flagrant flouting of nuclear non-proliferation conventions, shall nevertheless chair the UN’s disarmament conference for four weeks – just like every country at the convention does. Imagine, a vitriolic loudmouth making an ironic mockery of the whole diplomatic system, eh John Baird?

Once in a while, the UN system throws up a scenario that can read as farce, it’s true. Libya had its stint chairing the UN Human Rights Commission, just as the DPRK now has its chance at the nuclear non-proliferation convention. It is silly on the surface. The United Nations, though, as a universal organisation, includes everyone. It’s a greater merit of the UN that we at least have a space where mortal enemies can at least purport to sit together resolving things. There are no surprises that governments we find distasteful have a kick at the can as well as our biggest trading partners. That is how the world works.

Canada’s having none of it, though, boycotting the convention over the course of Pyongyang’s four-week presidency. To what aim? This occasion could be one of the most important, if not the only, opportunity of the year where North Korea finds itself in the nuclear spotlight. It’s a chance for a framework besides the moribund six-party talks for the international community to roll up their sleeves and compel some kind of negotiation with the world’s most erratic nuclear power. The Six-Party Framework is, after all, rather a “superpower framework,” plus the two Koreas. Where do middle powers fit? What role can countries like Canada play in strengthening non-proliferation norms on the Korean Peninsula, and how might middle powers elicit a different type of response from a Pyongyang reared on anti-super-imperalist mythology? This could be just such an opportunity for us to build an agenda there, but Ottawa’s turning its back.

Baird’s case will be that he thinks the whole of the UN system has become preposterous, and that he’s trying to embarrass the organisation into reform, beginning with its convention chair rotation policy.

You know, if the Conservatives haven’t learned it yet, I don’t know that they ever will. You cannot effectively contribute to reforming an organisation that you repeatedly ignore and abandon. We have little sway there anymore. Our participation has not been valued for years anyway.

Canada in the UN these days is just like the underperforming whinger on a hockey team – the one who refuses to come to practice, who lobs insults at the bulk of his teammates, who spends more time in the donut shop than the gym, and then threatens to walk out on game day. In the hockey world, the team would say “goodbye!” And in the UN, I assume the response will be the same.

There are plenty of countries in the world not to our liking, and the UN system includes us all. Suck it up is what I’d advise the Baird Ministry. Diplomacy requires something more subtle than feigned outrage followed by the silent treatment. Sticktoitiveness and sleeverollupitiveness is a much more important part of the job, however much Baird can’t stand the smell.

Filed under: Canada, Korea, Politics, , , , , , , ,

Spare me the seat

Before ascending to the UN Security Council, methinks that Canada needs a little Insecurity Counselling.

Sorry to say it, but Ottawa’s last-minute sprint (and the associated G&M OMG dramatisation of it) towards a possible temporary UN Security Council seat seems a bit sad to me. Like just one more occasion for neurotic ultra-patriots to drown themselves in the sticky-sweet syrup of false national glory. The race is framed much less like advancing a clear agenda for Canada’s role in the international community, or a plan for how we might contribute something useful to international peace and security. It seems more like a big, old-fashioned Own The Podium flag-waving parade.

And of course. Stephen Harper may not know what he’d like to do with a seat, but he knows winning it could “prove” to voters that he’s doing a good job out there in that big old world, whatever the Liberals or the media say.

But the mainstream media are helping to play along, such is the attraction of a ticker tape parade. the fact is, though, there are 10 temporary Security Council members at any one time, plus the five permanent members. How many of them trumpet themselves as being somehow more important, more “nationally mature,” more loved and lauded than other countries? Are they really much better recognised for being “part of the inner sanctum” of the UN for two years?

The overriding interest in Canada’s press (and Official Ottawa) is: “how will the world (and voters) think of Canada if we win?” O.K. To get a sense how an SC seat would impact the world’s view of Canada, how many current temporary Security Council members can you identify right now (yes, without Googling)? That’s a good barometer for how many people around the world will notice Canada’s place on the temporary council, or Portugal’s, or anyone else’s.

I’m not dismissing the Security Council or the role it plays, or the UN, or anything of the sort. But unfortunately, like in many instances, well-meaning but insecure cringeworthy flag-wavers miss the point about what constitutes an effective role on the international stage. A Security Council seat would be a little extra bauble, a useful platform from which we could potentially contribute.

But it won’t counteract the reality that our international reputation continues to diminish on the issues that count. We’ve already scuppered the global environmental file, we’ve been patronising and ideological on development and maternal health, and we’ve done nothing constructive to advance peace or human rights. We do have some shiny new jet planes on the way, of course…

We need to apply our energies to international goodwill much more consistently – and not just lunge for a sparkly trophy because it’s politically flattering.

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, , , , ,


June 2020

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