I actually don’t think it is overwhelmingly important whether Canada has a seat on the Security Council. The big stories in the world these days are not, as a rule, United Nations stories; the United States — not just Bush in Iraq, but Clinton in Kosovo, and probably Obama in who-knows-where soon enough — pays little heed to inconvenient Security Council decisions. One measure of how little any of this matters is this: Conrad Black wrote an entire column about Canada’s application for a temporary seat that betrayed complete confusion about what the Harper government was applying for, repeatedly calling it a “permanent” seat and comparing Canada to permanent-seat aspirants like China and Brazil. And nobody in the comments to Conrad’s column even noticed his mistake.
But I digress. But while it’s fair to minimize the importance of a Security Council seat, it’s also fair to note that however little Canada could have accomplished with one, it will accomplish less without it.
It is also fair to lay all credit or blame for this state of affairs at the feet of Stephen Harper.
It’s pathetic that the prime minister is pausing from his two-year campaign of belittling and ignoring everything Michael Ignatieff says to decide, in late innings, that the world checks with the former BBC host before making any decision about Canada. The world notices instead that our foreign minister is a perfect buffoon; that no cabinet minister from this government bothered to attend the Munich Security Conference — this was, after all, a Security Council seat up for grabs — until three years in, when suddenly Peter MacKay came around to gladhand for a NATO job; that arms-length agencies are being packed with hacks; that Canada has been a far more impressive contributor of force and materiel than of regional understanding and appreciation for complexity in Afghanistan; that the Copenhagen conference’s failure was fine by Harper; and so on.
None of this will much hurt the Conservatives. If this was a rebuke for Harper’s stance on Israel, or climate change, or China, or developing countries, he will have little trouble saying he preferred to defend Israel or to be cautious about massive intervention in the economy for the sake of environmental do-gooderism, rather than be mired in UN compromise. This will play poorly with people who did not vote Conservative in 2006 or 2008, but probably better with people who did. Harper’s ambivalence about the UN, and indeed about much of the world, cost Canada its shot at the big table. But that ambivalence also has a constituency.