12 juin 2020 | Local, Aérospatial, Naval, Terrestre, C4ISR, Sécurité

Experts say COVID-19 hasn’t hurt Canada’s campaign for UN security council seat

By . Published on Jun 12, 2020 12:00am

Experts say COVID-19 hasn't negatively impacted Canada's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), though the final result is still anyone's guess.

The UN General Assembly will vote on June 17 on what countries will join the powerful body as non-permanent members for two-year terms. Canada is facing stiff competition from Norway and Ireland, who both entered the race earlier, to fill the two Western European and other states seats.

Adam Chapnick, deputy director of education at the Canadian Forces College and a professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College of Canada, said the coronavirus pandemic has changed Canada's narrative in the race — it can now portray itself as a large, wealthy country capable of helping smaller, less affluent nations emerge from the COVID-19-induced economic downturn.

“We have more money to give and as a result we can demonstrate, in a time like this, the value of having us at the centre of global power,” he told iPolitics on Thursday.

“[The COVID-19 pandemic] has allowed Canada to highlight some of the factors that differentiate it from its competitors, in a way that it would otherwise not have been able to do.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first announced Canada would pursue a seat on the UNSC back in 2016, just months after the Liberals bounced the Harper government from power. An outline of Canada's campaign is displayed on the Global Affairs website and points to commitments like addressing climate change, promoting economic security and advancing gender equality.

While Canada announced its campaign long before the global COVID-19 pandemic, Andrea Charron, an associate professor and director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba, said the crisis could end up benefitting Canada's bid. Coming out of the coronavirus pandemic, she said Canada can signal that they'll be there to help struggling countries as they recover from their own economic crises.

“It does no good if some states recover beautifully and others fall hopelessly behind,” Charron said.

Like most other public gatherings, the vote will also be impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. In other years, all delegates would show up to UN headquarters in New York City and vote in person, with each round of voting taking a couple minutes.

But this year, because of the pandemic, Chapnick said delegates now have a designated time to arrive and voting in the first round will take around 10 hours. Because a country requires two thirds of the vote to be elected, Chapnick said delegates will likely be asked to return to the building to vote again the following day or days, in the case that two countries aren't elected in the first round, which he said is probable.

At a certain point, Chapnick said delegates might stop showing up to cast their ballots, with the bid becoming a “get out and vote campaign” that would never happen in a normal election year.

“We've never had anything like this before,” he explained.

Charron, who's also a Canadian Global Affairs Institute fellow, said it will be interesting to see how countries revamp their second ballot strategy, which refers to a country's plan to win the second seat if they didn't win in the first voting round. She said in a typical election, all the delegates are milling around and candidates can easily speak with particular countries in a last minute push to win their vote. However, because of COVID-19 restrictions, countries won't have quick access to make their case to the 192 UN delegates in one room.

Chapnick said this new process has major implications for the second ballot strategy. Traditionally, he said Canada has had trouble creating a second ballot strategy because, as a G7 country, it assumes it will win in the first round. He said Canada is committed to the UN and views itself as a country that belongs on the security council, whereas smaller countries may ask to be considered in the second round if they lost to a more powerful country in the first run.

“For a G7 country normally to have a second ballot strategy would suggest weakness,” he explained.

But, by entering the race late, he said Canada now has wiggle room to develop a second ballot strategy — it can ask countries who pledged support to Norway or Ireland before Canada entered, to vote for the country in the second round, if there is one. Chapnick also said the Canadian team can spend the longer gap in between rounds calling delegates and asking for their support.

Still, he warned that there's a “discount rate” of 15 to 35 per cent of countries who promised the Canadian government they'd vote for them, but won't. He said even the Canadian government cannot be sure who's voting for them.

“Countries lie all the time,” he said.

In fact, Chapnick said part of the reason the countries are voting in-person is because a number of countries refused to participate in electronic voting at the risk that someone could hack the system and realize a country broke their voting promises. He said countries break promises in one of two ways; countries make individuals deals to support all three countries but can only vote for two, or the head of government makes a promise and the ambassador then goes “freelance” when it comes time to vote.

“You can never actually tell how a campaign is doing,” he warned. “Really strange things happen in these elections.”

Charron said the good news is that all the UNSC candidates are excellent. She said there's concern that Canada will let this election define itself, with lots of national “gnashing of teeth” and deciding on the fate of the government in general, which she said is overblown.

“It's just one of the organizations to which we belong,” she said. “We've won six times, we've lost times, we've survived, carried on in all cases.”


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