Foreign Policy Blogs

Being Good Neighbo(u)rs?

Something strange happened at the UN this past week:  Canada ran for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council and, for the first time in more than 50 years, didn’t get it.  Stranger still?  It seems the Obama Administration did not actively campaign on behalf of the U.S.’ Neighbor to the North.


(Courtesy: CBC; Google Images)

The details are a little fuzzy, but U.S. officials are claiming that they did vote for Canada but did not campaign on Canada’s behalf in accordance with a U.S. custom of not lobbying for allies to win seats on the Security Council.  This is not a particularly satisfying answer; it strains credulity a bit to believe that an American administration of any political stripe would regard abstract notions of propriety as more important than outcomes when it comes to the Security Council.  The actual existence of this custom was challenged outright by Richard Grenell, former spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the UN, who countered in a Fox News piece that the U.S. had openly campaigned for a Guatemalan Security Council seat as an alternative to Venezuela in 2006 and had regularly engaged in behind-the-scenes lobbying in the past.

Whatever happened (or didn’t happen), it’s a loss for the U.S. that Canada will not be on the Security Council.  This is nothing against Portugal who did get the final seat – Europe’s fourth (two permanent) on the Security Council.  The U.S. and Portugal have extremely positive, productive relations (I once heard the Portuguese Ambassador say: “The U.S. and Portugal don’t have issues; we have matters.”).  But a Canadian seat would have been even more beneficial.  Now the ratio of European seats to North American ones will be 4-1 instead of 3-2, and a Canadian voice would be a huge asset for the U.S. on important Pacific region issues in ways that Portugal simply cannot be due to its geography.  It also has a much stronger economy and a greater capacity and willingness to engage its military abroad; these are important traits for a Security Council member.

The Harper Government has made raising Canada’s profile on the world stage a priority, and the failure to win the seat is leading to some political blame-throwing about the reasons for the miss.  But this is also an obvious setback for the U.S. too.  You would be hard-pressed to find a country with a more similar set of interests and cast-of-mind to that of the U.S., and if the administration’s stated reason for not getting involved is true, it’s a real missed opportunity.



Ryan Haddad

Ryan Haddad is the Senior Blogger for U.S. Foreign Policy at FPA. A foreign affairs and national security analyst based in Washington, D.C., he worked in European and Eurasian affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce during the Bush Administration and is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Providence College. He can be followed on Twitter at @RIHaddad.