|Canada has traditionally taken a very favourable position towards international institutions and the policy of multilateralism. Canada views international institutions as important mechanisms through which the views of the international community are given expression, and the forums in which grievances are aired and, when Member States are so inclined, resolved. Moreover, in an increasingly interdependent global system, these fora serve as the most appropriate mechanisms to manage such transnational issues as international crime, health and environmental matters, as well as trade related issues. |
Canada has benefited enormously, by many measurements (e.g., economically, culturally, scientifically, etc.,), through its participation in various international institutions. Most importantly, these institutions have assisted Canada in projecting its views and interests onto the international arena. For all these reasons, Canada should not depart from its strong adherence to multilateralism and its membership in a myriad of international institutions.
Nevertheless, a number of the international institutions that Canada clearly holds dear have extremely problematic aspects to them, particularly as they relate to the Middle East in general and Israel in particular – the most prominent of which is the United Nations (UN) and its agencies. While the United Nations played a key role in the creation of the State of Israel, its relationship to the Jewish State since the 1950s has been shaped by the numerical superiority of states hostile towards Israel and organizational problems within the UN system. As a result, Israel is the only country in the world that is not eligible to sit on the Security Council, the principal policymaking body of the UN. In addition, Israel is the object of more investigative committees, special representatives and rapporteurs than any other state in the UN system.
When Canada took its non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in the late 1990s, then-Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy declared that Canada’s goal was to use its term as a catalyst for reforming the increasingly dysfunctional international organization. Regrettably, there has been no discernible improvement in the activities of UN agencies; to the contrary, there has been an incremental deterioration in the quality of performance throughout the vast UN system. Symptomatic of this deterioration is the way in which anti-democratic regimes have succeeded in forcing their own into the international body’s leadership echelon. For example, Syria was elected recently to the Security Council and the UN Commission for Human Rights, at the same time as Damascus continues to finance, supply, train, and provide safe haven to Hezbollah and a dozen Palestinian terrorist groups, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It is equally offensive that Libya, with one of the world’s most horrific records on human rights and support for terrorism, should sit as the current chair of the Commission for Human Rights. In both of these cases, the nomination to these powerful positions came through the UN’s Asian regional grouping, a body that continues to blackball Israel’s membership. It is also important to note that it was at a meeting of the Asian group, convened in Tehran, Iran, that the anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic draft resolutions that were considered at the infamous Durban Conference (September 2001) were crafted.
To its credit, Canada, along with only Australia, registered formal reservations about the Middle East provisions of the Durban conference communiqué. Canada was also one of only 3 countries to oppose Libya’s nomination to head the UN Commission for Human Rights. At the 58th session of the UNCHR in the spring of 2002, Canada stood alone, or with only 1 or 2 other countries, in opposing resolutions blatantly unfair in their treatment of Israel. It is also the case that Canada was instrumental in facilitating Israel’s partial admission into the UN’s Western European and Others Group (WEOG).
Despite these constructive activities, however, Canada continues to support the vast majority of anti-Israel resolutions that are habitually considered in the General Assembly and in UN functional agencies; on some occasions, Canada signals its dissatisfaction with some of the more inflammatory language in resolutions unfairly critical of Israel by registering fatuous abstentions. But it is rare for Canada to take a firm stand against the abuses of Israel that pass for standard-operating-procedure at the United Nations.
Serious deficiencies in Canada’s approach to international institutions are not restricted to the UN. At the La Francophonie summit in Beirut, Lebanon, in the fall of 2002, senior Canadian officials sat quietly as delegates from Arab and Muslim countries used the forum to ridicule and demonize Israel. Ideally, critics argued, the Canadian delegation should have quit the conference in protest; at a minimum, Canada should have used its formal address to complain about the extent to which the important humanitarian mandate of the conference of French-speaking countries had been perverted for excessively narrow political purposes.
Canada must understand that what is at stake when the UN and other international institutions stray so dramatically from their mandates is not merely the credibility of those institutions, but also the credibility of Canadian foreign policy itself. Each time the agenda of a UN agency is subverted to anti-Israel interests, each time Israel is denied its rightful place as a full member-in-good-standing of the international community, the cornerstone of Canada’s international credibility is weakened.
Canada could improve the situation at the UN and other international institutions by taking the moral leadership in constructing a “Democracy Caucus” that can, at least on a moral level, counter the overwhelming influence of the anti-democratic and totalitarian countries and regions. And Canada must ensure that Israel, which already shares with Canada a firm commitment to democracy, gender equality, respect for religious and political diversity, and the non-violent resolution of disputes, is accorded the full respect due it in international institutions.
While Canada’s continued commitment to multilateral diplomacy is commendable, this must not become an impediment to effective action. As the impotence of the United Nations Security Council in dealing with the recent Iraq crisis indicates, a multilateral response to international crises, while preferable, may not always be possible. Flexibility must remain a cornerstone of Canada’s approach to international diplomacy and crisis management.
A. Canada should continue to project its interests through the various international multi-lateral bodies, while recognizing their institutional limitations and faults.
B. As a country committed to multilateral diplomacy, Canada must show moral leadership and help facilitate the type of radical structural and political reforms that will prevent the gross perversion of the UN system, thereby saving the world body from irrelevancy.
C. Canada must take a principled stand against all anti-Israel resolutions in international institutions, including those that mischievously refer to “occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem” or the Palestinian “right of return” to Israel, or that misrepresent UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 as demanding Israel’s unilateral withdrawal to the June 1967 lines.
D. Abstentions – while representative of a constructive inclination – are inadequate responses by Canada to the crass marginalization and subversion of the UN system. If a resolution does not meet the tests of fairness, balance, constructive language and the avoidance of singling out one UN member state (i.e., Israel) for discriminatory treatment, that resolution warrants a negative Canadian vote.
E. Canada must give tangible expression to its commitment to protect Israel from isolation in international institutions, by working toward its full admission into the UN’s Western European and Others Group, if not into Israel’s natural geographic grouping, the Asian bloc of countries.
F. Canada should lead efforts to create a “Democracy Caucus” that will counter the predominant influence of anti-democratic countries in international institutions, and take steps to ensure Israel’s full participation in the caucus.