OTTAWA—U2 frontman Bono might think the world needs more Canada but he’s singing the praises of his Irish homeland now as Ireland launches a bid for a spot on the UN Security Council — marking a formidable competitor to Ottawa’s own aspirations for a council seat.
Ireland rolled out Bono’s star power as it kicked off its campaign in New York on Monday to win a seat on the influential body for the 2021-22 term.
Ireland’s attempts to win over the UN crowd began the night before when U2 played to a packed house at New York’s Madison Square Garden — with more than 150 UN diplomats invited as special guests.
Bono pointedly took a few minutes during the performance to lavish praise on the United Nations.
“If the United Nations didn’t exist, we would have to invent it. That is the truth. It’s the one place we can all meet. It’s the one place that puts peace on the negotiating table first,” he said.
The next day, Bono was at UN headquarters to join Irish politicians for the launch of the country’s campaign.
The Irish rocker said that at a time when international institutions are under attack, the United Nations is needed more than ever and his country — with its history of conflict and violence — is well-suited to help.
“If you look at the agenda of what the Security Council will be called on to address over the coming years, doesn’t it look a lot like us? We’d like to think Ireland’s experience of colonialism, conflict, famine and mass migration give us a kind of hard-earned expertise in these problems. And, I hope, an empathy and I hope humility,” Bono said.
The singer acknowledged that UN diplomats could vote for Canada and its “truly remarkable leader … That Canada is nice is the worst thing I can say about them.”
Bono has sung Canada’s praises in the past.
But now Canada finds itself in a tough competition with what Bono calls a “tiny rock in the Atlantic Ocean” and Norway, too, in a three-way race for the two seats that will come open on the 15-member council.
Justin Trudeau declared in 2016 that Canada would seek a Security Council seat, part of the Liberals’ vow to “restore Canadian leadership in the world.”
Democracy, inclusive governance, human rights, development and international peace and security were the among the priorities highlighted at the time.
“We are determined to help the UN make even greater strides in support of its goals for all humanity,” Trudeau saidduring a visit to UN headquarters that year.
Canada has served six times on the Security Council, the last time ending in 2000. The vote will be held in June 2020, after the October 2019 federal election.
The council has five permanent members — China, United States, France, United Kingdom and Russia — and 10 elected members. Each year, the general assembly elects five of the 10 spots for a two-year term.
Canada’s own campaign has been low-key so far. Cabinet ministers raise the topic in their meetings with politicians from other countries. And foreign affairs officials are plotting now how best to officially launch its bid.
But the campaign carries risks.
Losing would be humiliating for the Liberals — if they are still in power after the 2019 election.
The Liberals castigated Stephen Harper’s Conservatives for their failure to win a Security Council seat in 2010. At the time Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff called it a “clear condemnation” of the Conservatives’ foreign policy priorities.
But winning carries risks, too.
Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, cautions “be careful what you wish for,” noting that a spot on the Security Council would put Canada in the hot seat for the world’s most difficult crises.
“Being on the Security Council there are going to come a whole pile of complications,” said Robertson, a vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
That could include being at loggerheads with the U.S., one of the council’s permanent members, and President Donald Trump, if he seeks and wins re-election in 2020.
“It’s going to require an awful lot of effort. Is that effort worth it?” he said.
Robertson speculates that with Ireland and Norway in the running, Canada is unlikely to garner many European votes. So it will have to look for support in other parts of the world — the Asia-Pacific region, the Caribbean, the Americas and Africa.
“I think we’ll run as a constructive middle power but there aren’t enough middle-power votes to carry the day so we have to appeal to smaller places,” he said.
Canada has the advantage of being a G7 and G20 country but otherwise, he said, the three countries in the running are almost “interchangeable” in terms of their priorities and vision for the world.
“It’s like campaigning against mirrors of yourself,” he said.
Indeed, at the campaign launch, Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s Taoiseach or prime minister, highlighted themes that could easily be Canada’s own goals.
“We support a rules-based order in international affairs. We have acted as a voice for the disadvantaged and defenceless, promoting freedom and defending human rights,” Varadkar said.
“In areas such as peacekeeping, disarmament, sustainable development, human rights and humanitarian assistance we have matched our words with our actions,” he said.
NDP MP Hélène Laverdière predicts the campaign will be “very difficult.
Canada already has a lot of strikes against its bid,” said Laverdière (Laurier-Sainte-Marie).
She noted Canada lags behind Norway and Ireland in foreign aid. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Canada’s aid spending in 2016 was 0.26 per cent of gross national income, compared to 0.32 for Ireland and 1.12 per cent for Norway.
Canada also lags behind both countries in military personnel deployed on UN peace missions. According to UN data to May 31, Canada had just 40 personnel assigned to peace missions compared to 542 for Ireland and 66 for Norway. But Canada’s numbers are set to rise as it deploys 250 military personnel to Mali on a yearlong mission to provide helicopters to support the UN mission there.
Conservative MP Erin O’Toole said Canada’s priority should be to help reform UN institutions, such as peace operations, even if it means forgoing a seat on the Security Council.
“We should never sacrifice taking principled positions at the UN for the sake of garnering votes. That becomes the challenge,” O’Toole said.
He said Ireland will be a challenge and will likely win the support of other European nations. “I’m not sure we can compete with Bono … He’s a hard brand to compete with so the Irish are certainly going for it,” O’Toole said.
“Maybe we should trot out Drake,” he said, referring to the Canadian superstar rapper.