Excerpt from "Canada on the United Nations Security Council"

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Excerpt from "Canada on the United Nations Security Council"

Canada on the UNSCAs part of our #SamaraReads contest, we bring you excerpts from each of the five books shortlisted for the 2019 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, presented by the Writers’ Trust of Canada. We start with an excerpt from Canada on the United Nations Security Council: A Small Power on a Large Stage by Adam Chapnick.

Enter our online contest for a chance to win copies of all five books, including Canada on the United Nations Security CouncilTo participate, simply share your favourite recent political book on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram by September 21st, 2020. You must reside in Canada and include #SamaraReads in your social media post in order to qualify!




Less than twenty-four hours after Mulroney struggled through a difficult televised leaders election debate at home, Ottawa celebrated one of the greatest victories in the history of contested United Nations Security Council elections. Canada received 127 out of a possible 157 votes (81 percent) in the first round. Finland got 100, and Greece 77. Two hours and two additional ballots later, Finland claimed the second Western European and Others Group (WEOG) seat. Even with a federal election less than a month away, the victory received extensive, front-page coverage across the country. Between the size of the win and the optimism among the great powers in New York, expectations of what Canada might be able to contribute to the council were higher than ever.

There were a number of reasons for what one official called the “massive” Canadian victory. The campaign was organized, innovative, and ruthless. Officials reacted promptly when Greece entered the competition and lobbied as if their jobs were at stake. Ottawa provided the necessary funding and personnel. The level of political engagement was exceptional. This was a non-partisan, whole-of-country commitment, particularly in the final months of 1988. Canada benefited from an excellent global reputation accumulated in large part by its extensive commitments to the international system. It traded votes aggressively and effectively. A series of fortuitous events – New Zealand’s decision not to leave WEOG, Fortier’s flawless transition as Lewis’s replacement, the Nobel Peace Prize announcement – also helped.

Canada’s opponents were not nearly as effective. The Finnish delegation launched its campaign slowly and failed to lobby the Non-Aligned Movement as successfully as had been expected, especially in the Middle East. Helsinki also replaced its permanent representative in the summer of 1988, but the transition was not nearly as smooth. The Finns were reluctant to trade votes and failed to rally their fellow Nordic countries to campaign on their behalf. As for the Greeks, the confusion prior to their initial decision to run resulted in early lobbying efforts that lacked cohesion. Athens’ international reputation was uneven, and its offers of vote trades appear to have been taken less seriously. In all, for Canada this was a campaign in which everything that could have gone right did go right.

It is understandable that the Security Council election of 1988 has hardly been noticed in both Canadian and United Nations history. In Canada, it was overshadowed by a dramatic federal election. In New York, cooperation among the great powers dominated the headlines. What’s more, the P5 disengaged from the electoral process, making it even less likely that most scholars of Security Council affairs would have paid attention. Nonetheless, ignoring this election leaves a void in narratives of how the council works. For non-permanent members, competitive election campaigns can reshape the national foreign policy agenda. Moreover, the Canadian recipe in 1988, arrived at just as much intuitively as it was deliberately, remains quite possibly the best example of successful campaigning since the end of the Cold War. It is regrettable, at least from Ottawa’s point of view, that the public expectations of Canada’s potential UNSC contribution generated by the election results made it difficult for many Canadians to appreciate the subtly productive council term that followed.

Excerpted with permission from Canada on the United Nations Security Council: A Small Power on a Large Stage by Adam Chapnick, 2019, UBC Press.

About the Prize

Established in honour of the outspoken and popular MP from Windsor, Ontario, the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing is awarded annually for an exceptional book of literary nonfiction that captures a political subject of relevance to Canadian readers. Sponsored by CN, the prize is awarded annually at the Politics and the Pen gala in Ottawa. The 2019 winner will be announced on September 23rd, 2020.

2019 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize

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