Harper pushes for UN Security Council seat

Prime Minister Stephen Harper used a speech before the UN General Assembly to highlight Canada's long record of global involvement.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresses the 65th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York on Thursday. ((Mike Regar/Reuters))

Prime Minister Stephen Harper pointed to Canada's record of global involvement in an address to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday.

Harper's speech, his first to the UN since 2006, came as Canada pressed its bid to win a seat on the Security Council.

"As a founding member of the UN, and its seventh-largest contributor to its finances, Canada has been a consistently reliable and responsible participant in UN initiatives around the world," he said.

"This was so in the earliest days of the United Nations … and it remains so today."

Harper underlined the country's efforts both old (the fight against apartheid) and new (its response to the Haiti earthquake) to highlight its role in the world. He also spoke of the country's military and development role in Afghanistan, saying Canadians were paying "a heavy price to fulfill our UN obligation  to support the lawful government of Afghanistan."

If Canada is elected to the Security Council, the country will be ready to serve, Harper said.

Harper was joined at the UN by Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and Peter Kent, the minister of state for foreign affairs. The vast majority of seats in the General Assembly Hall were empty, however.

Germany, Portugal also bidding

Canada is competing with Germany and Portugal for one of two two-year seats on the council.

Germany is widely expected to take one seat on the first ballot, meaning Canada will likely go up against Portugal on a second ballot.

The outcome will be known on Oct. 12, when 192 UN ambassadors cast their votes in secret.

Louise Fréchette, who served as the UN deputy secretary general for eight years and is now a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance in Waterloo, Ont., said Canada's campaign to get a seat on the council has been going on for a long time.

"Ministers and diplomats have been courting every country on the planet steadily for years," she said. "They've accumulated a lot of written promises."

"I don't think the speech itself will be a major factor. Nevertheless, people will be listening to what he has to say. If he had not chosen to address the General Assembly, I think that would have been remarked in a negative way," Fréchette said before Harper's address.

Bidding for 7th term

Canada has been on the Security Council six times, roughly once a decade since the 1940s. The country's last term ended in 2000.

The permanent members of the Security Council are the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

The council also includes 10 non-permanent members. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon and Nigeria began their two-year terms on Jan. 1. The terms of Austria, Japan, Mexico, Turkey and Uganda run out at the end of 2010.

The council members are divided by regional groups, with Canada, Germany and Portugal in the "Western Europe and others" group. The other groups cover Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Former Canadian ambassador to the UN Paul Heinbecker called the Security Council's horseshoe-shaped table "the most important table in the world."

"It’s better to be a policy maker — to be at that table — than to be a policy taker, which is to say not to be there and have to accept," he said.

"One of the interesting things about the UN Security Council [is] it can make decisions that are binding on Canada even if we’re not present under the UN charter, and that’s something that not even the G20 can do."

Obama addresses assembly

Before Harper's speech, U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the General Assembly, using his speech to push for a two-state approach to Middle East peace.

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the UN General Assembly in a speech that made overtures to Iran. ((Richard Drew/Associated Press))

The U.S. president used the occasion to reiterate a call for Israel to extend a moratorium on West Bank settlement construction. He also asked countries in favour of Palestinian self-government to help the Palestinian Authority politically and financially.

"And those who long to see an independent Palestine rise must stop trying to tear Israel down," he said.

Obama urged UN members to help move the peace process forward.

"If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations — an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel."

Obama also made overtures to Iran about its controversial nuclear program. He said the United States and the international community are seeking a resolution on the issue.

"The door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it," he said. "But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment, and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program."

Obama said Iran is the only party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty that cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program.

Word Analysis    Here's a graphical look at the most common English words used in Harper's speech: