If asked to comment on Canada’s recent controversial vote at the UN General Assembly, I would be hard pressed to pinpoint the exact vote referred to. Of course, I could request further information.
“The UNGA resolution that Canada voted against,” the interrogator might say.
“But which?” I would respond.
“The resolution that was overwhelmingly supported by the vast majority of the world’s nations, except for a handful, including a few island nations you’ve probably never heard of.”
Still the ambiguity would remain.
“The one that prompted widespread criticism that Canada has abandoned its long held stand as an honest broker in the Middle East.”
Still not sure.
“How about this: The UN General Assembly resolution Canada voted against, just a few weeks ago, during the 2012 UN General Assembly session—the one that was supported by a cross-cutting group of nations comprising most UN member states, such as Switzerland, China, Austria, New Zealand, Denmark, Nigeria, Belgium, India, Norway, Spain, South Africa….”
Nope. Zip. Nada. I would still be unable to identify the precise resolution.
The reason for such persistent uncertainty: Canada voted against not one, but two resolutions that fit the above descriptions. In both instances it was joined by fewer than five per cent of UN members.
The first: On November 29, in a historic vote, the UN General Assembly voted to grant ‘non-member observer state’ status to Palestine. Lining up with the United States and Israel, Canada spared no effort to oppose “in the strongest terms” a positive vote on the resolution. The Foreign Affairs Minister even flew to New York to personally attempt to thwart the initiative.
But not only was the resolution approved by an overwhelming majority of UN members, Canada managed to make itself appear to be a diplomatic outcast as a result of its subservient support of Israel’s position—on any issue, whatever the implications.
Canada went to great lengths to label the adoption of this resolution a provocative ‘unilateral’ move on the part of Palestine. But the process by which Palestine pursued its long-held aspiration to statehood epitomizes the very definition of multilateralism. Palestine did not bestow ‘non-member observer state’ status upon itself. The decision to upgrade its UN standing reflected the will of the majority of the world’s nations. This was the antithesis of unilateralism.
Yet Canada issued veiled threats against Palestine for the wide-ranging support it received at the United Nations. Ominous pronouncements that Canada would be “considering all available next steps” prompted some to question the future of Canadian humanitarian aid to Palestine or its maintenance of diplomatic relations.
Canada’s words and actions were in contrast with the conciliatory tone used by Palestinian foreign minister Riad Malki, who said, “We are not going to judge any country by its vote. We are starting anew. We hope those who voted against us will support direct negotiations with the Israelis and a two-state solution.”
As political analyst Taufiq Rahim points out in The Toronto Star, it wasn’t always this way. “Canada traditionally played a much more even-handed role in the conflict, realizing the need to support both Israel’s security and Palestinian aspirations for statehood. But over the last decade Canadian policy on the Middle East conflict has become increasingly one-sided in its affinity for Israel.”
The second: On December 3 another UNGA resolution came to the vote. It urged Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to have access to its nuclear facilities. The resolution reflected growing international concern about the nuclear arsenal of Israel, one of the very few countries not to have joined the nearly universal NPT.
Once again, Canada’s foreign policy proved to be out of sync with the aspirations of the vast majority of UN members: Canada’s vote against the resolution was one of six, while 174 members voted yes.
At the heart of this resolution was Treaty universality. While nuclear weapons possession by any country constitutes an utterly grave threat to international peace and security, the stability and predictability of the nuclear disarmament regime are especially undermined by the few nuclear-armed holdouts—such as Israel—that refuse to join the NPT. Given that Canada has publicly advocated for strengthening the Treaty, it is disconcerting that it would vote against a resolution that signals the international community’s desire to achieve universal adherence.
Although Israel has never publicly acknowledged its possession of nuclear weapons, it is widely believed that Israel has at least several dozen nuclear warheads, and possibly as many as a few hundred. The Federation of American Scientists reports a stockpile estimate of 70-400 warheads. The Union of Concerned Scientists places the number at 80. No authority believes that the country does NOT have nuclear weapons. And no part of Israel’s nuclear program has ever been subject to international oversight.
Lamentably, this is not the first time that Canada’s actions have worked against Treaty universality. Shortly before it signaled its opposition to the call for Israel to join the Treaty, Canada inked a nuclear cooperation deal with India. Like Israel, India has neither joined the NPT nor ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Not only is Canada effectively rewarding a rogue nuclear-armed state by affording it benefits of nuclear cooperation that should be reserved for Treaty members, but the Canadian uranium India imports for civilian uses may allow India to divert more of its own uranium to its military program.
In the end, the results are disheartening: Two resolutions, two negative votes, one call from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praising Canada for its ‘principled’ foreign policy positions.