The United Nations Security Council Today: Implications for Canada’s Membership

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The United Nations Security Council Today:

Implications for Canada’s Membership.”

Address at IDRC on 19 February 2010


Colin Keating, Executive Director, Security Council Report, New York

Canada was last elected to the Security Council in 1998. It is hoping to be elected again later this year. But in the past 12 years the Security Council has changed dramatically and this is certain to impact on Canada if it is elected.

As we all know, the 1945 collective security architecture was quickly overtaken by the Cold War and the Security Council became largely frozen for almost 45 years.

But in the 1990s, with the end of the cold war, there were some radical developments. First, the threshold for intervention by the Security Council was dramatically widened. The question of what constitutes a matter of international peace and security was stretched from the original understanding - that it applied to only to conflicts between sovereign states - to include internal conflicts and even civil wars. Secondly, the scope for Security Council action was also expanded to cover the actions of individuals. And thirdly, the Security Council also began using its powers to bind all states by imposing substantive international legal obligations of a generic nature. And finally the Council launched onto entirely new territory with the creation of tribunals designed to hold individuals criminally liable for various defined crimes.

All these trends were underway when Canada was last on the Security Council, but they have now solidified and become more or less standard features of the Councils day to day work

Today, in 2010 as Canada contemplates election to the Security Council again, it is important to appreciate that situations in some 36 countries are being addressed by the Security Council more or less routinely. More than half of these are in Africa and the overall total represents almost 20% of the membership of the United Nations.

(Our website at gives in depth coverage.)

It is also important to be conscious of the economic cost of security. Quite apart from the loss of life and damage inflicted by political violence the bare cost of armaments alone is spiralling upward. SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported last year that global military expenditure had reached $1,464 billion - an increase of 4% over 2008 and 45% over the last decade.

Another key statistic for a country coming onto the Council is the number of peacekeeping operations. There are currently 16 UN peacekeeping operations involving almost 120,000 deployed personnel –soldiers, civilians and police. The estimated budget for the coming year is $8.2 billion US dollars. The Security Council, as a result, is driving more than 80% of the budget of the United Nations.

In addition, there are many UN Special Political Missions – including major operations like UNAMA in Afghanistan and UNAMI in Iraq, which the Security Council oversees.

And the Security Council agenda also includes regional operations such as the AU operation in Somalia, the NATO deployment in Kosovo, the ISAF operation in Afghanistan and, recently, various EU led operations in Chad and DRC.

There is research by the Human Security Report Project, based in Vancouver, suggesting that up to 2006 there had been a decline from the previous decade in the number of people being killed in armed conflict. However, as Canada contemplates the implications of Security Council membership, it is important to note that in their January 2010 publication the authors of the “Human Security Report Project” say that the positive trend identified earlier seems to have stalled. There are therefore real questions about the sustainability of that trend, not least because there are very real questions now about the sustainability of the peacekeeping and peace building efforts which are recognised as having played a role in keeping the overall level of violent conflict contained.

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