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Canadian Foreign Policy and Global Governance After the Federal Election

Now that the federal election is over, how should the new government approach foreign policy and global governance? Important Canadian foreign policy priorities identified by the World Federalists in a questionnaire sent to the major Canadian political parties in the September election included the following:

Question 1: How should Canada support United Nations peacekeeping?

The United Nations currently has over 90,000 military, police, and civilian personnel serving in 12 peacekeeping missions. That’s more troops in UN field operations than any actor in the world, including the U.S. Department of Defense and more than the UK, France, China, and Russia put together.

During the UN’s first five decades Canada was a leading contributor to peace operations, but Canada now ranks 68th in the world. Canadian contributions of personnel have declined under successive governments and now stand at (as of May 2021) 27 military personnel and 29 police.

Public support for Canadian participation in UN peacekeeping missions has remained strong over the years and contributions from countries like Canada with advanced military and logistics capabilities are needed to increase operational effectiveness. However, in recent years Canada has maintained a small and diminishing presence in a handful of UN peace operations.

As a middle power with no significant external threat to its borders, a nation dependent on international trade that supports a stable, rules-based international order, Canada’s interest lies in supporting and strengthening the multilateral system. Until 1995, Canada had participated in every UN peacekeeping mission. Despite the current Liberal government’s stated goal of reengaging in UN peacekeeping (including a 2016 public commitment to deploy 600 military and 150 police personnel), Canada’s contribution to UN peace operations remains low and future commitments remain uncertain.

Participation in UN peacekeeping is about more than just numbers, though. There is also a need for equipment and training. As part of the current federal government’s commitments to peacekeeping, they have launched the Elsie Initiative, a multilateral pilot project to develop approaches aimed at overcoming barriers to increasing women’s meaningful participation in peace operations.

Currently, Canada has 56 uniformed peacekeepers (combined military and police) which places it 68th among contributing countries. The largest contributor (Bangladesh) provides about 6500 peacekeepers.

Canada could increase it’s commitment of peacekeeping personnel, but there are also other ways in which Canada could contribute to UN Peacekeeping, including increasing support for training (including through the Elsie Initiative) and the provision of equipment.

Question 2: Global Climate Change – What should be Canada’s International Commitments?

In 2015, Canada signed the Paris Agreement, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Paris Agreement commits parties to contribute to limiting average global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. To meet this goal, each signatory commits to cut its carbon pollution, and submit a plan to reduce its annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). This plan is known as its “Nationally Determined Contribution” (NDC). Canada’s NDC is a plan to cut GHGs by 30% below 2005 emission levels by 2030.

To deliver on its Paris commitments, the current Canadian government developed the “PanCanadian Framework on Climate Change and Clean Growth” in 2016, which laid the foundation for subsequent policies and regulations designed to reduce emissions across all sectors of the economy.

Do we need to revisit Canada’s Nationally Determined Contribution and strengthen domestic action? There are many possible actions the new government could take as we address this growing crisis.

Climate Action Network Canada, of which WFMC is a member, developed a list of policy priorities during the election period, as well as hosting a climate round table with representatives from the major parties. Further details can be found on their website,

Question 3: Nuclear disarmament: Which measures intended to promote the realization of a world without nuclear weapons should Canada support?

The present international political climate is one where many governments, including some of the world’s largest military powers, are demonstrating a reduced commitment to the rule of law and cooperation within the framework of international organizations like the United Nations.

One consequence of this crisis in multilateralism is a growing risk of nuclear catastrophe. Recent developments include: a deterioration in East-West relations, notably between Russia and NATO; U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran; and U.S. and Russian withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty;

All of this is occurring within the context of a new nuclear arms race, precipitated in large part, by the U.S. allocation of over $1.5 trillion to ‘modernize’ its nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years. In fact all nine nuclear weapons states are modernizing and/or expanding their nuclear arsenals.

Despite these growing threats, Canada’s nuclear arms control and disarmament policies have changed very little in over a decade. Recently the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence issued the following (all-party) recommendation:

“That the Government of Canada take a leadership role within NATO in beginning the work necessary for achieving the NATO goal of creating the conditions for a world free of nuclear weapons…”

There are many steps that Canada could take.

A NATO policy of “No First Use”

Any use of nuclear weapons would be a violation of the international humanitarian rules of armed conflict. Yet Canada and others in the NATO alliance continue to maintain a strategic doctrine that permits the “first use” of nuclear weapons, even in response to a non-nuclear weapons attack.

A policy of No First Use would mean that NATO pledges that its members would never be the first to use nuclear weapons. This would be an important step toward bringing NATO’s Strategic Concept into line with its acknowledged international legal and political obligations.


Both the United States and Russia keep about 900 nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, ready to be launched in minutes. If satellites and radars send warning of an incoming attack, the goal is to be able to launch their missiles quickly, before the attacking warheads could land.

But the warning systems are not foolproof. There have been well-documented “false warnings” of nuclear attack in both the Soviet Union/Russia and the United States that led the countries to begin launch preparations and increased the risk that nuclear weapons would be used. Taking missiles off hair-trigger alert and eliminating options to launch on warning would end this risk.

Support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Frustrated with the slow pace of progress toward nuclear disarmament, 122 governments came together in 2017 to negotiate the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The treaty is a powerful statement, grounded in an understanding of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear explosions, of the political, moral, and legal standards enjoining non-use and elimination of nuclear arms, and of the need to redress the damage wrought by the nuclear age to people and the environment.

The TPNW reinforces existing treaty- and customary international law requiring the non-use and elimination of nuclear weapons. That law applies to states whether or not they join the treaty.

Signing the TPNW would oblige Canada to make changes to its policies and practices and make genuine efforts to bring NATO into conformity with the Treaty.

Question 4: What can Canada do to strengthen the United Nations?

World Federalists support the application of the principles of federalism to world affairs, in order that global governance becomes more equitable, just and democratically accountable. The organization supports a number of specific approaches to strengthening the United Nations.

Responsibility to Protect

WFMC monitors and supports the progressive development of the Responsibility to Protect normative framework, which addresses the international community’s failure to prevent and stop genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

The Responsibility to Protect stipulates that the State carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing and that the international community has a responsibility to assist States in fulfilling this responsibility. Additionally, the international community should use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from these crimes. Crucially, if a State fails to protect its populations or is the perpetrator of crimes, the international community must be prepared to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.

The ongoing situation in Myanmar provides a current example. Protestors there have called for the international community to uphold the R2P framework and respond to the violence they face from security forces. Photos on social media show “We need R2P” and similar messages on protest placards and written in candlelight on city streets.

The Campaign for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly

WFMC participates actively in the Campaign for the Establishment of a Parliamentary Assembly at the United Nations (UNPA), a global network that advocates practical steps toward the goal of democratic representation of the world’s citizens at the United Nations. WFMC’s support for a UN Parliamentary Assembly is rooted in a dedication to the principles of democracy and the rule of law. In an era of globalization, many important decisions affecting the lives of the world’s citizens are made at the international level, by organizations like the United Nations and related agencies. To help ensure international cooperation and to enhance the legitimacy of the UN, people must be more effectively and directly included in the activities of the UN. A United Nations Parliamentary Assembly would give elected citizen representatives, not only states, a direct and influential role in global policy. Establishing a UNPA offers a pragmatic, gradual approach to this important global governance imperative.

Starting as a largely consultative body, the rights and powers of the UNPA could be expanded over time as its democratic legitimacy increases. The assembly will act as an independent watchdog in the UN system and as a democratic reflection of the diversity of world public opinion.

United Nations Emergency Peacekeeping Service (UNEPS)

WFM-Canada supports the creation of a permanent, standing UN Emergency Peace Service, which would include civilian, police, judicial, and military personnel.

This would be a permanent, integrated UN formation that would be ready for immediate deployment upon authorization by the UN Security Council. A UNEPS would be paid for from the UN regular budget.

Estimates of the costs vary, but start-up expenses could be as high as $2 to $3 billion. Annual recurring costs would be approximately $1 billion. These costs would be shared among 193 member states. While these estimates may seem high, by comparison with the military expenditures of many UN member states, the cost of a UNEPS is modest. A UNEPS is specifically designed to help with the prevention of armed conflict; stopping genocide and mass atrocity crimes; protecting civilians at extreme risk; ensuring prompt beginnings to peace operations; and addressing human needs in areas where others cannot.

Follow up to the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations

On 21 September 2020, the United Nations’ 193 Member States adopted the Declaration on the Commemoration of the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the United Nations (UN75 Declaration), which outlines a vision and twelve distinct commitments addressing the world’s most pressing threats and opportunities. The milestone UN75 Declaration also called for “the Secretary-General to report back before the end of the seventy-fifth session of the General Assembly with recommendations to advance our common agenda and to respond to current and future challenges.” That Secretary-General’s report, Our Common Agenda, was released by the second week of September 2021 and is expected to outline a framework of activities by member states to pursue a stronger, more effective UN system.

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