During last year’s election, the Liberals talked about the importance about making involvement in UN peacekeeping missions a priority. Today, they made that official:
The Liberal government is putting the United Nations on notice that Canada is ready to provide money and, more importantly, troops for peacekeeping missions around the world.
Up to 600 Canadian soldiers – including engineers and medical units – are being committed to future peacekeeping operations, as well as equipment such as helicopters and planes, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said Friday.
“It is time for Canada to choose engagement over isolation,” Dion told a news conference in Saguenay, Que., where Liberal MPs are taking part in a two-day caucus retreat.
Sajjan said Friday’s announcement signals that Canada is committed to re-engaging in a full spectrum of multilateral peace operations, but he also warned that the landscape has changed dramatically in the last 20 years.
“Around the world, the nature of conflict is changing and it’s more complex than ever,” Sajjan said.
“Today, peace support operations are conducted where there may be no peace to keep, or where the fragile peace constantly teeters on the edge of violence. We need to understand conflict better. We need to look at the root cause of conflict, and think of innovative ways to move forward.”
The government is also setting aside $450 million over three years for projects that promote peace and security around the world, including the deployment of police officers and civilian experts.
As the Defence Minister concedes, though, the world is a very complicated place, and it’s not at all clear where this “peace” is that Canadian soliders are going to help “keep.” There may be a fair amount of nostalgia in Canada for the notion of the blue-helmeted UN peacekeeping missions, and the flowery multilateralism that represents, but our foreign and defence policy objectives should be about much more than platitudes and unrealistic ideals.
As David Bercuson notes, the realities of “peacekeeping” are dramatically different today:
UN peacekeeping isn’t like that anymore. In Africa, UN troops are sent to safeguard civilians in zones torn apart by civil war perpetrated by radical Islamist terror groups such as Boko Haram. In those missions, UN soldiers come under fire and are often killed.
Nor are those soldiers much like the contingents Canada stood beside in the 1970s and ’80s–well armed, well trained, and with a strong sense of obligation toward the civilians in their operating zones. There were always a few exceptions—and one horrific example is the Somalia Affair, when four Canadian soldiers were convicted of offences related to the death of Somali teenager Shidane Abukar Arone. Canada has always striven to field professional forces that reflect Canadian values and practices.
So if today’s government is serious, it simply must take new circumstances into account. Canadians should only be deployed alongside other national contingents whose troops are well armed and trained, know the laws of war, and represent countries that hew to democratic values.
And learning from Afghanistan, they should have fast medevac capability, ability to deploy or call in heavy weapons, have solid lines of supply and communication, and operate under a clear chain of command. A field commander looking for instant response should not end up calling the UN only to get voice mail promising a return call when the office reopens on Monday morning.
Without any of these conditions, Canadian troops will, sooner or later, be victims of a nostalgic view of the world that no longer represents any political reality.
Moreover, today’s seems to be an open-ended commitment – will Canadians troops go wherever the United Nations decides they’re needed or will elected Canadian politicians still be the ones to decide whether it’s in our interests to send our troops into harm’s way? If the government is committing Canadian troops to a foreign conflict zone, it should make the case directly to the Canadian people. That’s not happening here:
The Liberal government announced its new commitment to the United Nations on Friday – well sort of.
Cabinet ministers noted at a news conference that up to 600 Canadian soldiers would be ready for UN missions – it just wasn’t going to announce what those missions were.
The potential nations? Mali, the Central African Republic, South Sudan or the Democratic Republic of Congo…..are the ones cited often.
What’s also rather galling about today’s announcement is how political and self-congratulatory it was. Here’s an actual passage from the official news release: