Centre for International and Defence Policy

Centre for International and Defence Policy
Centre for International and Defence Policy

Not grandpa's peacekeeping

Louis Delvoie, Op Ed
Kingston Whig Standard, February 26, 2016

The election of the new Trudeau government has given rise to many hopes. Among these are the hope that Canada can once again become a peacekeeping nation after its long and sad experience of war in Afghanistan. Those who advocate a return to peacekeeping point to Canada's long history of involvement in UN and other missions dating back to the late 1940s. And they are quite right to derive some pride from Canada's distinguished record in these operations. From Palestine to Cyprus, from Kashmir to Cambodia, from Namibia to El Salvador, Canadian service men and women made a highly useful contribution to the preservation of ceasefires and to the prevention of conflict escalation. That said, the story of Canada's involvement in peacekeeping is not an entirely happy one.

Those nostalgic for an earlier era in peacekeeping tend to forget or overlook some of the darker episodes. Thus Canada participated in the UN mission in Congo in the early 1960s, a mission that ended in total failure. Canada's contingent in the UN Emergency Force in the Sinai and Gaza was unceremoniously expelled in 1967. Several Canadian peacekeepers were killed when Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974. More recently, Canada's involvement in Somalia resulted in a public relations disaster for the Canadian Forces. And Canada's engagements in peacekeeping in the former Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s produced frustration, humiliation and casualties for Canadian troops. Not an entirely rosy picture.

Those who nostalgically harken back to the glory days of Canadian peacekeeping also tend to ignore the fact that the world and its conflicts have changed dramatically in the last 25 years. The last classical iteration of Canada's criteria for participation in peacekeeping operations appeared in the Canadian government's Defence White Paper of 1987. It makes for enlightening reading in 2016. The criteria listed were:

* whether there is a clear and enforceable mandate;

* whether the principal antagonists agree to a ceasefire;

* whether the principal antagonists agree to Canadian participation;

* whether the arrangements are likely to serve the cause of peace and lead to a political settlement;

* whether the size and composition of the force are appropriate to the mandate;

* whether there is a single identifiable authority competent to support the operation and influence the disputants;

* whether participation is adequately and equitably funded and logistically supported.

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