Centre for International and Defence Policy

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

Peace First:

Canada's Role in Peace Operations

20-21 October 2016

Kingston, ON

Program for Peace First Workshop | October 2016

“We can’t address today’s challenges with yesterday’s mindset,” emphasized the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling for greater member state support for peace operations. Canada is still internationally recognized for past achievements in key areas pertaining to peace operations, especially peacekeeping. Since the call by Canada's then-Minister of External Affairs, Lester B. Pearson for the creation of a multinational armed force to go into Egypt to help restore peace and prevent a major international confrontation, Canada has been associated with the fundamentals of peacekeeping. Canada has been a key player in securing major achievements, which are relevant for peace operations:

  • The establishment of the Blue Helmets (1956- the UN Peacekeepers);
  • The Ottawa Convention or the Mine Ban Treaty (1999- the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction);
  • The Kimberley Process (2003- preventing "conflict diamonds" from entering the mainstream rough diamond market following recommendations by the Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations, Robert Fowler);
  • The Responsibility to Protect (2005- emphasizing the state's responsibility to protect its people from major violations of human rights, which followed the report by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), an effort led by the Canadian government).

Today, after a decade of focus on NATO or coalition operations in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Syria, Canada’s deployment in peacekeeping mission is at an “all-time low”. With 29 military personnel and 85 police officers in UN missions in 2015, Canada was ranking 66th of 121 UN member states contributing uniformed personnel. Yet following up on its electoral promises, the new Canadian government has pledged for a renewed role at United Nations notably by re-engaging in peacekeeping activities. What does this mean in practice?

On April 24th, a report by Canadem suggested that: “the capacity of Canada’s military to conduct peacekeeping operations has largely disappeared after a decade of war-fighting in Afghanistan”. As a premise to the conference, we reject the assertion that the CAF have lost their capacity to conduct peace operations. While the focus on Canadian military engagements abroad since 9/11 has been on Afghanistan (and now Iraq) and that those operations were conducted in threat environments that could be euphemistically called non-permissive, the general objective of setting conditions for a safe and secure environment were largely unchanged from missions that were conducted in the Caribbean, the Balkans, and Africa both before and during this same period of time: missions that have been traditionally considered ‘peace operations.’  We argue that what separated missions like Operation HALO (Canada’s contribution to stability operations in Haiti in 2004) and Operation ATHENA (Canada’s contribution to ISAF in Afghanistan from 2003-2011) was the threat environment, not the training or the degree of professional military education held by the soldiers. Indeed, the interpersonal skills, the posture and attitudes of individual soldiers and commanders in the field, and the emphasis on small unit, dismounted patrolling as ways in which to connect with local populations and local security forces were the same.  Soldiers in Afghanistan were employing the same skills as soldiers deployed to Haiti. 

We concede that yes, changes in the threat environment do necessitate some changes in training, but these are primarily at the tactical level and are accounted for through the on-going process of mission-specific training: the training that units undergo as part of their pre-deployment training. Moreover, as the changes in the threat environment are most acute at the tactical level, such changes are rapid and hard to forecast. In short, the situation is dynamic. History is replete with examples of threat environments changing rapidly from semi-permissive to non-permissive (and back again) with little warning.  Prudent training would then include contingencies for all threat environments – something that units within the Canadian Armed Forces do on a daily basis already. A wholesale focus on operations in a semi-permissive environment would not be doing our soldiers any favours, indeed we feel it would be an assumption of greater risk. 

To revitalize the debate on peace operations and to analyze Canadian capacities in this area, we’ve designed a program that engages directly with CAF stakeholders at the Peace Support Training Centre, as well as UN and academic peacekeeping experts. Rather than enter the debate on whether or not Canada should reengage with peacekeeping, we are focusing on evolving training requirements, including topics such as emerging technologies, regional variation in conflict, human rights, gender awareness etc. Moreover, we will examine how to tighten the link between government policy and operational requirements and tease out the training implications for the CAF and other government departments (OGDs). Finally, we will tackle the question of how Canada can add value to peace operations through a hands-on workshop, entitled “Peace First, Canada’s Role in Peace Operations”. This workshop will gather scholars, practitioners and policy experts from multidisciplinary fields to assess the merits and implications of various policy options on Canada’s role in training peacekeepers and engaging in peace operations. Scholarly articles and a policy report will summarize the group’s findings.

The proposed workshop participants come from diverse organizational settings based in Canada and abroad such as top-tier academic institutions (Columbia University, Queen’s University, Sciences Po Paris, New York University, Université de Montréal), internationally recognized think tanks and research centers  (International Peace Institute, Center on International Cooperation, the Queen’s Centre for International and Defence Policy), International organizations (United Nations) coming both from the field (MINUSCA, ONUCI) and headquarters perspectives (UN Operational Center Crisis), key analysts (Centre d’Analyse, de Prévision et de Stratégie  du Ministère des Affaires étrangères francais), leading peace support training centers (NODEFIC,), as well as key Canadian stakeholders (PSTC, DND, DRDC, GAC).

The workshop is co-sponsored by:


Dept of Politics and International Studies
Bishop's University 


War Studies
Royal Military College of Canada


Defence Engagement Program