Walter Dorn and Peter Langille: Where have all the Canadian peacekeepers gone?

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      By Walter Dorn and Peter Langille

      Peacekeepers’ Day in Canada, celebrated each year on August 9, was created to recognize the high level of professionalism, dedication, and courage of Canadians serving in faraway places in the cause of peace. For decades, Canada was the world’s number one contributor of UN peacekeeping troops. Until 1996, this nation remained in the top 10. Unfortunately, the country now ranks only 52nd. While UN peacekeeping is now at an all-time high, deploying over 82,000 troops worldwide, Canada’s contribution is a mere 55 soldiers.

      Asking a simple question, “Where have all the Canadian peacekeepers gone?” yields a simple answer. They have shifted to NATO, where they are not doing peacekeeping but are conducting counterinsurgency operations as an integral part of the American “war on terror”. With over 2,700 Canadian troops deployed in southern Afghanistan under U.S. and NATO command, the Canadian Forces is clearly in danger of becoming a single mission military, with one predominant and all consuming theatre of operation. In abandoning UN peacekeeping operations, Canada is forcing developing countries to carry the heaviest responsibility for providing urgently needed troops to many troubled regions of the world. At the UN’s headquarters in New York, Canada does not provide a single military officer to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, which guides some 17 missions worldwide.

      Canada could renew its peacekeeping role by providing several hundred troops directly to UN operations, including to the missions in Haiti, Lebanon, Darfur, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As a country rich in peacekeeping heritage, Canada could support the United Nations in many other ways besides boots on the ground, for example, through communications and reconnaissance technology, specialized training, and joint exercises with other peacekeeping nations. Canada’s robust Coyote reconnaissance vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles could provide marvellous service to help the UN do early warning of conflict outbreaks, secure UN mission staff and protect vulnerable populations.

      The Canadian drift away from peacekeeping has occurred in the absence of an overall strategic policy direction from the government. After years of waiting for a comprehensive strategy on how Canada can contribute to world security and develop its armed forces accordingly, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced in May 2008 the “Canada First Defence Strategy”. The document and associated speeches were widely criticized as little more than announcements confirming funding commitments.

      More recently, Canada and other governments further weakened UN peacekeeping by shutting down SHIRBRIG, the Multinational Standby High Readiness Brigade for United Nations peace operations. Canada helped pioneer this innovation starting in 1995, following the Rwandan genocide. The SHIRBRIG enabled Canada to participate in a multinational division of labour for UN peacekeeping—effectively selecting nationally preferred roles—an arrangement so promising that the government announced Canada would take a lead role. Canada was to provide a CF standby unit of approximately 800 troops, as well as staff an operational headquarters. However, this was not delivered. Furthermore, last year, Canada and the 15 other countries voted to cease all SHIRBRIG activities, a decision that took effect on June 30, 2009. The organization’s termination represents another failure of western countries to live up to their peacekeeping commitments and their responsibility to protect.

      As Canada looks ahead to the 2011 deadline to draw down our military commitment in Afghanistan, a vigorous debate is underway on this country’s future military purpose and priorities. Historically, Canada’s interests have been divided between (1) working closely with the U.S., through alliances like NATO and Norad; and (2) working to build a secure multilateral order, through a myriad of engagements at the United Nations, including UN peace operations. But in recent years our historic support for UN peace operations has waned, while the trend toward integration with the U.S. military and U.S. priorities has increased. Political leadership is required to restore a balanced Canadian military policy, one that includes a significant commitment to peace operations.

      In tribute to the sacrifices that our soldiers have made for service to humanity, let us indeed celebrate Peacekeeping Day in Canada. But as we begin to spend billions of dollars in the coming years to make our military forces more robust, we must remember that UN peacekeeping urgently needs Canadian support, and that a significant contribution to the United Nations by this country would give Canadians further cause for pride and future celebration.

      Walter Dorn is an associate professor of defence studies at the Canadian Forces College and the Royal Military College of Canada. He serves as a consultant to the United Nations and is a council member of the World Federalist Movement-Canada.

      H. Peter Langille directs Global Common Security I3 in London, Ontario, where he specializes in UN peace operations, peace and conflict studies, as well as independent defence analysis.



      Mike Hansen

      Aug 8, 2009 at 2:18pm

      Wow, '82,000 troops world wide' and not "one" protecting The Sovereign Canada from "gang insurgents smuggling weapons of mass destruction, guns and drugs from the u.s.a. day and night"!
      Wouldn't it be nice if they could 'keep the peace' in Canada?
      Sovereign Vanguard

      Jim Parker

      Aug 8, 2009 at 4:01pm

      As a current and long-serving member of the CF, I can assure that Canada was NEVER the number one contributor to the UN wrt numbers of troops committed to the mission!! NEVER!! Having recently returned from Sudan, I wonder if the author of this article has ever been any of the places he says we could deploy 'peacekeeping' troops to. Are you nuts?? Darfur as a peacekeeping destination?? I say it again, are you nuts??!! What exactly is 'peacekeeping' by your definition? In the photo you have attached to this article, there are some of our troops. See the long black things hanging over their shoulders? Yes, those are C7 rifles - the standard weapon of the CF! Please, before you write about that which you do not know,visit the place,meet the troops and DO RESEARCH! Geez!!

      Jim Parker

      Nasty Celt

      Aug 8, 2009 at 7:45pm

      What it really comes down to is, our government thought the world didn't have enough killers.


      Aug 10, 2009 at 2:03pm

      Where are Canada's peacekeepers?
      They are in Cyprus, Darfur/Sudan, Congo, Sinai, Siera Leone, Golan Heights, Jerusalem, Lebonon, Kosovo, Haiti, on the Oceans of the World, in Afghanistan providing humanitarian aid, rebuilding the country and as warriors when required.

      Dave L

      Aug 12, 2009 at 6:04am

      I have been a member of the Canadian Forces for 20 + years, and I have never been a “Peace Keeper” I am a Soldier, a Canadian Soldier, and yes in the past I have been deployed on peace keeping missions around the world as a Soldier, not as a Peace Keeper. I am proud to be a Canadian Soldier, and I will say again I have never been nor do I want to be called a “Peace Keeper”