The Liberal government is committing nearly half a billion dollars and up to 600 soldiers toward United Nations peacekeeping operations, signalling Canada’s return to peacekeeping — a role the country was once known for around the world.
Along with the soldiers, equipment such as helicopters and planes will be deployed to peace operations, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said Friday at a military air base in Bagotville, Que.
Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale also announced up to 150 police officers will support various U.N. peace operations.
The announcement means a dramatic increase from the current 19 Canadian troops, 75 police officers and nine military experts participating on peacekeeping missions, according to UN numbers.
Does peacekeeping actually keep the peace?
Walter Dorn, an expert in peacekeeping with Canadian Forces College in Toronto, welcomed the move by the Liberals, adding that Canada has effectively been absent from peacekeeping missions since the early 2000s.
He said the majority of UN peacekeeping efforts have been “effective” and are essential for protecting civilian populations.
The 1994 Rwandan genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 to 1 million people and the failure of Dutch peacekeepers to stop the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men in Srebrenica have been seen as low points for peacekeeping efforts.
Other operations like a U.S.-led UN humanitarian operation in Somalia in 1993 and missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Sierra Leone in the 1990s raised questions about the efficacy of peacekeeping.
But even in failure, Dorn says peacekeeping still has a positive impact.
“Gen. Dallaire, for instance in the Rwandan mission, was able to save 20,000-30,000 people with just 300 peacekeepers on the ground,” he said. “Even when the missions are failing to secure the peace they still have a positive impact.”
“Of course peacekeeping is far from perfect and there are limited things you can do to keep people from fighting each other,” Dorn continued. “But I think peacekeeping is an essential component in making securing peace agreements … and protecting local populations.”
Where are Canadian troops headed?
One big question Friday’s announcement failed to answer is where Canadian troops will placed. There has been speculation about Canada joining missions in Mali, the Central African Republic, South Sudan or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Conservative defence critic James Bezan said Friday’s announcement raises more questions than answers and criticized the decision to “blindly” pledge Canadian troops for possible deployment.
“Today’s announcement provides absolutely no details as to where, when or even why our troops will be deployed,” Bezan said in a statement. “The Liberals must answer basic questions such as what will the mission entail? What are the rules of engagement? Who will we be working with? Will there be a vote in Parliament?
“Instead, all we have learned is that the Liberals are sending almost half a billion dollars to the United Nations, at a time when that investment is desperately needed at home.”
But all four operations raise questions about safety and complex political situations. In Mali 86 peacekeepers have been killed since April 2013.
“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,” Sajjan said. “We need to understand conflict better. We need to look at the root cause of conflict, and think of innovative ways to move forward.”
Dion said Canada cannot turn away from the “complex” political entanglements of certain countries.
*With files from the Canadian Press