The Canadian government says it has yet to make a decision on where our future peacekeepers may be deployed to, but the possibilities include countries that have reputations for being the deadliest places for peacekeeping missions.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan acknowledged that risk this week, while attending the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial summit in London. It’s a major point of contention for opposition Conservatives, who have accused the Trudeau government of not being transparent about its peacekeeping ambitions and warned about the risks troops might face.
But Walter Dorn, a professor in the Dept. of Defence Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada, said the potential risks posed to peacekeepers is an important consideration but by no means a reason to not deploy troops to a volatile region.
“You don’t send a peacekeeping deployment to a place which is perfectly peaceful,” said Dorn, a prominent peacekeeping expert who published a report earlier this year on the preparedness of Canadian Armed Forces for peacekeeping missions.
“In terms of risk… I don’t see why we would be shy to go into peacekeeping when we weren’t shy to go into a place like Iraq.”
Canada currently has a contingent of Canadian Forces special advisers on the ground in Iraq to train Kurdish Peshmerga fighting the so-called Islamic State.
In the two years since that mission began, one Canadian soldier has been killed in action: Sgt. Andrew Doiron was shot and killed by Peshmerga forces in March 2015, in what was called a “tragic case of mistaken identity.”
Out of the more than 125,000 soldiers have been deployed to peacekeeping since 1948, when Canada began participating in the missions. Up until 2010 approximately 130 Canadian peacekeepers have been killed. That’s less than the 158 Canadian Forces members killed during the 11-year combat mission in Afghanistan.
Mali, where more than 100 peacekeepers have been killed in the past three years of the UN mission, is among a handful of troubled African countries that are perceived to be potential destinations for Canadian peacekeepers.
Other possibilities include South Sudan, where there are fears the country may once again be on the brink of all-out civil war, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has had its own fair share of peacekeeper deaths.
“The greatest risk of fatality is in Mali. But even there, it would be far less risky than in Afghanistan,” Dorn said. “If we go to Mali, then we can expect that there will be a good chance there will be one or more fatalities coming out of it in the next year.”
Sajjan, in a telephone conference with reporters Thursday, admitted Canadian peacekeepers could possibly end up in harm’s way.
“Our troops may be required to use force at various levels, up to and including deadly force if necessary,” the minister said. “Protection of civilians must be at the forefront of any mandate.”
For Dorn, the bigger risk is to those living in the conflict zones and desperately need the protection peacekeepers could provide. He said Canada is already dragging its feet on making a decision on where to send up to 600 peacekeepers when other countries have already committed thousands of troops.
“I heard the minister say that they would make a decision before the end of the year. I think that’s incredible, when the UN needs to have a rapid response, needs solid countries committing and it takes us more than a year to be able to figure out what we can provide to the UN?”
He added that Canada is going to have to set an example ahead of hosting the peacekeeping summit next year, which Sajjan announced in London Thursday.