Canada is hosting a two-day peacekeeping summit in Vancouver on Tuesday, despite the fact the country has fewer peacekeepers in the field than at any point in recent memory.
In August 2016, the Liberal government committed $450 million, 600 soldiers and 150 police officers toward UN peacekeeping missions. This came after Trudeau’s election promise to steer Canada back to peace missions after years of limited involvement.
So far there still has not been any concrete commitment, but this could soon change.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted at a peacekeeping announcement, which would satisfy the United Nations and uphold Candian values.
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Canada’s diminishing peacekeeping role
Canada used to be the largest contributor to peacekeeping in the 1990s, with thousands of “blue helmets” deployed around the world.
In 1956, Canada proposed the first large-scale UN peacekeeping mission during the Suez Crisis. After the success of the mission, Canadian foreign minister Lester B. Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Canada continued as a top peacekeeping contributor during the Cold War and into the 1990s, when the country remained the No. 1 peacekeeper with over 3,000 military personnel in UN operations.
But now Canada has almost disappeared from the peacekeeping map.
In August 2016, Canada had 112 peacekeepers deployed around the world. In September 2017 there were only 68.
The decline is largely attributed to 44 fewer Canadian police officers being deployed to Haiti, where the UN is closing down its 13-year stabilization mission in favour of a much smaller effort.
Canada’s commitment to peacekeeping began to drop dramatically in the late 1990s after several failed missions, such as Rwanda, Bosnia and Somalia.
“It changed after the implementation of the Dayton Peace Accord,” Elinor Sloan, professor of international relations at Carleton University, said.
The Dayton Peace Accord was an agreement reached between Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia that ended the civil war in Bosnia.
“Traditionally, peacekeeping missions during the Cold War era weren’t as dangerous. But peacekeeping in the Balkans changed this,” she said. “UN troops were targeted by the Serbs and it was very dangerous.”
The traditional peacekeeping mission just wasn’t working, Sloan said.
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With the changing military landscape and the impacts of 9/11, Canada became more involved with U.S.-NATO-led missions, like in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Canada still had forces on the ground but they were under NATO instead of the UN,” Sloan said.
Does peacekeeping work?
Peacekeeping is a “third-party intervention,” meaning troops typically maintain a neutral and observant role, Sloan said.
“But it’s very difficult to intervene in a conflict and resolve it,” she added.
She said the most effective way to enforce peace is training local troops so they can govern their own territory. But this method does not fit into the traditional “peacekeeping” role.
Walter Dorn, an expert in peacekeeping with Canadian Forces College in Toronto, said the majority of UN peacekeeping efforts have been effective and are essential for protecting civilian populations.
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The UN (unlike NATO), reimburses contributing countries for a significant part of their costs, Dorn added.
“So peacekeeping is much less of a drain on national resources, as well as operating in safer, more permissive environments, though still requiring combat-ready forces,” he wrote in a blog post.
Even when peacekeeping has failed, Dorn said it still helps protect people.
“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.
Is it safe for Canadian peacekeepers?
Around 125,000 soldiers have been deployed to peacekeeping missions since 1948 when Canada began participating in the missions. Up until 2010, approximately 130 Canadian peacekeepers had been killed.
That’s fewer than the 158 Canadian Forces members killed during the 11-year combat mission in Afghanistan.
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Dorn 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,” he said. “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.”
Who are the top peacekeeping contributors?
Here is a list of top 10 countries by total numbers of peacekeepers contributed to the UN as of August 2017.
- Ethiopia: 8,215
- Bangladesh: 7,636
- India: 7,049
- Pakistan: 7,009
- Rwanda: 6,351
- Nepal: 5,289
- Senegal: 3,064
- Egpyt: 3,027
- Ghana: 2,744
- Indonesia: 2,713
Canada falls 73rd on the list of 124 countries.
Where are peacekeepers needed?
There are currently 15 UN peacekeeping missions and most of them concern conflicts in Africa.
Last year, the UN asked Canada to contribute transport helicopters for its mission in Mali, to help support stabilization in the area.
When Canada failed to make a decision, other countries such as Belgium and Germany moved to fill the gap on a short-term basis to buy time for Canada to finalize its plans.
Reuters reported more than 100 peacekeepers have been killed in Mali since 2013, making it one of the deadliest places to serve as a peacekeeper.
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Now, sources say the Canadian government has put several offers on the table for the UN’s consideration, including the deployment of helicopters to help in Mali, and a transport plane in Uganda to assist different missions in Africa.
Canada is also reportedly ready to provide a rapid-reaction force in the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria, contribute to the UN’s new police mission in Haiti, and send trainers to help other countries become better at peacekeeping.