Trudeau pushing ‘Canada is back’ narrative with Mali UN peacekeeping mission: experts

Canada will be sending troops on a peacekeeping mission to Mali.
Canada will be sending troops on a peacekeeping mission to Mali. Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Canada will soon send aviation troops to the embattled country of Mali, marking one of Canada’s first peacekeeping missions to Africa in decades, other than a small presence in South Sudan.

A senior government official anonymously released the news to several outlets Friday night, and a formal announcement is said to be planned for Monday. This news comes just months after the Canadian government backed away from its 2016 pledge to commit up to up to 600 Canadian Armed Forces personnel to UN peace operations, as it reviewed its strategy for participating in peacekeeping missions.

According to Adam Chapnick, a professor of defence at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), several factors have gone into the decision to rejoin the mission in Mali at this point in time.

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“This changes things quite significantly,” said Chapnick, who said he is certain the Canadian government will likely announce this move as the largest increase in UN support in recent history.

“I think the government is developing domestically a narrative of [a big] posture of international support, and taking a step towards building this ‘Canada is back’ narrative.”

Canada currently has just 22 soldiers deployed on peacekeeping missions

Figures released by National Defence in March reveal that Canada is currently at a historic low for participation in peacekeeping missions. Canada had a total of 22 soldiers and 43 total peacekeepers deployed around the world at the end of December, the most recent UN numbers indicate, down from 62 in November.

The decline, largely the result of a reduction in the number of Canadian police officers deployed to Haiti, means Canada has fewer peacekeepers in the field than at any point since the 1950s.

WATCH: PM gets mixed reviews for peacekeeping announcement

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PM gets mixed reviews for peacekeeping announcement

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated in 2016 that Canada would contribute up to 600 troops to UN peacekeeping operations before initiating a review of the commitment in November 2017.

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Jane Boulden, a security studies expert at Queen’s University, told Reuters that Canada would have to work hard to rebuild the credibility it lost in that decision.

WATCH: ‘Shift’ in approach to peacekeeping requires countries to fulfill UN needs

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‘Shift’ in approach to peacekeeping requires countries to fulfill UN needs

“This approach will be a disappointment to some, and the Canadian government will have to work hard to overcome the credibility it has lost in not following through on its initial pledge,” she said at the time.

Chapnick said this can also be partially be attributed to Canada’s assistance in the Afghanistan conflict (2001-2011), which “monopolized our contribution, give or take, for a decade. And by the time we were done there, we had a Conservative government that was trying to balance the budget.”

WATCH: Trudeau says Canada remains committed to United Nations peacekeeping missions

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Trudeau says Canada remains committed to United Nations peacekeeping missions

The Canadian government’s lack of participation in peacekeeping missions over the past decade or so has cost the country in terms of its international credibility, said Nick Coghlan, the former Canadian Ambassador to South Sudan.

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“The credibility gap was starting to be quite substantial. The UN had pretty much given up asking us,” said Coghlan

It’s important to note, he adds, that Canada’s international reputation is largely associated with peacekeeping.

“Peacekeeping is basically a Canadian invention. Serving abroad in a foreign community, you quickly become aware of how much people appreciate that,” said Coghlan.

A UN Security Council bid is fast approaching

When Trudeau pulled Canada out of its pledge to assist in Mali, allies warned that our bid for a UN Security Council seat could suffer unless the prime minister delivered, Reuters reported.

Chapnick points out that since Canada is competing for a seat on the UN Security Council in a few years, we will likely remind international parties of our renewed commitment in Mali when the time comes.

“It’s more helpful to make a commitment now than a few years ago because it’s closer to the vote,” he explained. “No doubt, this will be part of our narrative in why countries should vote for us there.”

He also explained that if the UN intervention is able to bring stability to the region, Canada will also be eager to remind neighbouring countries in Africa about its role in producing that outcome.

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Other countries competing for a Security Council seat include Norway and Ireland, which are relatively small contributors to international missions.

In addition, Coghlan adds that Canada’s last bid for a security council seat wasn’t successful “partly because there was a perception that Canada was withdrawing from the UN and multilateralism.”

Canada’s forces may actually be able to help

Mali has been in turmoil since a 2012 uprising prompted soldiers to overthrow the country’s president. The power vacuum that was created led to an Islamic insurgency and a French-led war that ousted the jihadists from power in 2013.

However, insurgents remain active and the UN has seen its multinational peacekeeping force in the region suffer more than 150 fatalities since its mission began in 2013.

WATCH: Trudeau says Canada will deploy more women to peacekeeping missions

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Chapnick speculates that the Canadian government has conducted an analysis of the conflict and hopes officials in part believe they can improve the nation’s current circumstances.

“I suspect and I hope that part of the reason for this initiative is that the government has concluded after a detailed analysis that we can truly help here,” said Chapnick. “Yes, it will help our council bid. Yes, it will help our reputation, but it’s my hope that we can truly have an effect on creating a more stable, peaceful world.”

Global News reached out to National Defence about the announcement, who could neither confirm or deny the news at this time.

-With files from Reuters, the Canadian Press. 

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