Why Canada is right to send peacekeepers to Mali

20 months after the Justin Trudeau government formally pledged that Canada would re-engage in UN peacekeeping with up to 600 soldiers, 150 police and the provision of specialized equipment, an actual commitment to an actual mission was finally announced.

The Aviation Task Force will include Chinook helicopters to provide urgently needed transport and logistics capacity for the MINUSMA mission, as well as Griffon helicopters to provide armed escort and protection. The Task Force will be accompanied by a number of Canadian Armed Forces personnel for support. – Canadian Forces website

The reaction from the federal Conservatives — with their deep-seated opposition to all things UN — was to mischaracterize Canada’s role as a “combat mission” and to raise the spectre of many Canadian peacekeepers coming home in body bags:

Mali is a war zone. This is a combat mission. – Conservative Defence critic James Bezan

But the facts tell a somewhat different story.

Under the heading “Supporting political process and helping stabilize Mali”, the MINUSMA Fact Sheet states that the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) was established by Security Council resolution 2100 of 25 April 2013 to support political processes in that country and carry out a number of security-related tasks.  By unanimously adopting resolution 2164 of 25 June 2014, the Council further decided that the Mission should focus on duties such as ensuring security, stabilization and protection of civilians; supporting national political dialogue and reconciliation; and assisting the re-establishment of State authority, the rebuilding of the security sector, and the promotion and protection of human rights in that country.

To carry out these tasks, the mission, headed by a civilian Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG), has over 15,000 personnel, including 12,000 military, almost 2000 police, and about 1300 civilians.

Distinguished former Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler had this to say about the mandate in his Globe and Mail article The Importance of Canada’s Mission to Mali (special to the Globe and Mail, 29 March 2018).

This UN mission isn’t about regime change or other myths and pipe dreams that have led us astray in the past. ….the main thrust of the MINUSMA mandate is to encourage the implementation of a treaty between the ever fractious and belligerent Touaregs and the weak and impoverished national government of Mali.

But what about the level of risk to Canadian peacekeepers, heading to a mission that has seen the highest number of fatalities — 162 in four years — of any UN peace support operation? Only 9 of those fatalities have been suffered by peacekeepers from Western countries and all but two of the deaths were the result of accidents, not attacks. So the risks would appear eminently manageable for well-trained, well-equipped Canadian soldiers.

In a letter published in the Globe and Mail on 28 March,  peacebuilding expert Ernie Regehr explains why he believes the risk is worth taking:

Peace support operations are by definition dangerous, they take place where political accord and governance are severely compromised. That doesn’t mean quagmire, it means it takes a long, long time to transition from armed conflict to political stability and the rule of law. And it is certainly in Canada’s interests to support the international community in its responsibility to support such transitions — for the sake of the people affected, to be sure, but also for the sake of building a more stable international order from which we all benefit.

Robert Fowler identifies a further, crucial, reason for Canadians to support the UN mission in Mali:

To a significant extent, we helped break it, and we have an obligation to help fix it. Slow to understand the law of unintended consequences, we in the West, through our ill-considered intervention in Libya in 2011, caused the massive armament of the jihadis, and particularly Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). This gave them the wherewithal to occupy the Northern two-thirds of Mali just over a year later, and pose a continuing threat to the entire Sahel region.

The “value added” of UN peacekeeping — and why it offers the best chance for countries emerging from conflict to build a sustainable peace — is that the heart of the effort is an inclusive peace process, which seeks to effectively address the political issues underpinning and exacerbating the armed violence.

But the Mali peace accord is incomplete and its implementation has been agonizingly slow.

The entire mission will stand or fall on the ability of the parties, with international assistance, to implement the fragile peace pact, broaden and deepen reconciliation efforts, implement key institutional reforms, and prepare for elections this year, to name but some of the immense challenges ahead. – Peggy Mason, Rideau Institute President

Yet, almost every facet of this crucial peacebuilding effort is underfunded. There is an urgent need for Canada to contribute to the non-military elements of the UN mandate in Mali, and not just in terms of development assistance but also in the provision of crucial financial and political support to the peace implementation process.

…the government needs to tell us a lot more about what it will be doing in support of the non-military elements of the UN mandate in Mali. – Ernie Regehr

Experts also argue that a one-year commitment is far too short for Canada to make an effective contribution to such a complex mission.  We should follow the lead of Germany and the Netherlands and commit to a three-year effort.

For the full article by Robert Fowler, click: The Importance of Canada’s Mission to Mali (special to the Globe and Mail, 29 March 2018).

For the full letter by Ernie Regehr, click: Canada’s Interests in Mali (Globe and Mail Letters, 28 March 2018).

See also: Baloney Meter: Tories dish out “a lot of baloney’ on Mali peacekeeping mission (Lee Berthiaume, Canadian Press, 22 March 2018).

And see: Sajjan brushes off suggestion Mali mission is too short (Janice Dickson, iPolitics, 20 March 2018).

Photo credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino


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5 Responses to “Why Canada is right to send peacekeepers to Mali”

  1. Jim ParkerApril 1, 2018 at 5:56 pm #

    STOP using the terms ‘peacekeeping’ and peacekeepers’!! We in the military detest the terms because – certainly today – they do not exist anywhere in the world. These terms are merely political and media sops to the Canadian public, to hide any mission danger and further reduce the funding to DND. Enough already! By perpetuating these incredibly silly and dangerous terms, you merely endanger your soldiers, sailors and airmen/airwomen further.

    • Anne StreeterApril 2, 2018 at 5:21 pm #

      Jim we know peacekeeping missions are dangerous so I don’t have a problem with the term. However, I do have a problem with your wish to continually increase funding to the DND. Therein lies the problem worldwide. The Military Industrial Complex is so out of hand that it needs wars to feed it! Unfortunately wars always take place in other people”s countries and it is the civilians that do the suffering!

  2. Anne StreeterMarch 31, 2018 at 7:56 am #

    Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland have taken Canada far from the ways of Lester Pearson. Let’s get back on track before it is too late!

  3. Florence StrattonMarch 30, 2018 at 6:40 pm #

    Given this reengagement with peacekeeping, now might be a good time to consider questions such as the following:

     What exactly is “UN peacekeeping”?
     How is it related to peacemaking?
     What is its relationship to war-making?

    The concept of peacekeeping, even going back to the 1950s, when Lester Pearson first proposed the idea, has been problematic. It seems to be a clear instance of Orwellian doublethink: “War is peace.”

    • UN peacekeeping is carried out by military personnel—that is soldiers who have been trained to kill.
    • These soldiers have at their disposal all kinds of military hardware, including machine guns and armoured vehicles.
    • The UN peacekeeping principle of “Non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate” leaves plenty of room for the use of force.

    In Orwell’s 1984, doublethink—the act of “holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both of them” as correct—is a tool used by the ruling elite to control the minds of citizens. Even though Oceania is endlessly at war, citizens believe their country is working for peace.

    Canada has been endlessly at war since 2001: Afghanistan, Libya, Ukraine, Iraq, Syria. While the Trudeau government sounds less belligerent than its predecessor, it is, sadly, making as much, if not more war. For example:
     The Trudeau government has twice extended Canada’s military mission in Iraq and Syria, most recently until March 31, 2019.
     It has also sent troops to Latvia as part of a NATO force to deter “Russian aggression.”
     It approved a $15 billion deal to sell combat vehicles to Saudi Arabia.
     In 2017, it increased Canada’s military spending by 70% over the next decade.
     It voted against a UN plan to ban nuclear weapons.

    • War is big business. It is very profitable for Canadian arms manufacturers, making them between $2 and 3 billion a year in military exports.
    • Who loses? Ordinary citizens everywhere.

    Peacemaking means working to prevent or to stop war through non-violent means. It also means working to make war obsolete. It requires what the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace calls “a transformation of values…from violence and warfighting to nonviolence and peace.”

    What would a peacemaking Canada look like? A peacemaking Canada would:

    • Make the diplomatic resolution of conflicts its top international priority—rather than rushing off to war under US- or NATO-led missions or in UN military interventions, otherwise known as “peacekeeping missions.”

    • Stop supporting the manufacture and export of weapons—such as the combat vehicles sold to Saudi Arabia.

    • Get out of NATO—a US-led, aggressive military alliance, that perpetuates violence across the globe.

    • Work for the elimination of nuclear weapons—weapons whose existence make nuclear war all too likely.

    • Replace the Ministry of Defence with a Ministry of Peace—a ministry that would specialize in preventative diplomacy, non-violent conflict resolution, and peace research.


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