Experts agree: Peacekeeping is alive!


Four years ago, David Bercuson, Director of the DND-funded Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, declared that UN peacekeeping was dead:

As far as UN-led operations,… there just aren’t any left in the world today and you ought to really know that. These old Blue Helmet operations which our army stopped doing back in the early 90s, no one is doing them any more.

His statement was wildly incorrect–at the time Bercuson made it, there were more than 64,000 military personnel participating in UN peacekeeping missions around the world–but it was not an unusual claim to hear as DND and its lobbyists sought to rebrand the Canadian Forces as warriors who don’t do peacekeeping.

As far as the DND lobby was concerned, peacekeeping was dead. And although that was never true, Canada’s participation in UN peacekeeping did all but die out in recent years.

Through it all, however, Canadians as a whole continued to hold the torch for peacekeeping, and for their troubles they were denounced as unrealistic, out of touch, and–according to at least one individual–victims of an insidious disinformation campaign.

What a difference the impending end of a mission can make.

As of the beginning of this year, the DND lobby has begun acknowledging that peacekeeping is alive after all. A January 2010 report published by the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute (also directed by Bercuson) recommended strongly that Canada should re-engage in UN (and non-UN) peace operations. The authors of the report, Jocelyn Coulon and Michel Liégois, argued that

The practices covered by current peace operations are meant to prevent conflicts, end conflicts, and maintain peace. With few exceptions, these practices always depend on diplomacy, negotiation, and consent. They can also consist–sometimes to a considerable degree–of the reconstruction of states, the reweaving of social, cultural and political links between parties, and reintegrating societies within the international community. It is true that these practices have met and are meeting with difficulties, and even dramatic failures, but what can be concluded from a broad evaluation of the results of peace operations in the last twenty years? Recent studies, the impressive multiplication of peace operations mandated by the UN or non-UN players, theoretical research and the surveys we have conducted in the field allow us to conclude that the operations have been effective. This report and the transformation of peace operations over the last 60 years lead us to conclude that it is in Canada’s national interest to re-engage in these operations, in their old forms as well as their new ones.  (Jocelyn Coulon & Michel Liégois, Whatever Happened to Peacekeeping? The Future of a Tradition, CDFAI, January 2010)

In March (when the report was released), Bercuson declared himself in support of the report’s recommendation, arguing in the Globe and Mail that “Canada should never again approach UN missions with anything like the automaticity of the past. But with the right mix of military, diplomatic and aid resources, Canada could do itself and the world a lot of good on strategic UN operations.” (David Bercuson, “There’s a new peace ‘warrior’ in town,” Globe and Mail, 1 March 2010)

Now even Jack Granatstein has weighed in with an endorsement of re-engaging in UN peacekeeping, albeit with caveats: “…peacekeeping, yes. But only if there’s a firm UN mandate, full UN support, and a role that the Canadian Forces can play.” (Jack Granatstein, “Defining Canada’s role in Congo,” Globe and Mail, 6 April 2010)

Both Bercuson and Granatstein argue that it would be a mistake for Canada to sign on to every mission that the UN Security Council authorizes, and Granatstein argues specifically against participation in the UN’s Congo mission. Setting aside the question of the Congo mission (which deserves debate), the general principle they advance is a good one. The UN is the most broad-based and legitimate international institution available for establishing and running such operations, but the Security Council is far from a perfect decision-making body, and Canadians cannot assume that it will always make a good decision. The U.S./U.K. attempt to bully and bribe the members of the Security Council to authorize the 2003 invasion of Iraq came all too close to succeeding, for example. Canada should view Security Council authorization as a necessary (under normal circumstances) condition, but not a sufficient condition, when deciding how and where Canada should act abroad.

Such questions remain moot, of course, until the Canadian government itself agrees that Canada should re-engage in peacekeeping. To send a letter urging Prime Minister Harper and other Canadian political leaders to make Canada a proud peacekeeper once again, click here.

Photo by paige_eliz, Creative Commons licence

Tags: Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, David Bercuson, Defence policy, Jack Granatstein, Jocelyn Coulon, Michel Liégois, UN peacekeeping, United Nations