Will Canada return to peacekeeping?


Between 1956 and 1992, Canada was often the single largest contributor of UN peacekeepers. Since the late 1990s, however, Canada has virtually disappeared from peacekeeping. Professor Michael Byers, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia (and member of the Rideau Institute’s Board of Directors), presents the case for re-engagement in peacekeeping (“After Afghanistan: Canada’s Return to UN Peacekeeping”, Canadian Military Journal, Vol. 13, No. 1).

The following are some of the main arguments made by Byers.

1. Peacekeeping actually works

“From 2003 to 2005, the RAND Corporation compared eight state-rebuilding missions conducted by the United States, and eight by the UN in terms of inputs, such as personnel, funding, and time, and the achievement of the goals of peace, economic growth, and democratization. The study showed that seven of the UN missions succeeded, whereas only four of the American missions triumphed.”

2. UN Peacekeeping at all-time high

“There are currently more than 80,000 blue-helmeted soldiers from 115 countries in 15 separate peacekeeping operations, from Kosovo, to Lebanon, to the Congo.”

Despite a lack of involvement in missions recently, Canadians in general remain strongly supportive of peacekeeping.

“In an October 2010 poll conducted by Nanos Research for the Toronto Globe and Mail, 52% of Canadians rated UN peacekeeping as an important role for Canada’s armed forces, with 25% giving it a ’10 out of 10’ on a scale of importance.”

3. Lessons from Afghanistan

“In 2005, the counter-insurgency mission in Kandahar was portrayed as a desirable step away from UN peacekeeping for Canada and the Canadian Forces. Today, the mission has fallen significantly short of its objectives, leaving Afghanistan more dangerous than it was before. With the counter-insurgency alternative having experienced a hard death, it is time to re-consider Canada’s relationship to peacekeeping – and return to a much more active UN role.”

4. What can Canada do?

“Most UN peacekeeping missions today have more robust mandates, more soldiers, and better equipment than the missions of the early-1990s. But they tend to lack well-trained soldiers from the developed world: a weakness that can be ascribed, in part, to Canada’s disengagement from peacekeeping. A relatively small number of well-trained, highly disciplined Canadian soldiers could act as force-multipliers in UN missions, by providing leadership and mentoring, and by serving as role models for less-well-trained developing country troops.”

Photo credit: Jamie in Bytown

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