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Canada can and should do more to support peacekeeping

UN peacekeeper police officers stand guard at entrance of Hotel Salem in Bamako on March 8, 2015. Two civilians and a UN peacekeeper were killed as militants attacked a barracks used by the United Nations' MINUSMA force in northern Mali.

HABIBOU KOUYATE/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama hosts a summit at the United Nations later this month "to help catalyze a wave of new commitments" to UN peacekeeping. In March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon convened global defence chiefs to discuss peacekeeping. Canada's Chief of Defence Staff did not go. This time Canada should be there.

In an age of displacements created by protracted conflicts, increasingly within states rather than between states, there is an urgent need for peacekeepers. The core principles of peacekeeping – voluntary contributions, consent of all parties, impartiality – still apply. But peace operations are now more complex.

The UN is increasingly mandated where there is no peace to keep. The UN must operate where there are no identifiable parties with which to negotiate. Peacekeepers face asymmetric and unconventional threats requiring them to be flexible, adaptable and mobile.

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As first responders, peacekeepers work closely with humanitarian and relief organizations. Peacekeepers set up camps for the displaced, organize fresh water and sanitation, and get civilians out of harm's way. Peacekeepers police crime, including traffickers and smugglers of people and illicit goods.

Twenty years after the Srebrenica massacres and the Rwandan genocide, hauntingly captured in Romeo Dallaire's Shake Hands with the Devil, these experiences have taught lessons. Peacekeepers are now given clearer mandates to protect civilians and clearer authority to use force. For UN commanders, decisiveness and good local relationships are critical elements in peacekeeping.

There are currently 16 UN sponsored peacekeeping missions, involving more than 120,000 personnel, including 90,000 troops and more than 13,000 police. Two-thirds of UN peacekeeping missions operate in conflict zones. An additional 22,000 are involved in the African-Union-led peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

Secretary-General Ban says the requirement for peacekeepers will only increase.

Canada may not have invented peacekeeping but we were instrumental in its development. Canadians monitored the truce in Palestine (1948) and Kashmir (1949). During the 1956 Suez crisis, we helped broker the creation of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF). For his efforts Lester Pearson earned the Nobel Peace Prize. Between 1956-2006, more than 120,000 Canadians served in over 50 missions from Cambodia to Congo. More than 25,000 Canadians rotated through Cyprus from 1964-1993.

Our peacekeeping commitment has declined. Today 112 Canadians are involved in various operations including an officer in the Sinai and Cyprus.

Critics, with some justification, argued that peacekeepers had become long-term band-aids to what should be diplomatic solutions. Fair or not, white soldiers confronting angry Africans or Asians also evokes complaints about neo-colonialism. Others argue that our military should first defend the homeland, then our continental and collective security obligations. They are right and peacekeeping complements all of these goals.

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Then there is the cost argument.

The UN peacekeeping budget this year is $8.27-billion (U.S.), less than a half of one per cent of the $1.75-trillion that nations spend annually on arms. Developed nations – USA, Japan, France, Germany, U.K. – are the top peacekeeping financiers with Canada in 9th place.

The UN compensation for peacekeepers is about $1,100 a month. It costs considerably more for developed nations to field troops overseas. To keep a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan cost $525,000 (Canadian) annually.

Developing nations now supply most peacekeepers. Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Rwanda and Nepal field more than 5,000 each. At a summit on UN peacekeeping hosted last September by U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden (Canada did not participate) Mexico announced it will now join peace operations.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told defence chiefs "when peacekeeping missions are deployed in post-conflict situations, countries are 50 per cent less likely to experience renewed conflict." Representing all 193 member states, the blue berets possess unique legitimacy.

Canada can and should do more to support peacekeeping.

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First, revive the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre that was closed for budgetary reasons in 2013. During its two decades of operations it trained more than 18,000, representing 150 nations. As Romeo Dallaire observes, peacekeepers always face ethical, moral and legal dilemma. Training, especially on working with local populations, is essential.

Second, we bring professionalism to peace operations. We are good at logistics, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Royal Canadian Air Force lift capacity was recently used for peace operations in Mali. Our Special Forces are very good. The requirement for rapid response obliges our next government to prioritize Forces readiness.

In putting forward the UN resolution creating UNEF, Mr. Pearson told the General Assembly, "We need action not only to end the fighting but to make the peace." Etched into Canada's peacekeeping memorial, Mr. Pearson's words should inspire the Canadian voice at the peacekeeping summit.

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About the Author
Former Canadian diplomat

A former Canadian diplomat, Colin Robertson is a Senior Advisor for Dentons LLP living in Ottawa, Canada and working with the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. He is Vice President and Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Executive Fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy. More

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