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Globe editorial: A bad Liberal peacekeeping idea, topped by the Tories

To fulfill the Trudeau Liberals' ill-considered peacekeeping promise from the 2015 election, Ottawa is still searching for a fitful truce to uphold or impose, somewhere. Anywhere. Preferably one that one that won't involve very many Canadians coming home in body bags.

For two years, the Liberals have been searching for a place where they can claim that Canada is Back at peacekeeping. Like a number of other promises that seemed like a good idea while campaigning – hello, last election ever under first-past-the-post – the peacekeeping pledge is one the governing Liberals have shown a wise reluctance to fulfill.

The problem is simple: In the absence of putting Canadian troops in a time machine and sending them to 1970s Cyprus, or 1950s Sinai, there are few traditional peacekeeping situations anymore. Traditional peacekeeping has soldiers patrolling an agreed cease-fire line, usually a border. The United Nations missions on offer today are generally between policing and war-fighting, no matter the colour of the helmets.

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There's been repeated talk of fulfilling the Liberal promise by dropping Canadian troops into a dangerous conflict in Africa, such as in Mali. The Trudeau government prudently keeps delaying any such decision.

But now Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has a modest proposal: Why not send our troops to the breakaway region of eastern Ukraine?

There are good reasons for Canada to be a staunch supporter of Ukraine's sovereignty, and to support Ukraine against Russia's annexation of Crimea and ongoing Kremlin meddling backing the rebels in the country's east.

More than a million Canadians have ancestral ties to the Ukraine, including Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, and its stability has a profound importance for our allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Also, Canada is already taking part in NATO's positioning of troops in the nearby Baltic region.

But the Tory proposal, a clever bit of marketing judo, is severely problematic. It's even dumber than the Liberals' original promise.

Mr. Scheer wants to put Canadian peacekeepers into the part of Ukraine currently occupied by Russia and its armed proxies. It's an oddly unserious idea for a government-in-waiting.

Of course Canada should demand that Russia get out of Ukraine, including leaving Crimea. But to imagine that Canada can lead a diplomatic and military mission to impose an agreement on Russia, one based on getting Moscow to recognize Ukraine's original borders, is fanciful, not to mention dangerous. Russia is, after all, a nuclear superpower. The goal in Ukraine is a avoid a wider war, not start one.

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To give Mr. Scheer his due, he is arguing from the right side of the moral question. Russian troops and armed proxies have no business being anywhere in Ukraine, just as the Soviet Union had no right occupying the sovereign states of Eastern Europe. There's no arguing with that.

If there is a job for Canada to do in Ukraine, it is in providing money, equipment, support and training for the Kiev government, as Ottawa is already doing.

So why is Mr. Scheer proposing direct involvement of the Canadian Forces in the Ukraine-Russia conflict? Perhaps because the proposal comes at zero cost of ever becoming reality.

Russia, which has a permanent UN Security Council seat, will veto any resolution to institute any kind of robust, UN military mission on its border with Ukraine – a part of the world where more than 10,000 people have lost their lives in the past three years.

It's no coincidence that Mr. Scheer's gambit was played a few days before a UN peacekeeping summit in Vancouver. The event seems tailor-made for the Liberals' long-promised announcement. Ottawa has set aside $500 million for that purpose, and has promised 600 soldiers and 150 police officers for UN peace support efforts... somewhere.

Yet Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan last week sought to tamp down the talk that a detailed commitment is forthcoming. And with good reason.

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There is nothing objectively wrong with the familiar Pearsonian ideal of peacekeeping, but the 2015 election pledge to re-focus Canada's military on that concept looks more and more like a silly attempt to wind back the clock. In the early 21st century, conflicts have changed, and peacekeeping is not in demand. It's been mostly replaced by peace-making operations of the type Canada undertook in Afghanistan. That was a costly and bloody affair.

Mr. Trudeau deserves credit for not putting Canadian lives at risk for the benefit of an ill-considered campaign promise. The problem is that his government keeps threatening to keep it, by searching a foreign hill that's fit for Canadians to die on. Sorry: Peacekeep on.

To recap, then, the Liberals had a bad foreign policy idea: Offering up soldiers for a peacekeeping mission, somewhere. The idea was crafted for domestic political consumption.

The Tories have now concocted an even worse idea in response – for domestic political consumption.

This is the level of debate in a country desperately vying for one of the Security Council's temporary seats. And why does the government so badly want that UN chair? Domestic politics.

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