Jennifer Bakody is a Canadian journalist, humanitarian and the author of Radio Okapi Kindu: The Station That Helped Bring Peace to the Congo
If on Nov. 14-15, when Canada hosts the 2017 UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Conference in Vancouver, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces plans to deploy a battalion to Mali or Central African Republic or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I for one will squeal so loudly that Parliament Hill will positively quake in its shiny new boots on the ground.
I've seen what Canadian military personnel, so few in number, have achieved in places like Jacmel, Haiti and Bunia, DR Congo. Their skills in disaster assistance, policing and soldiering helped United Nations forces return security and dignity to people's lives. Imagine how effectively an entire Canadian battalion could clean shop by doing exactly what our troops have been trained to do in everything from logistics to combat and intelligence.
Of course, the likelihood of me squealing myself hoarse over such a prospect is slim, if not naïve. A quick check of the UN website shows that within the Department of Peacekeeping Operations' 15 active missions, Canada has 68 police officers, military experts and troops. Sixty-eight people. In total. The figure is on par with Russia and the United States and less than a tenth of the contributions of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. Not surprisingly, the numbers posted by all these examples pale in comparison to those from mid-level developing countries, who often "donate" large numbers to UN peacekeeping as a source of income.
Some say hope is naïve. Well, go ahead and call me naïve because I have it: hope. And the best part of it is, my hope isn't blind.
Recalling Mr. Trudeau's Liberal government rhetoric of Canada's "long and proud history" of peacekeeping, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan's commitment to "increasing our engagement in peace support operations," plus a related trip by Canadian officials to Paris last fall, I'm wagering a guess that Mr. Trudeau will use the conference in Vancouver to seize what is his biggest opportunity yet to prove that this country is at the vanguard of modern-day peacekeeping.
And how will he do this?
Well, I hope that in this, our 150th year, the Canadian government will reach back in our history to actively pursue the line of the father of modern peacekeeping, former prime minister Lester B. Pearson, who once said: "The best defence of peace is not power, but the removal of the causes of war."
It's a suspiciously sexy line – and yes, no matter what you do, some leaders will always pursue economic and territorial gains. Religious wars will be waged. But Mr. Pearson was on to something. Peace is a scale you can slide. And Canada is well positioned to dig in and do the work.
Among my various deployments, I spent three years with the UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo working for the UN-backed radio network, Radio Okapi. I was one of a significant number of Canadians (I can count at least 40 from memory) staffed across a number of civilian components, all with rather unsexy non-commando names like WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), gender, mine action, DDR (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration), rule of law and civil affairs. In plain language, these components use brains over brawn to broaden political space and accountability, while strengthening the social conditions necessary for peace.
My job was to uphold the strict editorial line of Radio Okapi's fact-based news network. The idea was that the free flow of credible, neutral information would allow a platform for Congolese citizens to participate in their fledgling democracy. Fifteen years later, the radio has become a benchmark for international media as a means of diffusing domestic conflict.
Of course, the factors that lead people to take up arms need to be agreed upon; again, Canada could start to nail down the theories of some of the greatest minds who have long considered the question. But for now, for the sake of argument, Canada's money and well-educated work force can already get cracking in the world's hotspots to help vulnerable populations gain access to shared resources and to fight war at the source.
Oh – and that Canadian battalion? Considering that modern-day conflict is exacerbated by things like climate change and cybersecurity, Canadian forces have their fair share of causes of war to attack and remove. As I trust – hope – Mr. Trudeau agrees.