D. Michael Day is a retired lieutenant-general and a former commander of Canada's Special Operations Forces.
Canadian politicians continue to allude to our contribution to the world with the noble activity of peacekeeping. However, this is unsubstantiated. Canada has not had an effective peacekeeping deployment since the Balkans mission, which began in 1991 – and that mission's success had dubious ties to Canada's national security.
The reality behind not just the activity of peacekeeping but the cost bears scrutiny and should bring into question the value of such an enterprise. From the government's commitment to deploy a peacekeeping force, presumably in Africa, to the most recent declaration of the opposition leader's commitment to deploy a peacekeeping mission to Ukraine should he be elected prime minister, Canadians are faced with the apparent inevitability of an activity that has, at best, a somewhat undefined strategic value.
Canada maintains a small but highly capable and professional military. The past 25 years have clearly demonstrated that when deployed to conflict areas Canadian soldiers are able to achieve remarkable things – not the least of which is to improve the lives of those who are repressed by circumstance and intent.
But is this enough?
I've always considered that the litmus test for the deployment of our military should adhere to some version of the six rules outlined by Caspar Weinberger when he was U.S. secretary of defense. The Weinberger Doctrine, as it came to be known, had at its core a series of simple assessments, but the principle Canada might best adopt would be the requirement to articulate why it is strategically important to the country – to be more precise, why it is worth endangering the lives of young Canadians. I can think of many reasons, and I recognize that our democratically elected government has the authority to deploy military force wherever it sees fit. I merely want the government to say why – including why it is worth the cost in coin and, more importantly, the potential cost in blood.
I don't disagree with the idea that the world would benefit from "more Canada" – it certainly would benefit from more exposure to, and interaction with, the young men and women who serve so wonderfully while representing our country – but doing good likely isn't good enough.
In addition to a benefit and consequence assessment, the government should be challenged to explain how it plans to make a difference.
"Keeping peace," despite the name, is clearly not the mission, and our ability to do so purely by military means is doubly difficult to imagine. If there is one thing observers of all political stripes might agree on, it is that the world is a messy place. Governments may claim that force, or the threat of force, is sufficient to deter violence at some level (despite recent examples to the contrary), but it most certainly does not rebuild a civil society based on the rule of law, let alone create economic well-being. Without these components, no effort can succeed.
We talk about "whole of government," where countries project not just military capability but also economic, diplomatic and humanitarian support. But what fragile and failing states need is an approach that is "whole of society" in its application, where the cultural, ethnic and religious fractures are equally addressed. Contemplating anything less is tokenism at best and most certainly self-defeating.
We should be proud of what our military has accomplished for generations and we should never be reluctant to deploy soldiers where Canada's interests and values intersect in a manner that lends itself to such an effort. But at a time of year when we remember our fallen, who served this country so selflessly, surely the lesson learned is that this sacrifice must be for something and approached in a manner that lends itself to a concept that at least tries to succeed. This is in part how a nation pays back those, and their families, who have paid the ultimate price.