Michael Byers – After Afghanistan: Canada’s return to peacekeeping

“After Afghanistan: Canada’s return to peacekeeping,” an op-ed by Michael Byers, Member of the Board of Directors of the Rideau Institute, is currently featured in the Canadian Military Journal. In the article, Byers presents the case for Canada’s re-engagement in peacekeeping.

“Peacekeeping is also optional, insofar as it does not address direct threats to this country. It is something that Canada traditionally did, not only to curry favour with the United States, but to promote our long-term interests in international peace and security.

For almost four decades between 1956 and 1992, Canada was often the single largest contributor of UN peacekeepers. Its involvement then began to slip, and today, Canada occupies 57th place with only 11 military personnel and 116 police officers participating in UN peacekeeping missions. Logistical and personnel constraints in Kandahar were only partly responsible for this downward trend, which began well before 2005.

Instead, the retreat from peacekeeping has been a political decision, as was demonstrated in 2010 when the United Nations wanted to place Canadian Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie in command of its 20,500-soldier force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was initially reported that the Canadian Forces were “… angling to take command of the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission,” and the required deployment of just one general and a couple of dozen Canadian troops “… would be small enough not to make any impact on resources.” But then the politicians stepped in, and, before long, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Catherine Loubier was explaining: “We’re fully engaged in Afghanistan until 2011, and that’s what we’re concentrating on for now.” Canada did keep nine soldiers in that UN peacekeeping force, and nearly two years later, the head of that contingent was reporting some progress – while calling for continued Canadian involvement in the Congo.

This article accepts that the Canadian Forces play several essential roles. My argument is simply that peacekeeping should represent a larger proportion of our discretionary missions than it does today. To that end, I question some of the arguments made in favour of Canada’s disengagement from peacekeeping by examining them within an updated context, since much has changed during the past decade, including in the way in which the UN approaches peacekeeping. A strong case for reengagement can now be made – and that creates the need for a reappraisal.”

The full article is available online through the Canadian Military Journal.

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