Peacekeeping: a national value or a pointless waste of Canadian lives?

“We will have dead Canadians and frankly achieve nothing.”

Dr. Jack Granatstein, Canadian Historian

dornjackgranatstein-1There is an interesting article in the Toronto Star in which two Canadian Historians, Walter Dorn and Jack Granatstein present differing views on the forthcoming peacekeeping mission. Professor Dorn is a well known proponent of peacekeeping operations in which we participate because “we deploy troops not just for national interest but also for our national values and peacekeepers can make a big difference in showing that Canada has national values that aren’t purely selfish … [and] …  “What’s our identity and what could be more important to a nation’s identity, it’s what we are on a world stage. Are we a selfish nation or are we a generous one?”” Dr Granatstein’s views are summed up in the lead-in quote.

Dr Granatstein says that ““The reality is if we’re going to Mali, we’re going into what is effectively a war zone against a well-armed Islamist group of rebels” … [and] … The Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan are also in the midst of civil wars. “Wherever we go in Africa is not where we should be going and is dangerous. We will have dead Canadians and frankly achieve nothing … [he also said that] … a peace mission requires a “credible” chance of success, a firm end date, the ability for people to get in and out easily, right weapons for the job and “orders that let us use them”Yet the conflicts across Africa are “jumbled, messy, confusing” and Canada’s contribution will not “matter a damn.”

That, I think, pretty well matches the view of most of the Canadian military people, retired and serving of my acquaintance and of those who comment in Army.ca.

Professor Dorn, on the other hands, while agreeing that “peace missions carry real risks,” argues that “Mali is exactly the kind of place where Canadian troops need to be. “It’s these places in the world that require attention so they don’t blow up and become big problems for us” … [and] … “These so-called forgotten areas of the world are key to establishing longer-term peace … [and, further] … a mission to Mali would fulfil a number of objectives for the government, helping the United Nations, Africa and Mali itself, a place where he said “there is some peace to keep … “It’s a place where there is a terrorist threat, where the French are trying to fight and the Americans are trying to fight the terrorist threat in the Sahel region and this will make a major contribution” … Dorn makes a distinction between a peace mission and combat operation. A peace mission implies that soldiers use force only in a defensive role, not offensive, he said. He cited the “trinity” of peacekeeping principles — consent for the deployment, impartiality in their actions, and defensive use of force … [and] … “It implies that you don’t have enemies but that like a police officer you use force when there is an imminent threat.”

In my opinion, Professor Grantstein is far more right that wrong and Professor Dorn is expressing an ideological and politically partisan view of the issue.

Neither America nor France are in the Sahal and, specifically, Mali to make or keep the peace; they are there only for their own perceived national interests. Do we, Canada, have a vital national interest in Mali, or in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Sudan? I haven’t heard one enunciated by our foreign policy establishment.

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For better or worse we have elected a government that has little interest and even less knowledge about the nature of strategy or military matters and is convinced, perhaps with some reason in this age of 10 second sound bites and 140 character tweets, that a slogan ~ Canada is back ~ is a policy.

There are real threats to world peace; there are real threats of Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS inspired terrorist attacks right here in Canada; there are places where Canada has vital interests at stake … none of them are in Mali, the Democratic Republic of promises_madeCongo or Sudan, all that might be there is an opportunity for Justin Trudeau to put a tick mark in the “promises Made – Promise Kept”images box. That is what our national grand strategy, our foreign policy our defence policy, even, indeed the very lives of our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbours  who serve in the military has come down to … everything must serve to keep the ill conceived, thoughtless, often worthless and cynical campaign promises that Justin Trudeau made to secure the votes of this or that or another slice of the Canadian electorate. A lot of Canadians voted for real change, but how different will it be from Afghanistan?

4 thoughts on “Peacekeeping: a national value or a pointless waste of Canadian lives?”

  1. Somehow, I don’t think Dr. Dorn has ever served in uniform or been in a war zone. Might change his tune pretty quickly. Gad, these ‘armchair warriors’ tick me off. There is no peacekeeping’ in the world. It was always term used by Cdn politicians and media for public consumption .. .

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