There is a rather sad story on the BBC News website headlined: “The UN’s peacekeeping nightmare in Africa.” The story is a litany of failures:
- “A new report by the Geneva-based research group Small Arms Survey has accused the UN’s mission in South Sudan (UNMISS)* of lacking neutrality by giving arms to rebels in the town of Bentiu in 2013 … [and] … It blames UNMISS for underreporting arms confiscated from fleeing soldiers and handing over the weapons to soldiers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) on more than one occasion … [further] … The report also claims that shortly after this transfer of arms, the rebels went on to carry out a massacre of civilians;
- In the Central African Republic (CAR), the UN mission (MINUSCA) has also been accused of inaction when, for example, more than 75 people including civilians were killed in the north during an outbreak of violence in September 2016 … The rights group, Amnesty International, reflected on this case, saying MINUSCA was poorly trained and “lacks the resources it needs to adequately protect civilians” … [and] … Jean-Serge Bokassa, the Interior Minister of CAR, accused the peacekeepers of colluding with armed militias … “What is the role of the Pakistani contingent in Kaga-Bandoro?” he asked. “Their collusion with armed groups has gone too long.”;
- In the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, similar disdain for the UN and its peacekeeping mission MONUSCO (which replaced the dysfunctional MONUC), has led to violent demonstrations and attacks by civilians in the past … Most of the anti-UN protests have taken place in the eastern region of Kivu, where armed groups continue to commit massacres, especially in the Beni region … [and] … Peacekeepers have often been referred to as tourists because they are associated with helicopters and 4×4 vehicles … [but] … Charles Bambara, the spokesman for MONUSCO, says the task of the mission is so enormous that it’s easy to underestimate progress being made; and
- One notorious and repeated blight on the UN peacekeeping scorecard has been that of the discipline – or the lack of it – of troops … [and] … A UN inquiry has named 41 peacekeepers in relation to alleged sexual abuse and exploitation in the Central African Republic between 2014 and 2015 … Women and even minors were reportedly abused in exchange for food and clothing. The UN has taken very little action against the individual soldiers.“
And this, French speaking Africa, is where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to “recommit to supporting international peace operations with the United Nations, and will make our specialized capabilities – from mobile medical teams to engineering support to aircraft that can carry supplies and personnel – available on a case-by-case basis … [and] … To help the UN respond more quickly to emerging and escalating conflicts, we will provide well-trained personnel that can be quickly deployed, including mission commanders, staff officers, and headquarters units … [further] … We will prioritize assistance for civilian police training operations, particularly Francophone officers, who are in great demand in French-speaking countries with peace operations.” The problem, it appears to me, is that, having sent Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to Africa to scout out a nice, safe mission, the government cannot find anyplace where their (and many Canadians’) daydreams about UN peacekeeping can actually be squared with the facts on the ground. The situations in much of French speaking Africa are dreadful: bloody, corrupt (locals and UN forces), chaotic and filled with the sorts of conflicts that are not really amenable to the sort of “traditional,” Pearsonian peacekeeping that many people (mistakenly) believe ought to be Canada’s forte.
The harsh reality is the 21st century peacekeeping is mostly this …
… not this …
… but many Canadians and most Liberals are in this mode:
There might be some useful ways to approach UN peacekeeping, but, as Gustavo de Carvalho, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS Africa) is quoted as saying about UN peacekeeping missions in the BBC News article, ““It has to be better thought, better planned and better implemented and made more fit for purpose” … [and] … “If you are clearer in your mandate and how you engage with the local population, it becomes a far more honest interaction between foreign and local actors.”“
Our, Canadian, “thought” is, it seems to me, focussed, mainly, on how to get a temporary, second class seat on the UN Security Council, not on how to do any sort of meaningful peacekeeping in Africa. If that’s the case then the government need to think clearly to avoid the rate hole.
Pretty much every Canadian soldier, including Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan learned the principles of war. The first of them, the “master principle” is: Selection and Maintenance of the Aim. Basically, that “master principle” says that you must understand what it is you are trying to do before you commit troops to battle or, even, to “peace support operations.” I’m assuming that Team Trudeau does understand its aim: winning that temporary, second class seat on the UNSC. If that’s the case then I hope their analysis says: “how little do we have to do? how do we take the minimum risks? how few soldiers do we need to send?” In other words, our government will admit, in private, around the cabinet table that we, Canada, have no vital interests in French speaking Africa, that we really don’t care about keeping the peace, but, for purely partisan, political reasons, we want the prestige of of a UN Security Council seat. If that is our government’s reasoning then Canada can commit some soldiers to some harmless UN busy work and still achieve the aim without falling down into a baby-blue rat hole.