A few weeks ago I wrote about one of the risks of sending so-called peacekeepers to Africa, especially to a place where there is no traditional peace to be kept: child soldiers, I said, would be a problem because:
- They exist, they are, in fact, endemic ~ depending on one’s definition of “child;” and
- There is a segment of the media that would go wild if Canadian soldiers killed a “child soldier,” especially a black one. The government that is in power when, not if, that happens will pay a political price, no matter how popular it might be.
Now the Globe and Mail reports that although “The Trump administration has given the green light to Canada to dispatch up to 600 soldiers on a United Nations peacekeeping mission to Mali, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is holding back approval as he assesses the volatile risks of fighting Islamist rebels who use child soldiers … [and] … A new Canadian Armed Forces directive, published last week, warns troops that child soldiers are likely to be encountered “on an increasing basis” in future UN or NATO-led missions and cautions them if they are not sufficiently armed they could be vulnerable to “human wave attacks” employed by child soldiers – frontal assaults where the target is overrun.“
The directive describes a situation that, I have been told, by a source I trust, has been used in Africa, against European troops: a “human wave attack‘ with children as the vanguard ~ presenting a situation in which even the toughest, best disciplined troops are inclined to hesitate … until it is too late.
My understanding, again from sources I trust, is that General Jon Vance, the Chief of the Defence Staff, has committed to being personally involved in writing the rule of engagement for any Canadian troops that will be sent to Africa. General Vance is an experienced combat commander who knows the pain of having soldiers killed. Robust rules of engagement almost guarantee that Canadian soldiers will shoot to kill more often than many Canadians, especially progressives and so-called social justice warriors, for whom peacekeeping is seen to be something akin to feeding the poor and helping children go to school, will tolerate. The Canadian Forces will not be sending humanitarian workers to Africa, if Canadian soldiers go, we will be sending tough, well trained, veteran combat troops who will, most likely see threats, not children, in their rifle sights, and will respond accordingly.
Now I am certainly not blaming Team Trudeau for going to seek a “green light” (poor choice of words in my opinion) from Team Trump ~ no-one, including Team Trump, it seems to me, actually knows, day-by-day, what US policy is … and it is safe, as a friend of mine put to, to go down and say “we’re planning on doing ABC” and get a “green light” rather than to find out, some months later that the US was planning to do XYZ and wanted us to help. This is just prudent policy management in uncertain times.
Equally I don’t blame Team Trudeau for, finally, starting to realize that when you send combat soldiers to dangerous conflict areas there is very likely going to be some killing. No one should blame the prime minister if he wonders if it ~ that second class, temporary seat on the UN Security Council that is, in large measure, behind this push for peacekeeping ~ is worth the price. It appears that Defence Minister Sajjan told his cabinet colleagues that classic, baby-blue-beret peacekeeping is dead and buried and what we have now ~ peace support operations, or something like that ~ are rougher and dirtier than many imagined. But there was, and still is, always a certain “children’s crusade” feel to Team Trudeau and its promises and policies … but, maybe someone is growing up. There is, I believe, a case to be made for going to Africa, in considerable military strength and doing some peacemaking and then some nation building. But the UN is the worst possible agency to lead that sort of an operation.
If Canada and Canadians really want to make a difference in Africa they need to pick a place that wants to be helped and then work out bilateral arrangements through which Canadian troops can fight, side-by-side, as partners, and as mentors, with the locals to make peace, and then Canadian soldiers and civilians and corporations can work, again side-by-side and as partners and mentors, with the locals, to build better lives for the people in a peaceful country. It is the work of decades and tens, even hundreds of billions of dollars but it is, at least, something that is not doomed to fail ~ as UN peacekeeping in Africa seems to do over and over and over again.
But, there are risks in that, too …