The Toronto Star, a generally Liberal friendly journal, reports that “Two years after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “Canada is back” on the world stage, the federal Liberal government is preparing to host a major international peacekeeping conference but will not announce where it will deploy Canadian assets … [and] … Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said in an exclusive interview that the government has not yet decided on a mission, and won’t before the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial forum in Vancouver on Nov. 14 and 15.” Readers may remember that Minister Sajjan toured Africa, in fact he did so twice, in 2016, saying, in the second (November) linked article that, “I want to make sure that we have all the right information, so that we can have a comprehensive plan, a whole-of-government approach to peace operations that are going to bring added value to the United Nations and how they operate now.” About all he came back with from his Africa trips was an understanding that traditional, so called Pearsonian, baby blue-beret type peacekeeping missions are a thing of the past and he decreed that modern UN missions are now to be called “peace support operations.” But his briefing to cabinet seems to have persuaded all of them, even the 2019 campaign team, that Justin Trudeau’s promise to commit Canadian soldiers to peacekeeping Africa was, at best, silly and juvenile.
Africa is a socio-economic and political mess … that’s not solely a “legacy of colonialism,” as many progressives would have us believe. Many of the problems that beset that sorry continent are home grown, since the 1970s, and are rooted in very human conditions like greed and ambition and cruelty that are not the fault of the Brits or French or even the Spanish and Belgians. There is no doubt that we, Canada ~ a rich, powerful, sophisticated, fortunate, even blessed nation ~ can and should do something to help Africa, but the United Nations is, probably, amongst the worst possible agencies we might choose to work with if we really want to get anything useful done. Put simply, the UN is broken: not all of it, but the parts that run peacekeeping (and several other programmes) are massive monuments to corruption, bureaucratic ineptitude and national and regional rivalries.
I suspect that Team Trudeau, which is firmly focused, now, to the exclusion of all other things, on winning the 2019 election, is scared witless of a UN missions in Africa in which Canadian soldiers might come home in body bags, again, and, perhaps even worse, be accused of killing “child soldiers,” who are endemic in African conflicts. But those issues were never considered in 2015; the Trudeau campaign team wasn’t interested in thinking about how to lead or govern a G7 country ~ all they (Gerald Butts, Katie Telford and Justin Trudeau) cared about was winning the election … power would be its own reward; budgets would balance themselves; and so on. They understood that they were not going to eat very deeply into the Conservative base of support (5.6 million Canadians voted for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, only down slightly from the 5.8 million who voted CPC in 2011); they ned to do two things:
- Take votes away from the NDP ~ the NDP voted did decline from 4.5 million in 2011 to 3.4 million in 2015; and
- Increase the Liberal voting base ~ which, to Team Trudeau’s everlasting credit they did, adding an additional 3 million voters, bringing their vote total to 6.9 million in 2015 from only 2.75 million in 2011.
They did both those things by making promises that appealed to mainly young and generally left of centre voters who were always disenchanted with conservative policies. Those folks wanted out of combat in Iraq-Syria, they wanted in to UN peacekeeping and they, generally, wanted sunny ways, feminism and green policies … they got what they wanted.
There are ways for Canada to actually help and to make a difference in Africa but none of them involve the UN … unless Canada can take over a complete mission: military, aid and civilian leadership, in a single country. But, for years and years, for decades, actually, beginning in the late 1960s, Canadians have voted FOR politicians who, when not actively pacifist and isolationist, have put their country’s strategic vital interests far, far behind nurturing a culture of entitlement.
During my military service (1960 to 1997) I watched as our military was shrunk from a force that could, simultaneously, help to keep a real peace in North West Europe, in the face of naked Soviet threats of nuclear war, and could play major, leading roles in three large (Middle East, Congo and Cyprus) and some small UN peacekeeping missions, until, today, we can barely deploy 1,500 men and women and a handful of aircraft and a few APCs to two or three different theatres.
That decline in capability and in will is not Justin Trudeau’s fault. His father bears the lion’s share of the blame for changing Canadians’ attitudes towards foreign and defence policies from wanting to be a leading middle power to being a smiling spectator. Liberals and Conservatives alike share the blame or, perhaps, it’s better to say that Liberals and Conservatives alike followed public opinion rather then having the courage and responsibility to lead it and change it.
Suffice it to say that Team Trudeau has found the right peacekeeping niche: hosting conferences where petty politicians and bloated bureaucrats can natter, in comfort, while others do the heavy lifting. It’s called dithering.