In an article in the Globe and Mail, Lee Berthiaume (Canadian Press) reports that “The Trudeau Liberals may have promised to ramp up Canada’s role in peacekeeping, but new UN figures show there were fewer Canadian peacekeepers in the field last month than at any point in recent memory … [and] … The revelation comes as Canada prepares to host a major peacekeeping summit in Vancouver next month, raising fears the country will be badly embarrassed unless the numbers start rising – and fast … [because] … The intervening year [since the Liberals promised 600+ blue beret wearing peacekeepers] has instead seen a steady decrease in the number of Canadian blue helmets and blue berets deployed around the world, from 112 peacekeepers in August 2016 to 68 last month.“
This is risky for Canadian soldiers because the Trudeau regime is not exactly famous for making sound, well though out, carefully crafted plans ~ witness the small business tax fiasco and democratic reform, just for examples. It is possible, even probable, that rather than be embarrassed in public the Liberals will react, as cornered rats often do, and commit troops to a dangerous, hopeless, worthless mission just to avoid yet another political humiliation. Canadian soldiers may soon find themselves in some rotten hellhole with orders to not, under any circumstances, shoot at a child soldier, not even in self defence, or do any harm to a person of colour … because the Liberals know that the media will be watching ~ platoons of journalists will be deployed, each more anxious than the next to win some prize by being the first to report on a Canadian killing a black child.
Plus ça change, and all that
Nothing much has changed since Prime Minister Trudeau promised to “renew” Canadian peacekeeping ~ presumably, as the Globe and Mail said, the sort of “peacekeeping that Baby Boomers grew up with, and that some Canadians still mythologize, [but which] no longer exists.” Africa remains as problem plagued as it was when Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan visited Africa in the summer of 2016 and, in so many words, said that old fashioned, baby-blue beret type peacekeeping is dead. His exact words were ““I think we can definitely say what we used to have as peacekeeping, before, is no longer. We don’t have two parties that have agreed on peace and there’s a peacekeeping force in between…Those peacekeeping days, those realities, do not exist now and we need to understand the reality of today.”” Cabinet and the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office ~ Gerald Butts et al) seems to have taken taken that message on board and are, now, it seems, paralyzed with doubts and fears.
Well they should be …
Something else that hasn’t changed is that UN peacekeeping is still, generally, an exercise in institutionalized failure. Put simply, UN peacekeeping is a wreck and, most likely, cannot be repaired without some quite fundamental (and likely (practically) impossible) reforms to the organization itself. The Security Council, the General Secretariat and, especially, the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations are in urgent need of reform ~ and not the wishy-washy, milquetoast sorts of reforms proposed by UN Secretary General António Guterres.
Peacekeeping in Africa is possible, even desirable, but UN peacekeeping seems doomed to fail and Canada should run away from it.
It is time for Canadian (Liberal and Conservative) politicians to be honest with Canadians.
First: Canada no longer has the strategic and military power that we did in 1957 when we were an acknowledged leader of the middle powers and we could maintain strong, combat capable and combat ready forces in Europe, ready to fight in hours, not days, weeks or months, and decide to send whatever forces the UN needed on a major peacekeeping mission. That was a time when Canada could load its own aircraft carrier with its own troops and equipment and send it and them half way around the world on short notice. Pierre Trudeau changed Canada in ways that are very, very difficult to undo; he emasculated the military and created a culture of entitlement which, politically, must be fed with money that really ought to be spent on infrastructure maintenance, education, and, yes, on national defence.
Second, the fairly simple (albeit very dangerous) bipolar world of the 1950s and ’60s has changed into something that is much, much more complex. The immediate threat of global thermo-nuclear war may have receded, but the are now more and less stable major powers, many with nuclear arsenals and less than coherent strategic aims. Non state actors ~ terrorist groups and “national liberation” movements ~ which are hard to tell apart, one from the other ~ proliferate and they, too, seek regional and even global power. The 21st century strategic landscape is multifarious, strewn with booby-traps, and full of new, sometimes, unknown threats.
Third, the United Nations itself has changed. In the 1950s there were less than 75 members ~ about half of them were part of what we would call the US led, liberal- democratic West. Now there are 193 and still only 35± are liberal-democratic states. In the 1950s Lester Pearson could manage to “stick-handle” a controversial resolution (on peacekeeping in Egypt) through the UN by taking advantage of a (fairly regular but ill-considered) Russian boycott. Today that cannot be done ~ there are five (semi-official) regional groups in the UN which are used select staff for major committees and groups. Some regional groups, like the 54 members of the African group, often vote as a block. The small “Western European and Others” group, which includes Canada, is, routinely, out-voted on issues like peacekeeping policy, organization and management.
UN peacekeeping, as most Canadians (including, evidently, Justin Trudeau in 2015) imagine it, is dead as a doornail. That which still exists is, for the most part,* a colossal waste of time and money.
Canada is no longer able or, more importantly, willing to play a much needed leadership role in reforming the UN and its peacekeeping arm ~ neither in the field nor in the ‘corridors of power’ in New York. A temporary, worthless, second class seat on the UN Security Council will not give Canada the power it needs to make its voice heard above the 193 member din. Only a marked change in national objectives and budgetary priorities will do that.
The Canadian military is weaker than it has been since the 1930s ~ that’s just my opinion of course ~ and while I acknowledge that the men and women who are serving in our ships, regiments, squadrons and bases are first rate, as good or better than they have ever been, they are less than really well led, they are poorly organized (my opinion, again) and they have too few ships and tanks and aircraft And too little other equipment, and it is often of the wrong sort and difficult to maintain without an adequate supply of spare parts … there aren’t even enough boots for the army, nor logistical vehicles to carry what the army has in stock.
There is a crying need for peacemaking, then peacekeeping and nation building in Africa.
The UN has, demonstrably and consistently, failed make or keep the peace in Africa.
Canada could help, Canada could even lead … if, and it’s a huge IF, it has the national will to rediscover its former (liberal and Liberal) values as a global leader. That doesn’t mean forgetting about climate change or the environment, or First Nations or feminism, it just means reordering our national priorities after we have done some medium to long term thinking (even soul searching) about our nation vital interests and a strategy for protecting and promoting them. But there’s a problem, as an article in The Economist, says, albeit about the USA, “Most [Americans and Canadians] want balanced budgets. But they are more concerned about terrorism, security and the economy, all potential reasons to postpone deficit reduction. And that suits Republican [and Conservative] politicians well, because the same voters who worry about the national debt also tend to be unwilling to lose access to entitlements—including health care and pensions for seniors—that are primarily responsible for it. Both parties have capitulated to these voters.”
But, right now, Justin Trudeau appears to be cornered … I suspect that Team Trudeau sees the same facts as I do, and now I worry about how the cornered (by the facts) prime minister will react.