Murray Brewster, who often reports on defence matters, writing on the CBC News website, says that “Canada is ready to offer the United Nations a list of high-end equipment and troops who could train peacekeepers from other countries for dangerous deployments, CBC News has learned … [and] … The pledge, to be made Wednesday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at an international gathering of defence ministers in Vancouver, does not involve a long-awaited commitment to a specific mission, nor will it see large-scale boots on the ground, said multiple sources.“
“The Vancouver proposal,” Mr Brewster explains, “will attempt to address critical institutional gaps at the UN, one the world body has repeatedly complained about, including shortcomings in planning, surveillance, the quality of forces going into the field, and also the number of women involved in deployments and conflict resolution … [and] … The sources say the UN will be given an inventory of Canadian military and police “capabilities” — options for them to choose to support ongoing operations … [therefore, it] … would, in effect, involve smaller deployments of higher-skilled Canadian troops on an intermittent basis in the future, the sources said … [but] … It would be a departure from the traditional concept of peacekeeping — involving battalions of infantry soldiers.” It was the “traditional concept” that I suspect most Canadian thought Justin Trudeau was promising when he said he would send 600 soldiers and 150 police officers to Africa. But it looks like that’s off the table.
Good for Minister Sajjan
I think that, to his credit, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan actually listened to the briefings given by his colonels and generals in National Defence HQ and, on his trips to Africa, saw for himself that traditional UN peacekeeping is dead and what passes for peacekeeping in the 21st century is largely doomed to failure. Proposals to help the UN with air transport, logistics, electronic surveillance and reconnaissance and, perhaps especially, command, control and communications (C³) and logistics management might be most welcome. I actually doubt that Canadians are “expert” peacekeeping trainers because we have been absent from the front lines of peace operations for a long time … but we have first class engineers, logisticians, signallers and air transport people.
We can only hope
Perhaps Prime Minister Trudeau is about to break yet another promise. I hope he is. And I suspect that he can break this promise with impunity because very, very few Canadians give a damn about bringing peace to Africa or even food, much less law and order, to Haiti. I think he has to do something at the forthcoming Vancouver conference or put his (and the Laurentian Elite’s) campaign for a second class, temporary seat on the worthless UN Security Council at risk. My sense is that the defence staff is opposed to anything like what now passes for traditional peacekeeping in Africa … unless it has a major cash infusion, which the Trudeau Liberals appear quite unwilling to offer. My guess is that Minister Sajjan is listening to his generals and actually understands and shares their concerns, even while his party is still with Jean Chrétien who, infamously, equated Canadian soldiers with boy scouts as he sought to justify deeper and deeper cuts to the defence budget. It is important, however, to remember that Prime Minister Chrétien was a consummate politician and Conservatives, especially pro-defence Conservatives like me, must understand that his reading of the Canadian public opinion was, almost certainly, very correct. Canadians are much more comfortable with boy scout peacekeepers in baby-blue berets than they are with troops in combat.
I think that Canada’s best choice would be a coherent (but undoubtedly too expensive ~ more than DND can afford without that infusion of new cash) air transport support mission (C-130 Hercules, CH-147 Chinooks and CH-146 Griffons) providing tactical airlift for several UN missions ~ perhaps as lead nation of a multi-national air transport force. The next best thing would be a multi-disciplinary (aviation, engineers, logisticians, signals) team also supporting more than one mission area. The worst choice would be to scatter troops about in “penny packets,” a few in this mission, a few more in that one and then a few more in yet another, where they would get “lost” within large, ill-managed, failing UN missions.