Anyone who still believes that UN peacekeeping is the sort of thing that Lester Pearson helped push into being in 1956, and that would be mostly members of the Laurentian Elites, needs to look at a recent article the Globe and Mail which reports that “In the deadliest single attack on a United Nations peacekeeping mission in recent memory, rebels in eastern Congo killed at least 14 peacekeepers and wounded 53 others in an assault on their base that was launched at nightfall and went on for hours.“
“The peacekeepers killed were from Tanzania,” the report says, and “At least five Congolese soldiers also were killed in the attack Thursday evening that has been blamed on one of the region’s deadliest rebel groups … [and] … At least two peacekeepers remained missing, the U.N. said. More than 20 were evacuated for medical treatment in the regional capital, Goma.” I am not going out on much of a limb when I say that the Tanzanians are not exemplary, highly trained, professional soldiers ~ they, like too many troops sent, by poorer nations, on UN missions, are poorly trained, inadequately led, underpaid and overextended ~ Tanzania sends about 10% of its 27,000 military people on UN Missions, thereby earning scarce dollars which do not go to the soldiers.
“The U.N. mission in Congo is the largest and most expensive in the world,” the Globe and Mail report says, “and it has been a high-profile target of the Trump administration’s cost-cutting efforts. Nearly 300 peacekeepers have been killed since the mission arrived in 1999, according to U.N. data … [and] … Congo, a country the size of Western Europe, has seen immeasurable cruelty and greed as a result of its mineral resources. The nation suffered through one of the most brutal colonial reigns ever known before undergoing decades of corrupt dictatorship. Back-to-back civil wars later drew in a number of neighbouring countries … [plus] … Many rebel groups have come and gone during the U.N. mission’s years of operation, at times invading the regional capital.” In short the UN mission is a failure. It’s not a failure because the Tanzanians are less than first rate soldiers; it’s not a failure because the UN Force Commander,Lieutenant General Derrick Mgwebi of the South African Army, is an inexperienced combat leader; it’s a failure because 21st century UN peacekeeping is “managed” by an inept and often corrupt organization in New York that needs a thorough, top-to-bottom housecleaning before any Canadians are sent into its missions.
The problem isn’t with the concept of peacekeeping ~ which, in this modern era usually requires some peacemaking, first and often needs to be accompanied by some nation-building, too, it is with how the whole thing is organized and managed. Too often, for example, the “back-to-back civil wars later drew in a number of neighbouring countries” that came under a UN flag, ostensively as peacekeepers but actually in pursuit of their own national ambitions. That happens because the UN’s strict adherence to regional representation in all decisions and its deference to the wishes of the African Union means that peacekeeping is subordinated to regional power politics. The UN becomes part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Africa needs help to make and keep the peace amongst its often artificial states; the UN should be the right agency to provide that help but its current structure make it almost the worst choice. The UN Security Council is the best available body to agree that peacekeeping is necessary but it should always “contract out” the task to another body.
The problem for Canada is that Prime Minister Trudeau and his team simply have no idea about what needs doing in the world and how Canada might, productively and effectively, help to do it. A handful of Laurentian Elite types who have a totally wishful view of what the United nations is and what it can do are driving policy. A few people in cabinet and in the Liberal braintrust like, for example, Scott Brison, Mark Garneau and Andrew Leslie, who seem to have level heads and clear eyes, appear to be sidelined with other duties or, perhaps, are not consulted because they do not fit tightly into the green, feminist, sunny ways mould.
Justin Trudeau’s latest faint, fake promises about UN peacekeeping may, as they must, satisfy the United Nations bureaucrats ~ some of whom didn’t want Canadians anyway ~ but Canadians must understand that he and his closest advisors neither know nor care about peacekeeping, Africa or the military. They just want these issues to solve themselves in ways which do not require the prime minister to have to make any unpleasant decisions … and I suspect that any decision that might require making a choice is hard for Justin Trudeau; an informed, responsible choice would be far too hard.