The crux of M. Coulon’s thesis is that “Canada’s contribution to peacekeeping announced in Vancouver does not impress anyone. At the UN, the Secretary-General and peacekeepers are disappointed … [because] … The Prime Minister yielded to international pressure and to those who spoke in his office. In the face of some foreign policy decisions, Justin Trudeau knows how to be bold, but most of the time, he is reactive rather than proactive. He hesitates, he procrastinates, he is subject to turnaround. In the case of participation in the mission in Mali, events rushed in March and forced him to act.“
But why should M Coulon be surprised. He says, himself, that when Chrystia Freeland replaced his old boss, Stéphane Dion, that “Her chief of staff informed me that the issues I was dealing with – multilateralism, peacekeeping, Africa – were not a priority for her. All her energy is now focused on relations with the United States and the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Reengagement in peace operations is currently in limbo.“
And I think that we have, therefore, the true origins of the Mali mission: an easily led, reactive, procrastinating prime minister, “informed” by a celebrity minister who is uninterested in Africa or in peacekeeping, picks what looks to be a low cost/low risk military option. But now the UN is sending officials to Canada to tell us that our contribution is not up to snuff.
The fact, and I assert it is a fact, that the Canadian Forces would be hard pressed to send 600 soldiers, of any sort, to Africa is not, entirely, Justin Trudeau’s fault … the blame goes all the way back to Pierre Trudeau who decided, in the later 1960s, against the advice of many of his most senior officials and several of his most senior cabinet ministers, to slash the Canadian Forces and withdraw from some of Canada’s military commitments. Despite occasional “upticks,” no prime minister since Pierre Trudeau has been serious about rebuilding Canada’s military to what I would regard as an acceptable standard.
I mentioned, before, that a retired senior civil servant told me that the very words “attack helicopter” were anathema to many (most?) Canadian politicians because a small but vocal “peace movement” could and would use them to stir up anti-military feelings ~ never far below the surface in Canada ~ which would, quickly, become anti-government feelings. That same official told me that, for now (circa 2015 to 2020) at least, $20 Billion is a fairly hard “ceiling’ for defence spending. Canadians don’t care about fiscal “capacity” (i.e. % of GDP), they just know that $20 Billion is an awful lot of money and it is, popular opinion seems to say, more than enough to spend on defence. That’s one of the (several) reasons why Justin Trudeau is, like Stephen Harper before him was, only too happy to ignore Canada’s military and to trim military commitments to suit the very limited resources available.
We may, as Jocelyn Coulon says, have “disappointed” the United Nations; but we can be sure that the Secretary General and his officials will be ever so diplomatic when they express their concerns, and Katie Purchase, the prime minister’s public relations specialist, will spin it as a success, anyway … and the media, much of which is even less interested in defence than is Justin Trudeau, will go along.
But, you know, it is a bit like water dripping on a rock … eventually all the drips wear away even the biggest, hardest rocks, and, eventually, failure after failure after failure in defence and foreign policy by successive Canadian governments ~ this Liberal one being markedly worse than the last Conservative one ~ will erode Canada’s long held and hard earned reputation as a reliable ally and leader amongst the small and middle powers.