The Peacemaker

Article excerpt

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That Canada is a leader in the realm of international peacekeeping is an established fact. Ask any Canadian to name his country's greatest contributions to the global arena, and there is a good chance that he will cite hockey, our first national past-time, and peacekeeping, which has been called our second with just the barest hint of exaggeration.

Presently, men and women of the Canadian Forces are active in eight peacekeeping missions whose theatres span the globe from Europe to the African continent. Since 1947, Canadian troops have been deployed in more than 70 peacekeeping missions around the world. Today, more than 125,000 Canadians are entitled to wear the Canada Peacekeeping Service Medal.

Canada emerged from the Second World War, in some ways, ideally suited to adopt the role of peace broker. Our immense contribution to the allied victory had earned us a voice in international affairs. Furthermore, our growing military relationship with the United States, together with our long-established alliances with Britain and France, provided with us a unique, though periodically challenging, diplomatic position as a country with interests between those of the new and old worlds.

In this context, Canadian foreign policy was increasingly guided by the belief that our status as a middle power required certain roles and responsibilities. Moreover, the considerable losses sustained through the war effort had created a determination in Canada, and in many countries, to eliminate the terrible prospect of another international war. Like many other nations, Canada believed that the best hopes for a continued peace lay in collective security through the creation of a new international organization.

These hopes were greatly encouraged when, in late April of 1945, representatives of 50 nations gathered in San Francisco to draft and ratify the United Nations Charter. With Canada's considerable input, this document created what was optimistically believed to be a viable framework for collective security.

Unfortunately, as the gradual cooling of east-west relations heralded the onset of the cold war, the universal agreement to establish a permanent UN army quickly evaporated. As end of war optimism gave way to cold war tension, the UN increasingly found itself tasked with ensuring that east-west hostility would not degenerate into major conflict.

Such was the case in Korea in 1947, when the UN called upon Canada and other member nations to provide troops to oversee the withdrawal of American and Soviet forces from their respective positions in South and North Korea. On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded its southern neighbour. In an emergency meeting, the UN Security Council elected to establish a special army to repel the invaders. Canada rose to the challenge, and by the end of the conflict, had provided more than 27,000 army, navy, and air personnel. The Korean War ended on July 27 of 1953 with the signing of the armistice in Panmunjom. The border between North and South Korea had been re-established, but the cost to Canada had been significant. Over 400 Canadians had died, and another 1,000 had been wounded.

Typically, UN missions of the era deployed personnel as "observers." Such missions would dispatch unarmed troops to monitor the observance of negotiated truces, or to patrol disputed borders between aggressive neighbours. One observer mission had been established in the Middle East following the end of the Arab-Israel War of 1948, though Canadian participation would not commence until 1954. This would mark the beginning of Canada's ongoing commitment to providing a peacekeeping presence in the Middle East that continues to this day.

The term "peacekeeping" is not to be found anywhere in the United Nations Charter. The concept is commonly considered to have evolved in response to the circumstances surrounding the Suez Crisis of 1956. …