Canada and United Nations Peace Operations

By Rudderham, M. A. | International Journal, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Canada and United Nations Peace Operations


Rudderham, M. A., International Journal


Challenges, opportunities, and Canada's response

Canadians take pride in the peacekeeping legacy of their country. Looking back over the history of United Nations (UN) peace operations, episodes that loom large include Lester B. Pearson's role in the creation of the first peacekeeping force, the rapid deployment of Canadian troops to Cyprus, the battles of Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Medak Pocket in Croatia, and the actions of Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire as force commander in Rwanda. Until 1989, Canada had participated in every UN mission. In total, Canada contributed more than 10 percent of total UN military personnel deployed since 1947.1

The perception of Canada as a leader in UN-led peace operations suffers when juxtaposed against Canada's current troop contributions.3 In October 2007, there were 173 individuals-mostly police-deployed to UN-led peace operations. The number of Canadian forces (CF) personnel deployed to UNled peace operations, at 58, was at its lowest point since the creation of the first peacekeeping force in 1956. Moreover, Canada had no military or police officers located in the department of peacekeeping operations (DPKO) in New York and no military commanders, police commissioners, or special representatives of the UN secretary general were Canadian.3 These numbers seem to paint a bleak picture of Canada's commitment to UN-led peace operations, particularly when contrasted with the 2774 soldiers Canada contributed to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) operations in Afghanistan during the same time period.4 While most NATO operations are UN-mandated, they are not synonymous with UN-led operations. Contributing to one organization's operations to the exclusion of another's can have serious political consequences.

It is extremely important for Canada to reenergize its commitment to UN-led peace operations. In light of the recent emphasis on NATO-led operations-particularly since NATO began engaging in "out-of-area" operations, such as its mission in Afghanistan and its technical support to the African Union (AU) in Darfur-questions have been posed about whether Canada should distance itself from UN-led peace operations, which have come under fire for being too politicized. This view is short sighted. It was fewer than 15 years ago when Canada pulled its forces out of Germany following its reunification and the signature of the conventional forces in Europe treaty, that it was accused of neglecting the alliance in favour of the UN (which was heavily engaged in the UN mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, among other missions), an accusation that dogged Canada's political engagement at NATO until it made a substantial commitment to the NATO-led international security assistance force in 2003. Canada cannot afford to run the same risk at the UN. With 192 members to NATO's 26 and engagement in a broad array of social, political, cultural, and security issues, the UN will remain Canada's main forum for engaging with the world into the foreseeable future. Even within the security sphere, the UN remains the most relevant forum for a wide variety of security issues that other political organizations simply cannot address: coordination of security actors, civilian police, peacebuilding, human security, disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation, security sector reform, refugees, humanitarian aid, and humanitarian relief operations. These aspects of peace operations are areas in which Canada can gain valuable political currency by employing its existing strengths. This can only be accomplished through the UN.

This discussion identifies what avenues Canada can take in the midterm to ensure it continues to contribute in a meaningful way to UN-led peace operations. It concludes that Canada can best contribute to UN-led peace operations by augmenting its capacities in the areas of administration, coordination, and training, as well as by ensuring the provision of resources for police tasks, aiding with civilian recruitment, providing leadership in gender integration, and supporting enabling arrangements for mission-essential equipment. …

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