Further to this post from 2016 when the then-newish Liberal government announced with great fanfare that Canada was back for UN peacekeeping,
the Trudeau government soon chickened out of any major commitment that might involve any real risk of numbers of fatalities, breaking quite a few public pledges along the way. But, hey, who cares what the rest of the world might think about this country’s esprit de sérieux? The Liberals soon realized most of the voting public they were relentlessly courting frankly didn’t give a damn, my dears; so they dithered for two more years and then sent a force to Mali to do the least dangerous mission they could put together (but note towards the end of this post what the Brits are doing in the Sahel). Excerpts from a Canadian Press piece by Lee Berthiaume (tweets here):
When now-retired major-general Guy Tousignant handed over command of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Rwanda 1995, Canada had been involved in virtually every UN mission over the previous four-plus decades.
But after the scandal of Somalia, in which Canadian soldiers tortured and killed a teenage boy, the frustrations and failures of the UN’s efforts in Bosnia and Croatia, and the horrors of Rwanda, Canada started to withdraw from peacekeeping.
Today, Canada has around 40 peacekeepers in the field. That’s a fraction of the 1,200 Canadian blue helmets and blue berets deployed when Tousignant left Rwanda.
That number is also about one-third of what it was when the federal Liberals came to power five years ago — despite repeated promises from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government for Canada to do more.
That the decline has continued is frustrating for some who worked with the Liberal government during its early years. They told The Canadian Press they supported the plan to re-engage in peacekeeping and they believed it was going to happen…
Most agree, to varying degrees, [that]…the potential electoral costs of a large-scale deployment of Canadian peacekeepers overseas are seen to outweigh the benefits.
“I think the Liberal government realized there was probably little votes in it,” says retired lieutenant-general and former Canadian army commander Andrew Leslie, who was an adviser to Trudeau before being elected as a Liberal MP in 2015.
“The characteristic of this current government is its relentless and ruthless focus on how to get re-elected. And promises were made and not kept.”
Leslie, who did not run for re-election last year, made clear he thinks other governments have made similar calculations in the past.
The Liberal government insists it is living up to its commitments, and that Canada is making a real difference at the UN.
It points to the year-long deployment of helicopters to Mali, which ended in August 2019, and the occasional deployment of a transport plane to Uganda [see this official, and not very informative, official webpage on the appropriately, and ironically, named Operation PRESENCE]. Canada is also spearheading efforts to increase the number of women on peacekeeping missions and working to prevent the use of child soldiers in conflict…
Roland Paris, a former foreign-policy adviser to Trudeau, said the government “has ended up in a place where it can say that it’s meeting its commitments to re-engage with peacekeeping, at really minimal cost.”
The transport plane deployed to Uganda on occasional basis to ferry troops and equipment to different UN missions in Africa is useful, said Paris, but “on its own, it’s a minimal commitment,” adding the same could be said of the contribution to Mali…
All say what is really needed is more Canadians in the field — something Trudeau called for ahead of the October 2015 election that brought the Liberals to power.
A survey conducted by Nanos Research on behalf of the Canadian Defence and Security Network in August found three in four respondents said they were supportive of peacekeeping. But it also found older respondents more supportive than a key target for the Liberals’ electoral efforts: young Canadians…
The government committed in August 2016 to deploying up to 600 troops and 150 police officers on UN missions, then delayed for years before sending helicopters to Mali after repeated requests from the UN and allies such as France and Germany.
The Liberals also promised in November 2017 to provide a 200-strong quick-reaction force to the UN. Three years later, it has yet to materialize.
“I see it as extreme risk sensitivity,” Paris said…
In the meantime, the UN struggles to make do with what member states have on offer. The British started a three-year deployment of 300 troops to Mali this month, but the mission there is still short hundreds of troops and police officers…
About that UK contribution to the UN’s MINUSMA mission (website here), the British Army has taken on the sort of boots on the ground role, running real risks, that PM Trudeau turned his back on. That sort of thing is noticed around the world even if barely, if at all, in Canada:
A UK task force has arrived in Mali to join the UN peacekeeping mission where they will provide a reconnaissance capability
300 UK troops have arrived in Mali as part of the UN’s peacekeeping mission, primarily drawn from the Light Dragoons alongside the Royal Anglian Regiment and supported by specialist trades from across the Armed Forces.
The UK Task Force will provide a highly specialised reconnaissance capability, conducting patrols to gather intelligence and engage with the local population to help the UN respond to threats from violent extremism, and weak governance…
And lookee here. also from the above government news release–the UK is also providing direct help on the ground to the separate French counter-terrorism combat operation in the Sahel, something this government would never contemplate (or might it? see below):
Alongside this, the MoD currently has 3 Chinook helicopters and 100 personnel in a logistics role supporting the French-led Counter-Terrorist mission, Operation BARKHANE [more here]. This is entirely separate from the UN mission, but they will be operating in the same region.
But in fact is there a slim chance that we might follow the Brits with some personnel and equipment in-theatre for Barkhane? Seems unlikely to me but see this recent post:
Lots more on what I sometimes call today’s “killer peacekeeping” at these earlier posts.