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Boots on the ground... but where?

Over the past two days, the media has been dutifully quoting the Polaris Institute’s latest analysis, Boots on the Ground - Canadian Military Operations in Afghanistan and UN Peacekeeping Missions, the full text of which can be found here:

This study, released on the eve of the Parliamentary vote on extending the Canadian deployment to Kandahar, purports to detail the cost of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan since our first deployment in 2001. Unfortunately, "Boots on the Ground" is a political document rather than a serious analysis of the financial impact of Afghan operations.

The Ruxted Group takes issue with the Polaris Institute's methodology and motives. First, the timing of the release of the “analysis” is highly suspect, coming as it did immediately before a critical vote on the future of Canadian operations in Afghanistan. The study seeks to inflate the monetary costs of Afghan operations and to highlight Canada’s lack of participation in UN-led missions. By using “full cost” accounting and by extending its definition of what constitutes support to Afghanistan operations to include the most tenuous connection to South West Asia, Polaris manages to artificially increase costs dramatically. Indeed, merely by quoting “full costs” rather than the more accurate “incremental costs”, Polaris manages to double the bill for Afghan-related deployments. (1)

The point of the study appears to be that we’re spending too much on Afghan operations, yet are neglecting UN-led “peacekeeping missions”. Thus:

Canada ranks 50th out of the 95 countries currently contributing military personnel to UN missions, just behind Romania with 63 personnel and just ahead of Mali with 54 personnel. In 2005, Canada ranked 35th out of the 96 countries then contributing. Before the mid-1990s, Canada was consistently among the top 10 contributors to UN peacekeeping missions.

• Canada’s rank as contributor of troops: 50th out of 78, tied with Spain
• Canada’s rank as contributor of military observers: 18th out of 94
• Canada’s rank as contributor of military personnel: 50th out of 95
• Canada’s rank as contributor of military personnel in July 2005: 35th out of 96

Canada is not alone in having virtually abandoned UN peacekeeping. In fact, most of the Western aligned middle-power states now contribute very little to UN missions. The 26 members of NATO contribute in total only 2,173 military personnel (or 3.4% of the UN total), despite the fact that NATO militaries together account for 70% of the world’s miltary spending. Canada ranks 7th in total military spending among the NATO countries, but 8th among the NATO members in contributions to UN missions. There are eight non-NATO countries that each contribute more military personnel to UN operations than do all the members of NATO combined.

• Total number of military personnel contributed by the 26 members of NATO: 2,173
• Canada’s rank as supplier of military personnel among the 26 members of NATO: 8th
• Number of countries that each contribute more military personnel than all 26 members of NATO put together: 8
(Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Jordan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Uruguay).

What is missing is any analysis of why the West has - in Polaris' words - "abandoned" peacekeeping. There is no contextual analysis of the UN's current operations, including the actual requirement for large, well-armed "peacekeeping" forces to conduct Security and Stabilization operations in the absence of a true desire for peace by the warring parties. Given that there is no current UN mission in Darfur, where does Polaris suggest Canada begin to participate? The Congo, where the UN is increasingly mired in scandal and discredited? The Balkans? The issues were settled by the application of NATO's military power after the UN proved completley ineffective. The Golan? We just pulled out of there after decades of service to an entrenched UN mission.

Polaris, in its haste to leap to the defence of "peacekeeping", needs to answer all of these points and more. Most Western countries had their fill of UN-led missions in the Balkans, where corruption, political interference and incompetent UN leadership were the norm. Why does Polaris insist that UN-led missions would be any more effective now, given the quagmires in Cyprus, the Golan, the Balkans and (now) the Congo?


1. “Full cost” includes salaries and benefits for personnel that would be paid regardless of whether they were deployed or not. “Incremental cost” includes only those items directly associated with the specific mission.
2. Polaris Institute, Boots on the Ground - Canadian Military Operations in Afghanistan and UN Peacekeeping Missions, 12 May 2006, page 4


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