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The Truth About Peacekeeping

The Globe and Mail cites a poll which finds 65% of Canadians (nearly 70% in Ontario) “believe their role on the world stage is more suited to peacekeeping than as enforcers of peace.” According to former Chrétien speech writer Peter Donolo, “Canadians may be pining for the days before 9/11 and are “nostalgic for the blue helmets” of the UN missions of the past.”

While acknowledging the basic facts and figures and Mr. Donolo's conclusions, Ruxted wonders how Canadians came to be so abysmally ignorant of our history to believe the lie that Pearsonian, baby-blue beret peacekeeping is Canada’s military ‘tradition’?

It is a Big Lie which for a generation has been preached by ill-educated teachers using curricula prepared by even less qualified educrats, and promulgated by lazy journalists who attach their by-lines to press releases prepared (by those with an obvious political agenda like Mr. Donolo) to propagate the myth that Canadians could do without a combat capable, combat ready, globally deployable, balanced military.

For more than a half century (1899 to 1969) Canada pushed its way onto the world's stage – in South Africa, Europe, and the Pacific, then following the last global war, securing and then keeping the peace in NATO on the North German Plain in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Canada also led the way in preventative peacekeeping in the ‘50s. As we have stated UN peacekeeping was a tool developed during the Cold War to reduce the risk of all out war being triggered by disputes amongst client states of NATO and Warsaw Pact members. It was an adjunct to Canada’s war-like role in NATO. Indeed, Canada was often called upon to participate in UN missions because it was a Western member of NATO and because we provided a counterbalance to Eastern Bloc or non-aligned countries. Missions were carefully balanced to allow for global tensions and required the direct consent and participation of the countries where the peacekeeping force was to be deployed.

But UN peacekeeping changed after 1990 when the Cold war ended and the firm hands of superpowers were removed from most clients - a change Canadians have chosen to ignore. The raison d’être for preventative peacekeeping disappeared and new problems appeared which are intractable to lightly armed troops enforcing a peace by providing a ‘thin blue line’ which cannot be violated without earning international reproach. The UN provides a laundry list of prerequisites for UN-managed peacekeeping. One is that “there must be a peace to keep”; then “less capable” militaries, typically those from less developed countries, can do the job with some support from “more capable” militaries, such as the Canadian Forces. When there is no peace to keep then the more capable militaries must first make the peace - just what Canadians and Europeans appear increasingly disinclined to do, but is the best and most efficient use of their highly professional, ethical, and capable armed services.

During the ‘90s Mr. Donolo pushed the Chrétien government’s line that Canada would use soft power to force the UN to adopt a doctrine of Responsibility to Protect. It was cynical manipulation of public opinion by a public relations professional. As Joseph Nye, the originator of the soft power theory has pointed out, soft power is available only to those who can “legitimize” it by having enough hard, military power. Canada frittered away so much of its hard power that Mr. Donolo's masters could not practice the Responsibility to Protect they so fervently preached, instead resorting to slandering the US for proclaimed misguided use of hard power and unwillingness to use its considerable soft power. That slander was sufficient for Canadian domestic politics where sophomoric, knee-jerk anti-Americanism wins votes.

Messers Chrétien and Donolo did not push Canada out of credibility all by themselves. As early as 1960 the costs of defending Canada’s vital interests and sustaining a leadership position in global affairs were taking a severe toll in Canada. Paul Hellyer’s controversial organizational experiments in the mid ‘60s were designed to save money, which he hoped (in vain) could then be used to equip and train combat forces. (That they ‘accomplished’ other things is another argument.) In 1970 Pierre Trudeau literally threw in the hard power towel, declaring that Canada could not be a leader of the middle powers and needed to turn its attention and resources inward. The final nail in the coffin came in the early nineties when, knowing there was no political sympathy for defence issues, the Mulroney government cast aside its Defence White Paper and slashed and burned what minimal capability Canada had left - a process gleefully accelerated by Jean Chrétien throughout his tenure.

UN peacekeeping became Canada’s currency of choice for buying its place at the international table without paying a respectable share of the bill. One of the world's richest and most favoured nations eschewed its international responsibilities and claimed a moral superpower status, lecturing and hectoring its friends and allies while refusing a full and fair share of the burden of bringing some level of security to the world.

Canadian ignorance of peacekeeping encompasses not only the political situation described above; Canadians do not understand the nature of the missions. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the need for classical or preventative peacekeeping declined dramatically. Absent any familiar military threat in sight, many in the West felt it was safe to stand down the military machine of the Cold War and cash in a "peace dividend", without looking at the effects of the disintegration of the Soviet Empire on the former clients and colonies. The emergence of many small, distributed threats that followed the fall of the Soviet Union requires a response: not the same as facing down a nuclear armed adversary, but a response none the less.

To the benefit of all, Canadian soldiers are operating in the far corners of the earth in "peace support” missions and "security and stabilization” operations in an effort to restore rule of law and remove conditions which encourage threats against our security and prosperity. This is long term hard work, for not only soldiers to provide the security screen, but also government agencies and other organizations who work behind the screen to build and sustain new stability. Canadians need to be aware of what needs to be done now to secure our safety and prosperity, and be willing to provide the tools and support needed for these decades-long missions.

As reported by the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, in March 2007, the future of peacekeeping will involve more combat. This trend started at least a decade ago. Hard military power was essential in the former Yugoslavia. Even the Canadian military in UN blue berets were required to fight for the peace. Securing the peace and exercising a Responsibility to Protect requires capable states to impose their will upon those who inappropriately employ violence. Many who believe that Canada should avoid combat operations also suggest that we should send peacekeepers to the Sudan. These people we might call traditionalists should be warned that such a move would require an illegal or UN-sanctioned invasion, conventional war-fighting, and a perhaps even greater counterinsurgency campaign than they currently decry in Afghanistan.

The Ruxted Group acknowledges that peacekeeping was and remains a mission in which most Canadians found both pride and comfort. But, it is time for Canadians, especially educators, journalists and politicians to tell themselves the truth about peacekeeping: it was, and always has been, an adjunct to Canada's overall defence policy and a secondary and minor role for the Canadian military. Traditional peacekeeping, so beloved and idealized by Canadians is dead and has been dead since the mid-1990s. Missions, like those depicted on Ottawa's Peacekeeping Memorial don't exist and, in today's security climate, cannot exist except in very specific circumstances. Canadians need to get over it and move on.


The Ruxted Group on : Little Canada

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Little Canada Over the past several weeks, Ruxted has commented on the world-view of some politicians, journalists and academics who advocate withdrawal from the mission in Afghanistan (and by extension non-participation in other high risk, high payoff


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Damian on :

Eric Wagner had a good piece refuting the peacekeeping myth (pdf) in the Winter 06/07 edition of the Canadian Military Journal.

I'm not sure if html tags work in your comments, so I'll provide a web address as well:

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