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Trudeau government taking a long look at precarious peacekeeping options

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Canada’s return to UN peacekeeping promises little peace

Post by Guest on Wed 10 Aug 2016, 10:25

Canada’s return to UN peacekeeping promises little peace.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is in Africa checking out which peacekeeping operations Canada will join. None is easy.

Aug. 10, 2016

Canada’s Liberal government wants to get back into United Nations peacekeeping. Unfortunately, there’s not much peace to keep.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is in Africa this week scouting out the terrain. The UN has 12 peacekeeping operations on the go in the continent. Some, like those aimed at keeping the peace between Israel and its neighbours, have been in place for decades. Others, like the missions in Congo, Mali and South Sudan, are more recent. None is easy.

The bloody war centred on the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, has killed more than 5 million people — including 102 UN peacekeepers. In total, the UN’s African operations have claimed the lives of 1,212 peacekeepers.

Why is Ottawa so anxious to reinvolve itself? The answer is largely political. In the run-up to last year’s election, the Liberals calculated that the voters were weary of full-bore wars like the Afghanistan conflict and wanted to return to a time when Canada, through the UN, played the role of helpful fixer.

To meet that desire, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal platform promised a greater emphasis on peacekeeping.

Certainly, it would have been hard to promise less. Canada’s previous Conservative government was not enamored of the UN’s blue-helmet operations. Currently, of the roughly 101,000 UN police and soldiers involved in peacekeeping around the world, only 106 are Canadian.

But Stephen Harper’s Conservatives also governed at a time when the UN was taking a more aggressive military stance in the world. The Afghan War, for instance, may have been prosecuted largely by NATO countries. But it was authorized by the UN.

Similarly, the 2011 Western airstrikes that deposed Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi carried the imprimatur of the UN Security Council.

Modern peacekeeping isn’t very peaceful either. In Mali, for instance, UN troops routinely come under attack from Islamist rebels. In one incident this week, a roadside bomb killed one peacekeeper and wounded four others.

In short, the dividing line between the war on terror and much of UN peacekeeping is fuzzy.

What will Canada do? The government has made it clear it wants to re-engage in peacekeeping in Africa. It also said it hasn’t made up its mind where or in what form. Perhaps Sajjan’s visit this week to countries in central and eastern Africa will give him some ideas.

He’s bringing along two advisers with dissimilar views on military intervention. One is Romeo Dallaire, the former general and senator who, as the commander of a largely toothless UN force, helplessly witnessed the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Dallaire is an eloquent proponent of the so-called responsibility to protect doctrine, which holds that the world has a duty to intervene in the internal affairs of a sovereign state when the government there is mistreating its own people.

The other is Louise Arbour, the former supreme court justice and war crimes prosecutor, who later became the UN’s high commissioner for human rights.

Initially, an adamant supporter of the responsibility to protect doctrine, she has softened her views in recent years, arguing that sometimes, as in Libya in 2011, military intervention to promote human rights can end up making matters worse.

In an interview earlier this year with Canadian Press, Arbour warned against what she called nostalgia — either for the peacekeeping era associated with former prime minister Lester Pearson or the responsibility to protect era associated with former external affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy.

Instead, she called for a “principled pragmatism” in foreign affairs which, if I understand her correctly, means concentrating on small practical things that can make lives better rather than the grand overarching goals of justice and human rights that politicians so often prefer to proclaim.

Both Dallaire and Arbour promise to be useful companions as Sajjan tours Africa looking for just the right place to insert Canadian troops. Like the minister, himself a veteran of the Afghan War, they recognize that UN peacekeeping isn’t what it used to be.


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Trudeau government taking a long look at precarious peacekeeping options

Post by Guest on Tue 02 Aug 2016, 05:57

Trudeau government taking a long look at precarious peacekeeping options.

Aug 02, 2016

It's not surprising the Liberal government is having a difficult time deciding where and how best to fulfil its election pledge to lead Canada back into significant peacekeeping — there is simply no shortage of potentially life-or-death factors to consider.

This country has been a minor player in peacekeeping in recent years. But now the government intends to sign on to a major United Nations mission somewhere in this troubled world at a time when the global body is desperate for our help and dangers for peacekeepers have never been more deadly.

It's a good time to ask questions.

This is not to say the likelihood of suffering casualties should deter Canada from undertaking a risky mission for the UN, but we need to be very aware that peacekeeping today is nearing a high-stakes crisis of confidence.

Many of the most crucial missions are battered by soaring casualties, inadequate resources and poor planning, according to UN reports.

The most strained missions, usually 10,000 to 14,000 strong, are guarding relief supplies and refugee camps in some of the most violent spots on earth, including African operations in Congo, Darfur, South Sudan, Mali and Central African Republic.

Peacekeeping vs. peacemaking

While the old term "peacekeeping" is still used in delicate preference to the more robust "peacemaking," many missions have morphed into counter-insurgency operations against Jihadist guerrillas and, in danger zones like Mali, anti-government militias and bandit gangs as well.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has clearly indicated Canada is considering sending a mission to help UN troops stop the advance of Islamist jihadists in Africa. Either Mali or Central African Republic are rumoured as likely destinations.

"Certain parts of the world ... haven't gotten the right amount of attention, and that's why we're looking at Africa," he told reporters.

UN and U.S. officials have been quietly lobbying the Trudeau government to consider missions in Africa to help prevent peacekeeping disasters like those in Somalia and Rwanda in the 1990s.

Urgent warnings

UN headquarters in New York receives urgent warnings from the field that peacekeeping casualties are soaring with no end in sight: 51 UN personnel killed in deliberate attacks last year, 230 in just the past four years. Many others die in accidents and from disease.

UN reports show troops are frequently pinned down in local conflicts they can neither defeat nor control, by rebels using "improvised explosive devices, rocket, artillery and mortar fire, landmines, suicide attacks, targeted assassinations and armed ambushes."

The escalating risk has left many UN humanitarian workers feeling increasingly unprotected because many of the military units are staying hunkered down within sandbag-protected fortresses rather than taking on emergencies in the countryside.

Easy missions are full

It's a great mistake to view peacekeeping through rosy historical glasses, as Canadians are prone to do. The easy missions where peace agreements have lasted generations are oversubscribed with volunteers; it's the dangerous ones that desperately need help.

Consider that 15 years ago, 40,000 UN troops and police served in missions from the former Yugoslavia to East Timor.

Today, there are 125,000 UN forces deployed in more than a dozen missions around the world who are struggling to protect 125 million people at risk.

This makes combined UN missions the largest overseas troop deployment in the world.

Still, at the world summit on peacekeeping last fall, the urgent need for reinforcement led countries to pledge a combined 40,000 more personnel. Current missions are also short of helicopters, armoured vehicles, field hospitals and proper command centres.

It's not at all clear what form or strength any new Canadian mission would take because the military is still studying the options. But it's possible we'll put more emphasis on supplying headquarters staff, logistics and medical services rather than a great many boots on the ground.

Whatever shape the mission takes, retired colonel George Petrolekas, military analyst and veteran of both peacekeeping and the Afghanistan mission, feels our troops are far better prepared for the demands of peacekeeping than in the past — thanks to the Afghan experience and extensive training.

"Before any deployment, units undergo months of mission-specific training that includes cultural awareness, reinforcement of Geneva conventions, negotiating skills and incident simulations while practising time and again protection measures and controlled escalation," he wrote recently in the Globe and Mail.

'A cancer in our system'

The threat of attacks isn't the only difficulty a Canadian mission would face. UN morale has been badly rocked in recent years by allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation involving peacekeepers in several UN missions, including in Mali and Central African Republic.

The UN secretary general has called it "a cancer in our system" and major reforms are underway.

UN forces are also often limited by poor training and discipline. For years, wealthy countries avoided serving, leaving it to the poorest nations to rent out ill-equipped troops to the UN. Some served brilliantly and heroically; others, from repressive regimes, were human rights disasters.

There's growing agreement among wealthy nations that they need to do more, despite the risks. Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and others have joined Canada in pledging a new emphasis on peacekeeping.

Clearly defined mission

For many years, peacekeeping fell out of fashion in the West, but the obvious need to prevent more failed states from descending into unimaginably destructive internal wars has revived support for a more efficient and muscular UN.

A highly trained Canadian unit would be a useful addition, so long as any mission receives adequate equipment, clear rules of engagement to help protect civilians and, a must these days, a well-considered Plan B should things go horribly wrong.

Canadians don't need to hear that boosterish "can do" optimism so often paraded out at the start of missions.

Instead, they need to know what we're getting into, our objectives, the possibility of casualties and the likely duration of the challenge ahead.


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