Canadian infantry and medical personnel disembark a Chinook helicopter as they take part in a medical evacuation demonstration on the United Nations base in Gao, Mali, Saturday, December 22, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Hopes for promised return to peacekeeping dashed as Canada pledges money, not troops

Hopes for promised return to peacekeeping dashed as Canada pledges money, not troops

OTTAWA — Canada emerged from a high-profile peacekeeping summit in South Korea this week having pledged tens of millions of dollars in new funds to help the United Nations execute its missions around the world.

Yet notably absent was any commitment of new troops and equipment to the UN, or any mention of Canada’s past promise to provide a 200-soldier quick reaction force to peacekeeping, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first promised in November 2017.

That was despite pressure from the U.S. to make good on that previous pledge and arrive in Seoul with plans to promise much-needed medical personnel and drones to peacekeeping.

Experts say Canada’s commitment of $85 million over three years to various peacekeeping efforts is a sizable pledge compared to the amount of cash promised by other countries.

Yet they also suggest the lack of troops and equipment has all but stamped out any hope the Liberal government will make good on its previous promises to re-engage in peacekeeping, and will hurt Canada’s credibility on the issue for the foreseeable future.

“I’m hoping that there might be some spark that will cause Canada to live up to its promises and to its status as a prolific peacekeeper,” said Canadian Forces College professor Walter Dorn, one of Canada’s leading experts on peacekeeping.

“But in the near term, the prospects for Canadian re-engagement and peacekeeping are dead.”

Defence Minister Anita Anand spoke on Canada’s behalf during the two-day peacekeeping conference, which was originally supposed to be held in person but moved online amid concerns about the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

During her short remarks, Anand pledged $70 million over three years for a special UN fund created to assist peace talks as well as tangible peacebuilding efforts such as conflict-resolution efforts, and empowering women and youth in public life.

Richard Gowan, who serves as UN director for the International Crisis Group, an independent organization, said Canada’s financial contribution to the fund is relatively generous compared to the pledges from other participating countries at the summit.

“The peacebuilding fund, the whole idea is that it’s there to sort of put money quickly into peace processes,” he said. “And so the UN will make pretty good use of that $70 million.”

Canada will provide another $15 million to help the UN increase the number of women on peacekeeping missions, prevent the use of child soldiers in conflict, and improve the online and medical training of blue helmets.

Yet Dorn accused the Liberal government of hypocrisy by throwing money at the UN to do things like get more women into the field while the number of Canadian peacekeepers remains near historically low levels.

Canada had 58 police and military personnel deployed as peacekeepers at the end of October, according to the UN. While that was up from the record low of 34 in August 2020, it was still less than half the number when the Liberals took power in 2015.

While the Liberal government has previously said it had given itself five years to produce the quick reaction force, Global Affairs Canada had more recently stated: “Since this pledge was made, global dynamics as well as UN needs have continued to change and evolve.”

That has led to speculation the unit will not be provided, even though the UN recently said it needed five such quick-reaction forces.

Meanwhile, Gowan noted several European countries such as Germany and Denmark stepped up in South Korea with pledges of helicopters and other state-of-the-art military assets. He believed Canada’s failure to do the same marks the end of an era.

“This draws a line once and for all under the idea of Canada sort of making more serious military contributions to UN operations in the near future,” he said.

Gowan didn’t believe Canada’s failure to make any new pledges or provide clarity on its plans for the quick reaction force will anger the U.S.

But he said it will be noted by the UN, and will make it harder for Canada to lecture other countries on the need to protect civilians, eliminate sexual misconduct and deploy more women.

“Each time a Western diplomat, and not only a Canadian, stands up and starts lecturing non-Western diplomats about sexual abuse by their peacekeepers or the need for their peacekeepers to take more risks to protect civilians … the question always just comes back: ‘Where are your guys now?’” Gowan said.

“That’s a general rhetorical question, which they would ask anyway. But there’s now a very specific 200-Canadian-soldier-shaped-hole in the UN’s deployment map.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2021.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press