Canada pledges more UN peacekeepers in bid for UN role

Trudeau

Trudeau

Canada has announced it will step up its contribution to UN peacekeeping operations, a stark departure from previous government policy, which shunned international involvement.

The government has said it will commit 600 troops and Can$450 million (US$350 million) over three years to United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations around the world.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the unprecedented contribution was only the “first part” of Canada’s re-engagement with multilateral peace operations.

“It’s recognition of the fact that Canada has a duty to be engaged and to be a positive player in the world in the coming years,” Trudeau said.

The 600 personnel will include ground troops and commanders with engineering and medical expertise and military and police training.

Joseph Pickerill, spokesman for Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, told FRANCE 24 that the increased deployment represents a clear departure from the previous government’s policy towards the UN.

“It is not just about the increased funding but the comprehensive approach Foreign Affairs is bringing to the table. That’s a difference with a very real distinction from the last government’s singular approach,” he said.

“It’s a sustained and enhanced contribution that recognises the realities of peacekeeping today and balances the very real need to mitigate, prevent and reconcile conflicts before they spill into full-scale violence, regional conflicts or even the spread of issues to our shores,” Pickerill added.

Where and how many troops?

Importantly, the plan is seen to strengthen Canada’s bid for a rotating seat on the UN Security Council and offer it a chance to recover from the humiliation of its first failed bid back in 2010.

In the last ten years, Canada has placed near the bottom of the world’s peacekeeping contributors.

This year a mere 31 Canadian soldiers were deployed on UN peacekeeping missions in Haiti, the Jerusalem region, South Sudan, Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Korea, a dramatic decline from a reported peak of 3,000 in 1993.

“This will have a big impact,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said of the new pledge.

“We have no doubt the Canadian armed forces can help us bolster our capabilities across the globe.”

But important questions remain unanswered, including where the 600 Canadian troops and police officers will be deployed.

Minister of National Defence Harjit Singh Sajjan recently returned from a five-country scouting mission in Africa, providing a hint of possible countries to which Canada may send troops.

Trudeau has pointed to a demand for French speakers in hotspots including former French or Belgian colonies such as Haiti and the Central African Republic.

However, Mali is seen as the most plausible place for the new Canadian peacekeepers, as it is already receiving aid and mining investments from the country.

Peacekeeping challenges

But Mali is an increasingly dangerous assignment for UN peacekeepers, having become the deadliest place for them to serve. More than 100 peacekeepers have been killed there since the UN mission began in 2013.

“The risks of deploying Canadian personnel are significant, and this is certainly primary in the government’s consideration of the ‘where’ and ‘how’ of this policy,” said peacekeeping analyst Evan Cinq-Mars, in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

Another challenge is the increased scrutiny of the UN peacekeeping programme due to revelations in recent years of alleged sexual abuses by officers and troops deployed on missions. Whilst serving on a UN mission in Haiti, five Canadian police officers were accused of sexually exploiting the people they were sent to protect.

Canada’s vow to broaden its international role comes ahead of a major peacekeeping conference to take place in London in two weeks, during which participating countries are required to make a tangible peacekeeping contribution.