Senate Committee weighs in on peacekeeping

KEN POLE  –  Nov 29, 2016

Can Canada afford, financially or otherwise, to make good on the government’s commitment in August to spend $450 million over three years on an as-yet-unspecified United Nations “peace support” mission in Africa? The Senate Committee on National Security and Defence doesn’t seem to think so – at least that’s one suggestion to be derived from a report the committee released Nov. 28.

In addition to the questions about finances and the capability of fielding enough trained Canadian Armed Forces and civilian personnel in a region that has been described as a “quagmire”, the committee unanimously recommended that the government seek parliamentary approval before committing “scarce resources” to any UN peace operations. Its chairman, Yukon Sen. Dan Lang, appointed in 2009 by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper, told FrontLine that the debate should be time-limited.

The committee had been asked by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to examine aspects of the Defence Policy Review, which remains a work in progress, including deployment on a possible United Nations mission.

Lang said the committee agreed that while peacekeeping is “a laudable goal,” Canada cannot ignore the reality that its military resources are “stretched thin” by its NORAD and NATO commitments, which he claims are not being fully met. “In fact, our defence spending is below one percent, approximately $20 billion short of our two percent commitment.”

While the word “reengagement” often pops up, implying that Canada somehow has disengaged from the UN, Lang noted that it has never stopped contributing to the UN. That amounted to approximately $1.5 billion annually to UN programs and agencies. More than 100 Canadians are currently deployed on US missions, more than 1,000 military personnel are deployed on coalitions in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine, and 450 more are set to deploy to Latvia in 2017.

Pointing out that Canada’s top priority is its own national security and defence obligations, he says there are shortcomings there too in recruitment, training and updating strategic capabilities. “These are essential requirements that must be addressed,” he points out. “The government must fulfill our current national obligations before committing new resources, military or otherwise, to a dangerous and costly UN mission in Africa.”

In addition to urging the government to set out mission details in a Statement of Justification to be debated in the House of Commons and the Senate, the committee recommends:

  • Clearly-articulated rules of engagement;
  • Inclusion of more women in missions in keeping with Resolution 1325, adopted by the Security Council in October 2000;
  • Better support for francophone personnel and their families;
  • Adequate financial and other support for personnel returning from dangerous deployments;
  • A plan for conflict prevention and capacity building with organizations in a region where Canadians are deployed;
  • A Peace Operations Training Centre for military, police and civilians from all countries deploying troops on behalf of the UN;
  • Implementation of a framework for prosecuting sexual exploitation and assault, hyman trafficking, abuse of minors, and prostitution, all of which have occurred during recent UN peace support operations.

The committee says the Statement of Justification should include an “end date”, and when FrontLine asked what Canada might do if another country wasn’t willing to continue a mission, Lang replied the committee was told during a visit to UN headquarters in New York that it is the UN’s responsibility to find a replacement. “Whether or not they’re capable of doing that […] is another thing altogether,” he acknowledged.

“That’s got to be of some very major concern to Canada because if we’re getting involved in a commitment in Africa, and say it’s Mali, I don’t think that we want to be led into a situation where all of a sudden we have a 10-year commitment unless we knowingly do that,” he continued. “And we have to be very clear and unequivocal what our commitments are.”

Ken Pole is a contributing Editor at FrontLine Defence.