Why Canadians want their country to be a peacekeeping nation

As opposition to Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan grows, support for Canada’s traditional role as a peacekeeping nation is on the rise. In an article he wrote for the Toronto Star, Eugene Lang, former chief of staff to two ministers of national defencestates that “…the allure of non-violent peacekeeping does not correspond to the realities of today’s UN missions.” While this is valid observation, the following commentary by Steven Staples suggests that it is not solely an affinty to non-violence that makes peacekeeping such an important part of our international identity:

“Polls consistently tell us that Canadians would prefer our armed forces to be much more involved in UN peacekeeping operations. But would Canadians reject the UN if they knew, as Eugene Lang points out, that today’s peacekeeping requires fighting at times?

It is true that many embrace Canada’s involvement in UN peacekeeping because of a mistaken perception that it does not involve combat. But Canadians support UN peacekeeping operations for many other reasons, too.

UN peacekeeping operations require a degree of international cooperation, a characteristic cherished by Canadians. They serve broader diplomatic efforts, so Canadian troops would be supporting foreign policy goals, not just carrying out military objectives.

But perhaps most importantly, UN peacekeeping operations are the antithesis of U.S.-led wars.

By embracing UN peacekeeping, rightly or wrongly, Canadians are expressing a rejection of aggressive U.S.-led wars. Keep the military with the UN, otherwise, many fear, our forces will simply become an adjunct of the Pentagon, serving U.S. interests.

Sadly, successive Canadian governments have abandoned UN peacekeeping to the point where we have dropped from the first to the 53rd highest contributor, next to Malawi. Today we send so few soldiers, they could all fit on a school bus (62 Canadian soldiers out of 78,000 international troops on UN peacekeeping operations).

And so, while UN involvement plummets, 2750 Canadian troops are stuck in a failing US/NATO-led war in Afghanistan. It seems to me that Canadians actually know the score very well. Now, if only our government would listen.

Steven Staples
President of the Rideau Institute

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