Canada Culture Defense Diplomatic Relations Joseph Fiorino NATO and Canada Peace & Conflict Studies Security

Canada’s Historical Shift from Peacekeeping to Peacemaking

Courtesy of Chris Windeyer, via Nunatsiaq Online.

In recent years, Canada has been an active participant in NATO: in the war in Afghanistan, the air strikes on Libya and the deployment of a troop contingent to Ukraine. While Canada has stepped up its involvement in NATO-led missions, it has reduced its commitment to UN operations. In fact, by 2008, Canada ranked 51st in terms of the personnel contribution it provided to the UN peacekeeping force, while its financial contribution to UN peacekeeping operations dropped from $94 million to $15 million. Today, Canada’s involvement in Peacekeeping continues to be minimal.

Canada was once seen as the steward of UN peacekeeping missions. However, this began to change towards the late 1995’s. Since 1995, Canada has chosen to work more closely with NATO rather than the UN. This has shifted Canada’s focus from peacekeeping missions to peacemaking missions. For the purpose of this article peacekeeping is define as a military unit which stands between two opposing armies to enforce peace, while Peacemaking is an active military operation to achieve peace. It is important to understand why this shift came about.

Canada’s involvement in UN Peacekeeping missions began in 1953 during the Suez Canal Crisis. In 1953, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal which was operated by French and British holdings. Great Britain considered access to the Suez Canal vital to its military and economic interests, and along with France and Israel, launched an invasion to re-seize control of the canal. Following the invasion, the Canadian diplomat Lester B .Pearson played a major role in advocating for a UN contingent of troops to impede open warfare between the parties involved. This resulted in the creation of the UN Peacekeeping force called UNEF. Because of UNEF a peace was maintained between the parties involved. As a result of Canada’s involvement in the creation of UNEF, peacekeeping and the pursuit of peace became a kind of self-sustaining theme and objective of Canadian foreign relations.

After the Suez crisis, Canada’s participation in peacekeeping missions continued in Cyprus. In 1963, a civil war erupted between the Greek and Turkish populations in Cyprus. Due to its strategically important location in the Eastern Mediterranean, the conflict became a concern to both NATO and the UN. The UN agreed to send a military contingent to act as a peacekeeping force between both parties. Canadian troops were part of this mission and remained in Cyprus for 30 years, up until 1993 when Canadian peacekeepers finally departed, leaving the conflict unresolved. Canada now began to question the effectiveness of its missions, the high cost of supporting Canadian troops, and the limited results achieved after 30 years of peacekeeping.

Courtesy of EPA/Sergei Dolzhenko via

This self-analysis was precipitated by the missions in Somalia and Rwanda. Canada’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia tarnished its international reputation and led it to move away from peacekeeping operations. In 1992, Somalia was affected by widespread famine and civil war. In an effort to provide humanitarian assistance and restore peace, a UN peacekeeping force, led by the US, was sent to Somalia. The US called Somalia a peacekeeping mission, but the situation soon deteriorated into clan warfare, with the UN forces becoming involved in the fighting. Canada, as part of the UN Peacekeeping force, would see its international reputation tarnished. Some Canadian peacekeepers engaged in murder, torture and rape in Somalia. Two Canadian soldiers brutally beat to death a 16-year-old Somali. These events led to what is known as the Somalia Affair, later coined “Canada’s national shame“. The Canadian Airborne Regiment was withdrawn from Somalia in disgrace, and was eventually dissolved as a unit.

The UN mission in Rwanda also ended in failure. In 1994, a full-scale genocide erupted. During the 100-day period from April 7 to mid-July, an estimated 500,000–1,000,000 Rwandans were massacred. Prior to the start of violence, Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, stationed in Rwanda, warned the UN that a genocide was about to occur. However, mindful of the failure of the Somali operation, the UN decided to pursue a policy of laissez-faire. When Daillaire asked the UN and Canada for more troops the UN and Canada both rejected this demand. Dallaire eventually headed an undermanned and under funded UN Peacekeeping force in Rwanda, but by that time, most of the genocide had already taken place.

As a result of the failure of peacekeeping operations in Cyprus, Somalia and Rwanda where the missions resulted in violation of human rights, loss of life, and a substantial financial cost (nearly 1 billion dollars spent on peacekeeping operations.) Canada began to shift its participation away from UN missions in favor of NATO which would prove to be more effective.

In 1990, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded and annexed Kuwait. This was seen as a violation of international law. US President Bush Senior decided to create a coalition force to defend Kuwait. The military operation came to be known as Operation Desert Storm, and was launched from January 17 to February 28, 1991. Several states, Canada included, participated in the operation which became a success in just over one month. It should be noted that Operation Desert Storm was not a peacekeeping mission, but rather a military peacemaking mission. The Gulf War demonstrated that it was possible for states to achieve military success in a short timeframe, with little to no loss of life, and limited financial outlay. Peacemaking operations were also to become the focus of the NATO bombings of Bosnia (1995) and Kosovo in 1998-1999.

The Bosnian War was an international armed conflict that took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina between  April 1, 1992 and December 14, 1995. NATO would become militarily involved after the second Markale massacre. The Markale massacres were carried out by the Serbian Army targeting civilians during the Siege of Sarajevo. The first massacre occurred on February 5, 1994, killing 68 people and injuring 144 more. The second occurred on August 28, 1995, killing 43 people and wounding 75 others. In order to protect the city of Sarajevo, NATO decided to launch air strikes against the Serbian army between August 30, and September 20, 1995. This peacemaking mission forced the Serbian military to withdraw which led to the Dayton Agreement on December 14, 1995. This was seen as an improvement over peacekeeping, due to the quick victory, minimal loss of life, and low cost. The same tactics would be used again in 1999, when NATO bombed the Belgrade region in order to protect civilians from attacks by the Serbian military.

Peacemaking missions have now become the primary means for Canada to restore peace and uphold international law. The first Gulf War, along with the NATO bombings of Kosovo and Bosnia, demonstrated to the Canadian government that peacemaking was more effective than peacekeeping, reducing the loss of life, and costing less than peacekeeping missions. This helps to explain why Canada became involved in the NATO invasion of Afghanistan, the air strikes in Libya, and the recent deployment of troops to Ukraine.

Joseph Fiorino
Joseph Fiorino recently graduated from the University of Toronto with a Joint Honours B.A. in Political Science and International Relations. His research interests include Canadian and U.S. foreign policy. He recently presented a research paper at the St. Michael’s College Research Forum on NGOs and Donors: Who Controls Who? He is the recipient of the Fr Robert Madden Graduation Award for his outstanding contribution to student life during his undergraduate years. Currently, he is contributing to the NATO Association of Canada as a Junior Research Fellow and is also employed by the City of Toronto as an Elections Recruitment Officer. Joseph’s future plans are to pursue a combined Juris Doctor and M.A. in International Relations.