Speaking at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York in March 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will be campaigning for a seat on the UN Security Council in 2021. Prime Minister Trudeau also signalled that a significant component of this campaign will include a greater commitment to UN peacekeeping missions.
Having played an instrumental role in the development of the first UN peacekeeping force, in response to the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis, former Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. From that point until the mid-1990s, Canada was one of the largest Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) and the only nation to have contributed to every UN operation. With historic contributions to these missions, Canada established a domestic and international image as an indispensable peacekeeping nation.
However, this image of Canada has fallen out of step with reality. Canada’s role as a TCC fell sharply in 1996, an outcome that is widely attributed to country’s negative experiences in UN missions in Rwanda, Somalia, and the former Yugoslavia.
As Canada has contributed well under 500 officers each year since 1996, and currently contributes a total of 113 officers as police, military experts, and troops, a substantive return to UN peacekeeping will require significant reinvestment. Furthermore, since Canada abdicated its role as a TCC 20 years ago, UN peacekeeping operations have undergone many important changes. If Canada is serious about returning to the UN as a peacekeeping country, a number of considerations need to be taken in account. How has UN peacekeeping evolved, and how can Canada re-engage after this 20-year leave?
Contemporary UN Peacekeeping
In 2000, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations to assess shortcomings of UN peacekeeping, and offer recommendations for change. This resulted in the publication of the landmark “Brahimi Report,” which was named after Lakhdar Brahimi, the panel’s chair. Written in response to the lessons learned from UN peacekeeping engagements in the 1990s, the report called for an increased political and financial commitment to peacekeeping among nations. The report also expressed a need for peacekeeping operations to hold clear and achievable mandates.
In addition to the publication of the Brahimi Report, successive efforts at reform have included the 2005 establishment of The Peacebuilding Commission, an administrative overhaul of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in 2007, and the enshrinement of UN peacekeeping principles in the 2008 “Capstone Doctrine.” These doctrinal and administrative changes have facilitated a shift in UN peacekeeping from conventional ceasefire enforcement missions, to increasingly multidimensional mandates.
The UN is currently at the height of its peacekeeping involvement, with over 100,000 peacekeepers serving in 16 missions across four continents. New operations, such as the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), as well as the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), highlight contemporary mandate changes. These missions, established in 2013 and 2014 respectively, are tasked with protecting civilians, facilitating humanitarian assistance, supporting the mechanisms for the rule of law, and promoting the participation of civil society actors.
Of notable significance, the UN has taken a decidedly more assertive posture in these new missions, evidenced by the MINUSMA mandate, which includes “[deterring] threats and [taking] active steps to prevent the return of armed elements.” The robust stature of these missions is substantively different from those of the Pearson-era, when these missions involved the supervision of ceasefires, and did not involve nor require direct peace enforcement responsibilities.
In its pursuit of a seat on the UN Security Council, in addition to its plans to take on a greater leadership role in UN peacekeeping, Canada will be faced with some significant challenges. Due to both the closure of the Pearson Centre in 2013, which acted as a hub for peacekeeping training in Canada, as well as the lack of any significant deployments since major administrative and mandate changes took hold in the DPKO, Canada will require a fundamental recalibration of its forces towards the operational requirements of peacekeeping.
As the Canadian Government formulates its case for a seat on the Security Council, the widening footprint of UN peacekeeping operations will require enhanced financing and troop contributions. As stated by American President Barack Obama at a UN peacekeeping summit in September 2015, “Put simply, the supply of well-trained, well-equipped peacekeepers can’t keep up with the growing demand.” To this end, Canada can play an important role in contributing to global peace and security through peacekeeping; however, in advance of its 2021 Security Council bid, there is much work to be done.