Proud Tradition, Strong Future?

A. Walter Dorn

This paper was first published in Canadian Foreign Policy JournalVol. 12, No. 2 (Fall 2005), pp.7-32. (pdf format)
A shorter version came out in Peace Magazine in two parts as "Canadian Peacekeeping: A Proud Tradition" and "Canada: The Once and Future Peacekeeper?"

Peacekeeping has a place of pride in the Canadian national identity. Canadians feel that their nation is a natural leader in this international endeavour. How is this national identity expressed, and how has it come about? Is it justified? An answer to these questions requires a probe of Canadian public and military attitudes, a historical review of Canada's peacekeeping activities, and an examination of current Canadian contributions. The final question is: What is needed if Canada is to live up to the image of the proud and prolific peacekeeper?

To most Canadians, peacekeeping conjures up positive and heroic images of soldiers operating in difficult and often tragic environments: a soldier rescuing a child during a firefight; a pilot flying in desperately needed supplies while under fire from the ground; a medic tending the wounds of an ailing refugee; a soldier on patrol in no-man's land between determined combatants; an officer uncovering mass graves after a genocide. For Canadians, peacekeeping is about trying to protect people in mortal danger, providing hope in almost hopeless situations, and bringing peace and some justice to war-torn communities in far-away lands. It is about self-sacrifice as well as world service. These notions of courage and service resonate with the public, and politicians across the political spectrum have readily adopted the peacekeeping cause. Canadian support for its peacekeeping role has been so strong for so long that it has become a part of the national identity. It is a celebrated part of what Canada is as a nation, and who Canadians are as a people.

The evidence of this national embrace of peacekeeping is extensive. Peacekeeping Day was recently inaugurated as an annual celebration in most provinces and many municipalities.1 The federal government honours Canadian peacekeepers at the National Peacekeeping Monument in Ottawa, where the Chief of Defence Staff, Canada's top soldier, pins peacekeeping medals to uniforms. He also presents, on behalf of the UN, the Dag Hammarskjöld medal to the families of peacekeepers who died while on UN duty. Peacekeeping ceremonies bring politicians, soldiers, and members of the public together to celebrate the positive role played by soldiers, something remarkable for a people traditionally described as unmilitary. (Stanley 1960)

Canadian public opinion polls have shown consistent support for peacekeeping in general and for specific missions. Almost 90 percent of Canadians believe that Canada should provide troops for peacekeeping when asked by the UN. (Munton 2003) An April 2004 poll showed that about 80 percent of Canadians were supportive of the continued Canadian Forces involvement in missions in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Haiti. (Whelan 2004) Angus Reid Polls in 1992 and 1997 showed that Canadians overwhelmingly (90 percent and 94 percent respectively) identified their country as a world leader in international peacekeeping. (Carrière 2005) The Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs reported that peacekeeping was the "sole military activity that Canadians fully support". (Senate 1993)

Peacekeeping symbols even appear on the national currency; a female soldier sporting a UN blue beret looks vigilantly through binoculars on one side of the Canadian ten dollar bill (2001 issue) below a bilingual banner "AU SERVICE DE LA PAIX / IN THE SERVICE OF PEACE". The Canadian dollar coin (1995 issue) bears an image of the National Peacekeeping Monument. Named "Reconciliation", it is one of the major monuments in the nation's capital along with the Peace Tower of the Parliament Buildings. Other memorials and monuments to peacekeepers can be found in Canadian cities. For instance, in 2004, Calgary created Peacekeepers' Park and Manitoba dedicated a Peacekeepers' Cairn in Winnipeg to honour the sacrifices of Canadian peacekeepers.

Over 125,000 Canadian military personnel have served in UN peacekeeping operations (PKOs) since 1947. This constitutes more than ten percent of the UN total. To acknowledge such service, the Department of National Defence issues a special medal, in addition to medals for specific operations. The Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal, instituted in 2000, is given to military and civilian personnel who have served for 30 days or more in UN or other PKOs. Earlier, when the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to UN peacekeepers, some 80,000 Canadian military personnel who had served to that time shared in the honour, though not in the award money — that was used by the UN to create the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal for families of peacekeepers who had died in a PKO.

Over 120 Canadian soldiers have made the supreme sacrifice while peacekeeping, including nine in a UN transport plane shot down by Syrian Forces on 9 August 1974. The names of over 100 fallen peacekeepers are inscribed on a prominent plaque at the entrance of the Canadian Forces College, the main centre for senior military education in Canada.

The enthusiasm for peacekeeping is shared by many of the soldiers and civilians who have served on these operations. Many of them have joined the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping, which has two-dozen branches across Canada. (CAVUNP 2005)

Some Canadian soldiers who survived, and perhaps thrived on, tough peacekeeping assignments have gone on to write their stories of adventure, achievement, and tragedy. Canada's most famous living soldier, Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire, received the sympathy of the entire nation after he described the horrifying predicament he faced as Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) in 1994: he did not have the resources or political backing to intervene to stop the Rwandan genocide. He blamed himself, in part, for the slaughter of some 800,000 people. He is a hero to many Canadians, draws large crowds to his public lectures, and has a best-selling book. (Dallaire 2003; reviewed in this journal by Dorn 2004) Movies and documentary films have been made about his experiences. Another example of a Canadian soldier catapulted to fame in peacekeeping is Major General Lewis MacKenzie, whose experiences in Bosnia are described in his book "Peacekeeper: The Road to Sarajevo." (MacKenzie 1993)

Thus, there is abundant evidence of a Canadian embrace of peacekeeping. It is only natural to ask how this national conception — some would say obsession — began and how it changed over time. This paper describes the evolution of Canadian peacekeeping and analyses the motivating factors for the long-standing practice. It also seeks to summarize and respond to the critics' views of peacekeeping. Finally, the paper asks: if this role is to be maintained, what innovative measures are necessary in the near future?



The level of public and political support for peacekeeping has not always been as high as at present. In the early days, the peacekeeping concept was as contentious as it was unknown — even the term "peacekeeping" did not enter the public lexicon until the late 1950s. In fact, the first Canadian contribution to a UN mission caused a crisis in the Prime Minister's cabinet in 1947.

William Lyon Mackenzie King was nearing the end of his long tenure as Prime Minister in 1947 when he learned that Canadian personnel had been sent to Korea as part of the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK) to help supervise elections in the South. He admonished his External Affairs Minister, Louis St. Laurent, predicting that there was going to be a war in Korea and saying that he wanted Canada to have nothing to do with it. King had been Prime Minister during most of the interwar period and he still harboured a deep streak of isolationism, though sometimes hiding behind ambivalence.2 King wanted to keep Canada as far as possible from the fires of conflict in a turbulent world dominated by great powers.

St. Laurent and several of his cabinet colleagues threatened to resign if Canada withdrew from the UN's Korea Commission, so there was little the aging King could do. The next year St. Laurent became Prime Minister. He was an ardent internationalist who had declared that, "the UN's vocation is Canada's vocation". For him, as with many others of his generation, the lessons of the League of Nations and of World War II were clear: the rule of law and order, and justice in the world, depended on a strong international organization. Canada sent a large contingent of troops to Korea in 1950 to fight in a UN police action to protect the elected South Korean government. While this was enforcement, not peacekeeping, it demonstrated the country's support for the United Nations and for collective security.3 After the Korean War broke out in 1950 (much as King had predicted), Canada sent 27,000 troops to the aid of South Korea in the UN-authorized police action. Five hundred sixteen Canadian soldiers died in the war against North Korea and China. In today's terminology, this was an enforcement action, not a peacekeeping mission.

In another part of Asia in 1950, Kashmir, Canada had its first opportunity to provide an officer to head a peacekeeping operation, but this initiative ended tragically. Brigadier Harry Angle, who was made chief of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) in March 1950, died in a plane crash several months later. Even after more than half a century, Angle remains Canada's highest-ranking officer to die in a PKO. (A building was named after him at the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre in Nova Scotia.)

During St. Laurent's tenure, Canada's greatest achievement in peacekeeping was made. The internationalist Prime Minister was complemented by an equally dedicated External Affairs Minister, Lester B. Pearson. Known at the UN as one of the "wise men", Pearson was an idealist who was also practical. He served as President of the UN General Assembly in 1952-53 and, when the Suez Crisis broke out in 1956, he had his shining moment. Canada's two founding nations, Britain and France, had conspired with Israel to seize control of the Suez Canal shortly after Egypt's President Gamel Abdel Nasser had nationalized it. The rest of the world, including the US, deplored the coordinated invasion as colonial aggression in the age of decolonisation. Pearson understood the predicament of the two embarrassed great powers and proposed that the UN intervene to resolve the awkward and dangerous situation. It was a major initiative at a time of extreme tension, exacerbated by the looming danger of a superpower confrontation. Pearson (1956) suggested that "the United Nations send an international force to the area, position itself between the warring parties and bring an end to the hostilities." The operation was to be "a truly international peace and police force ... large enough to keep these borders at peace while a political settlement is being worked out". The General Assembly enthusiastically adopted the idea and the Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, after some initial hesitation, developed a brilliant plan for what was to become the UN's first peacekeeping force. The United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was the prototype for a new type or generation of PKO.

Inter-positional forces like UNEF could be distinguished from the previous generation of peacekeeping missions because their purpose was to separate fighting forces, not merely observe them. The peacekeepers were allowed to impede movement (using checkpoints and gates), and often to take charge in buffer zones. In these operations, contributing nations would send preformed units (usually battalions) instead of individual soldiers, and the peacekeeping forces were equipped with small arms and light weapons, unlike the unarmed military observers.

The basic principles of peacekeeping laid out in Hammarskjöld's plan to the General Assembly for UNEF have guided traditional peacekeeping operations (both first and second generation) ever since. The missions are:

  • under the command of the secretary-General (as the earlier observer missions had become);
  • recruited from Member States other than the permanent members of the security Council, i.e., China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States were excluded from direct, on-the-ground participation due to their Cold War strategic involvement in most disputes in the world;
  • paid for by the UN, except for the salaries of troops, which continue to be covered by the contributing states (although the UN would pay states a contribution for each soldier);
  • impartial, i.e., the forces do not seek to influence the military balance; and
  • to use force only in self-defence.

Canada was in a good position to help establish the peacekeeping force that Pearson had proposed. A Canadian general was already commanding a peacekeeping operation in the Middle East, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) that had been created in 1948 to observe the UN-imposed ceasefires during and after the first Arab-Israeli War. Canadian Major General E.L.M. (Tommy) Burns had already gained familiarity with the political leaders in the region. Dag Hammarskjöld appointed him the first commander of UNEF, with responsibility to organize the operation. With St. Laurent's eager backing, Canada rapidly deployed soldiers for signals, transport, reconnaissance and administration, as these were desperately needed in the mission start-up.

Canada rejoiced when Foreign Minister Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957, largely for his UNEF initiative. He became known as the "Father of Peacekeeping", though there were, in fact, several founding fathers, including Dag Hammarskjöld and other UN officials.4 Still, for Canada, the discovery of a new role for itself and the UN at the height of the period called the "Golden Age" of Canadian diplomacy, coincided with the emergence of popular enthusiasm for peacekeeping.

Keeping the peace in the Middle East occupied much of Canada's and the world's attention for decades to follow. The wars there proved fertile ground for the establishment of new PKOs, although they have not brought lasting peace to most of the region. There was dismay and alarm in Canada when President Nasser ordered UNEF out of Egypt in May 1967, evidenced by front-page headlines, such as the Toronto Telegram's "Nasser Boots Out Our Troops". Opposition leader John Diefenbaker called it a loss of face for Canada during its centennial year. The subsequent Six-Day War resulted in Israeli occupation of large sections of Arab territory. There was a need for a new peacekeeping mission there but Israel initially refused, so UNTSO was expanded. Then, after the next Arab-Israeli War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, two new missions were established. To help implement the cease-fire and disengagement, Canada contributed to the new UNEFII in Egypt and the United Nations Disengagement Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights of Syria.

Canada found a niche for itself in the provision of a communications capability in PKOs, an area where modern equipment and technical skills were necessary. Bilingual signals officers and radio equipment were among the contributions Canada made to the large and dangerous 1960-1964 United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC), along with air transportation and help in training local Congolese forces.5 Surprisingly, the Congo mission was the only UN mission staged in Africa until after the Cold War. The experience in the Congo reinforced the unfortunate idea in many peoples' minds that Africa was too fraught with danger and civil strife to admit effective peacekeeping. Besides, it was only later that the UN cast aside its rule of non-involvement in internal conflicts, especially in Africa.

While the large Congo operation was winding down, a new one was set up in Cyprus. In 1964, Pearson's External Affairs Minister, Paul Martin Sr. (father of Prime Minister Paul Martin), could take credit for convincing key governments to commit to the envisioned United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).6 No one at the time could have anticipated that this mission would continue to involve Canada for nearly three decades and it would still be in Cyprus in the next millennium. UNFICYP became the live-training ground for generations of Canadian soldiers. Most of the time, however, the soldiers' tours were easy (sometimes vacation-like), except during a few crisis periods, such as when Turkish Forces invaded in 1974. Little progress in a settlement between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots has been achieved, including when former Prime Minister Joe Clark served as Special Representative of the secretary-General in Cyprus (1993-96). The Cyprus case gave rise to the criticism that peacekeeping can freeze a conflict but it does not necessarily lead to conflict resolution, or more harshly, that peacekeeping does not solve problems, it perpetuates them. Given that Cyprus is still divided in two parts, however peaceful, this complaint carries some weight.

As a counter example, the seemingly hopeless problem of Namibia was finally resolved after almost seven decades of perseverance. It had been on the international agenda since the early days of the League of Nations (1920s) and in 1989 the UN organized elections that led to independence from South Africa. In an unprecedented action, the UN secretary-General inaugurated the first Namibian President in 1990. Canada's contribution to the peacekeeping operation (UNTAG) included soldiers, civilian personnel (electoral staff), and civilian police (CivPol) from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Since then, CivPol has played a much greater role in peacekeeping.

The Namibian operation heralded a new generation of PKOs: multi-dimensional operations. The international climate had undergone a sea change in 1989, with internal (intra-state) conflict replacing inter-state conflicts as the main concern. The UN was obliged to break its noninvolvement taboo and weighed heavily into internal armed conflicts. Canada, of course, was eager to lend a helping hand. This meant dealing with rebel groups and posting peacekeepers over a much wider area than in traditional Pearsonian peacekeeping. It also meant working in more volatile and hazardous environments. An overview of the main changes in the international agenda, the nature of conflict and peacekeeping involving the UN are summarized in Table 1.

Table 1. From Cold War to Hot Wars: New Conflicts and New PKOs
Predominant Conflicts Interstate, inter-alliance Intrastate, internal
Origins Power bloc rivalry; Ideology Ethnic/tribal/religious animosities, secessionism
Main Threats Armed attack/invasion Civil war, human rights violations (including genocide, torture), terrorism
Goals National/international security; Conflict management: cease-fire and withdrawal agreements Human security; Conflict resolution: comprehensive, multi-dimensional peace agreements; Conflict prevention
Means Deterrence, negotiation, classical peacekeeping Cooperation, mediation, modern peacekeeping (i.e., classical peacekeeping plus humanitarian action, disarmament, elections, enforcement, sanctions, economic assistance, peacebuilding)
Peacekeeper Locations State boundaries Throughout a nation or region
Peacekeepers Soldiers (non-P5), especially middle powers like Canada Soldiers, civilian police, civilian monitors of elections, human rights; permanent members of the Security Council; developing countries

The end of the Cold War (confirmed by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989) was universally seen at the time as a marvellous opportunity for peace at home and abroad. In the face of a much-reduced threat to the West, expectations and demands arose for a peace dividend in the form of smaller defence expenditures. In Canada, this opportunity was taken seriously, in part to reduce the large national debt. The funds for defence began to drop each year for the next decade until they had fallen about 20 percent and the forces had been reduced from 85,000 to less than 60,000 military personnel.7 While there was no longer a need to commit forces to Western Europe to counter a Soviet attack, the demand for peacekeepers abroad, especially the former Yugoslavia, was intense. Canada began to experience a capability-commitment gap.

The UN achieved tremendous success in early post-Cold War peacekeeping with Canadian help. The UN's first operation in Central America was a major success in bringing long-desired peace to the region.8 The United Nations Observer Group in Central America (ONUCA) was created in 1989 with military observers posted in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The second Chief Military Observer was Brigadier-General Lewis Mackenzie, who went on to establish himself as a national figure with his further successes at the early stages of the Bosnia mission. In Nicaragua (1990), the UN monitored elections in a sovereign member state for the first time — previously it had been done only in colonized or dependent territories. In Cambodia in 1993, as in Namibia in 198990, successful elections were organized as part of a PKO. The mood at the UN was one of expansion, leading to ever more ambitious plans for peacekeeping. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in response to a request from the unprecedented security Council Summit in January 1992, prepared his ambitious Agenda for Peace. (Boutros-Ghali 1992) He redefined peacekeeping in a bold but contentious fashion. The long-standing principle of consent was explicitly removed: "Peacekeeping is the deployment of a United Nations presence in the field, hitherto with the consent of all the parties concerned, normally involving United Nations military and/or police personnel and frequently civilians as well. Peacekeeping is a technique that expands the possibilities for both the prevention of conflict and the making of peace."9 This disrespect for the principle of consent would have tragic consequences in Somalia a year later, both for the UN and for Canada. A large UN-authorized mission was launched with much bravado, strong US support, including combat troops, and a UN/US desire to use force against recalcitrant elements. This contributed to an escalation of violence between one targeted faction, led by Mohammed Farah Aideed, and allied troops. After suffering 18 fatalities in the "Black Hawk Down" incident on 3-4 October 1993, the US quickly withdrew its troops and the mission folded ignominiously shortly thereafter.

Canada's contribution to the UN-authorized but US-led mission, United Task Force (UNITAF), was primarily airborne troops who had been trained for the dangerous and high intensity missions envisioned in a war with the Communist world. Some of these soldiers were ill-equipped for peacekeeping. A small group, tolerated in this macho regiment, committed atrocities during the mission. They were later found guilty of torturing and killing a Somali youth after he had been caught trying to steal from the Canadian camp. Their actions shocked Canadians. A multi-year inquiry uncovered other faults in the Airborne (including repulsive initiation rituals) and concluded, "... a proud legacy was dishonoured". (DND 1997) It blamed the Department of National Defence as well as named officers for neglect of duty or worse. After accepting and publishing the Somalia Inquiry's report in 1997, the government took drastic action to atone for the national embarrassment: it disbanded the entire Airborne Regiment. In the future, soldiers jumping from planes would not have their own regiment. The Inquiry also heavily criticized the Canadian military leadership, leading to a large number of senior resignations, including the nation's top solider, Chief of Defence Staff Jean Boyle. The Somalia Inquiry's report made numerous recommendations on how to improve Canadian peacekeeping.

While the Somalia operation was phasing out with a sense of failure in late 1993, a new UN mission was launched in the heart of Africa. The UN asked Canada to provide the force commander for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). A bright and super-eager Brigadier-General named Roméo Dallaire was chosen, although he had no previous experience in UN peacekeeping. Inadequately prepared by the Canadian Forces and by the UN in New York for this deployment, he diligently set up a mission in this remote war-torn country. Nothing could have prepared him for the slaughter that he was to witness, not even the dire warnings made to him by a Rwandan informant.10 In one hundred days, some 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered in the most intense genocide since World War II. Dallaire tried desperately to stop the insanity, and managed to save the lives of over 20,000 people who had sought refuge at sites that the UN oversaw. Canada was the only country to send additional troops to UNAMIR during the 100-day genocide, though the numbers were low (thirty or so), and entirely inadequate. Dallaire experienced such a crisis of conscience and impotence that, years after returning, he tried to commit suicide. He was rehabilitated after witnessing the overwhelming support of the Canadian public and after being given an opportunity to help others like himself suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As well, the Canadian government asked for his help publicizing and resolving the problems of war-affected children. His catharsis was also assisted by the writing of his intimate and captivating biography. (Dallaire 2003) He now sits as a Senator in the Canadian parliament. Unfortunately, it took UN leaders, especially secretary-General Kofi Annan, (1999) many years to admit some responsibility for the Rwandan tragedy.11 The excuse was that an extremely cautious security Council was suffering from the Somalia syndrome (fear of overextending a mission mandate), and the UN officials also pointed out their preoccupation at the time with the large mission in Bosnia.

The UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in the former Yugoslavia was turning out to be a fiasco. Soldiers from Canada and other nations in the mission felt ineffective, if not useless, as ceasefires were constantly violated, fighting escalated, aggression and ethnic cleansing expanded, and mass slaughter of innocents was committed. All the while, the security Council in New York produced resolutions, over 70 in all, which UNPROFOR could not possibly implement. Increasing numbers of troops — Canada had 2,500 at its peak — and skilful use of the media by Canadian Major-General Lewis Mackenzie in the Sarajevo area helped in the short term, but did not succeed in creating peaceful conditions. The embattled UN peacekeepers would reply to criticisms with exasperation, saying "how can we practice peacekeeping when there is no peace to keep?" In an early attempt to enforce compliance, Canadian soldiers serving in the Medak Pocket put a halt to a Croatian advance, although they could not prevent the aggressors from killing civilians on their withdrawal. At the time, the Department of National Defence did not want to publicize this combat action by Canadian troops lest it antagonize the peace negotiations taking place, so official recognition of the battle did not come until almost ten years later, when an award ceremony was held for the soldiers who fought to stop ethnic cleansing. (DND 2002a)

In 1995, things actually became worse in Bosnia when UN peacekeepers were held hostage. In a sad and graphic reminder of the dire and impotent situation of the world organization, Canadian soldier Patrick Rechner, an unarmed United Nations Military Observer (UNMO), was chained to a lightning rod at a Serb ammunition bunker. This image was broadcast around the world on television. He was being used by Bosnian Serb forces as a human shield against NATO air strikes. Rechner was released about three weeks later. One of his captors was a Canadian Serb who, several years later, went on trial in Canada for hostage taking. (Higgins 2003) In 1995, the frustration in UNPROFOR was palpable. The leader of Canada's opposition Reform Party, Preston Manning, even said: "the time has come to bring our peacekeepers home so they might better serve the cause of peace another day". (Thompson 1995) Prime Minister Chrétien had a different approach: "We have to finish the job we started". Canada stayed the course.

The precarious situation in Bosnia from 1992-95 led many nations, including Canada, to believe that peacekeeping must be made more robust. When the Dayton Peace Accords were signed in late 1995, NATO replaced the UN as the provider of peacekeeping forces. Although it was a new role for NATO, the military organization managed to do well, having far more troops, resources, and enforcement capability than the UN. The UN remained the organization that authorized the mission. With NATO, US, UN, and EU support, the peace held. Canada kept over 1,000 troops in service in Bosnia until 2000. Some Canadian soldiers complained after being sent back on their fifth or sixth tour (six months each) as part of the more than 14 rotations for Canadian troops. The Canadian government implemented a policy that no soldier or group should return to theatre until after at least a year at home: generally six months for training and six-months for pre-deployment preparations and rest.

The new confidence in NATO and enduring resentment towards Serbia's arch nationalist leader, Slobodan Milosevic, led Western nations to respond forcefully to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1998. In a move that created much debate within Canada, the country's military assisted in the bombing of Serb targets, an enforcement action that did not receive UN sanction. After the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo, Canada helped create a peacekeeping force, the Kosovo Force (KFOR 2000), a NATO-led mission that also included Russian forces. Canada initially contributed about 1,400 troops to KFOR, but later in 1999 moved these troops to Bosnia.

The UN was in charge overall in Kosovo through the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). This task was immense. When many thought that UN peacekeeping was in decline, the world organization found itself with the most ambitious project yet: governing a war-ravaged territory that was ethnically divided and tension-filled. UNMIK had responsibility for everything from education to elections, from transportation to telecommunications, from banking to policing, from health to customs. Canadian civilians found many jobs within UNMIK, even after Canada withdrew its troops from KFOR. So far, the mission has been successful, with elections and a general peace, although atrocities are still committed by both the Serb and Kosovar (Albanian) groups, and the final status of the territory (officially a Serbian province) remains undetermined.

The new role of transitional administration was also given to the UN in East Timor. First, it organized a referendum in the Indonesia-occupied territory in which Canadian civilians went as electoral officers, political affairs officers, and civilian police. When the reign of terror ensued after the pro-independence result of the vote was announced in September 1999, UN personnel were evacuated, leaving some of them with a deep sense of regret. Not only they but also the mission as a whole had "betrayed the Timorese people", according to one headline of the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail (1999). The UN had promised it would remain on-site no matter the outcome of the referendum, but it withdrew at the Timor's hour of greatest need.

Fortunately, Australia stepped up to lead a coalition mission to East Timor, something Indonesia was forced to accept. Starting as a UN-authorized enforcement operation, it quickly became more of a peacekeeping mission. Canadian troops were posted near Suai, a tension-filled area close to the Indonesian border where there had been a church massacre, but the operation ran smoothly for them. The coalition force turned over control to a UN peacekeeping force that was part of the larger United Nations Transitional Administration for East Timor (UNTAET). As in Kosovo, the UN's Transitional Administrator possessed the powers of a benevolent dictator, though acting with significant local consultation. Two elections (parliamentary and presidential) were held and power was rightfully turned over to the elected representatives. Canadian officials were on hand at UN headquarters in May 2002 to witness East Timor becoming the 191st member of the United Nations, and to see the new flag raised outside UN headquarters.

Thus, four generations of peacekeeping operations have unfolded and Canada has participated in all of them. Table 2 is a summary of the author's conception of four types of peacekeeping. It lists all the official UN missions (to 2004) and identifies those in which Canada participated. By comparison, the list of missions in which Canada did not participate is short.12

There are exceptions to the generational model. In the 1960s, the Congo operation (ONUC) was a multi-dimensional operation and a United Nations Mission in West New Guinea (UNTEA) was a transitional administration. When people thought classical Pearsonian peacekeeping was dead, the UN found itself carrying out a traditional (purely inter-positional) mission in 2000. The border between Ethiopia and Eritrea was monitored and controlled (using a buffer zone) by a UN mission at the end of one of the few international wars of the 1990s. This mission also marked the first time that the Stand-by High Readiness Brigade was deployed, in which Canada supplied the Chief of Staff as well as ground troops.

Table 2. Four Types / Generations of UN PKOs.13
Missions in bold had Canadian contributions; ongoing missions are underlined


To determine if parties are respecting a cease-fire or other peace agreements and assist in local settlements

Monitoring through foot and vehicle patrols, observation posts, checkpoints, etc.

Mostly uses UN military observers (UNMOs) 



(Palestine), UNMOGIP (Kashmir), UNOGIL (Lebanon), UNYOM (Yemen), DOMREP (Dominican Republic), UNIPOM (India-Pakistan), UNIIMOG (Iran- Iraq), UNGOMAP (Afghanistan / Pakistan), UNAVEM I (Angola), ONUCA (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras & Nicaragua), UNAVEM II (Angola), MINURSO (Western Sahara), UNAMIC (Cambodia), UNOMIG (Georgia / Abkhazia), UNOMUR (Uganda-Rwanda), UNOMIL (Liberia), ONUSAL (El Salvador), UNASOG (Chad), UNMOT (Tajikistan), UNMOP (Prevlaka / Croatia), MINUGUA (Guatemala), MONUA (Angola), MONUC (DR Congo)


To prevent or put an end to combat between parties

Placing peacekeeping troops, mostly battalions, between combatants, using patrols, checkpoints (fixed or mobile), searches, escort, show of UN presence/force.

(Egypt), UNFICYP (Cyprus), UNEF II (Egypt), UNDOF (Syria), UNIFIL (Lebanon), UNIKOM (Iraq / Kuwait), UNPREDEP (Macedonia), UNMEE (Ethiopia / Eritrea)


Oversee or assist in the implementation of a complex peace agreement (which may involve disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants, humanitarian assistance, electoral assistance, human rights, civilian police, mine clearance, etc.) Protection of vulnerable populations

All of the above, plus:

– protection of assembly areas and civilians, storage and destruction of surrendered weapons, escorts and protection of key personnel / facilities, oversight of police forces and other parts of the security sector, etc. 

– humanitarian aid convoys, road clearing, evacuation plans for vulnerable persons, securing sites and territory

Uses military, civilian police and civilian personnel

(DR Congo), UNTAG (Namibia), UNPROFOR (Bosnia, Croatia), UNTAC (Cambodia), UNOSOM I (Somalia), UNOSOM II (Somalia), ONUMOZ (Mozambique), UNMIH (Haiti), UNAMIR (Rwanda), UNAVEM III (Angola), UNMIBH (Bosnia), UNSMIH / UNTMIH / MIPONUH / MINUSTAH (Haiti), MINURCA (CAR), UNPSG (Eastern Slavonia), UNAMSIL (Sierra Leone), UNAMA (Afghanistan), UNMISET (Timor Leste)


Govern a territory during a transition to independence and self-governance


Comprehensive missions covering all aspects of society, from military and legal to education and sanitation

Uses soldiers, police, administrators and civilians of all types

(West Papua), UNSF (West Papua), UNTAES (Eastern Slavonia), UNMIK (Kosovo), UNTAET (East Timor)



Tough lessons came out of the peacekeeping experience in the mid-1990s. Since peacekeeping had become more dangerous, more difficult and less likely to succeed, it was important for Canada to develop guidelines on when and how to participate. No longer could Canada agree to every mission nor could Canadians respond to any conflict with the remark: "send in the peacekeepers".

For several decades, Canada has maintained criteria to help decide whether to participate in UN operations.14 However, when requests came from the UN, these criteria were often ignored out of a sense of urgency, or duty, or both. In the 1994 White Paper on Defence, with the Somalia experience fresh in mind, the criteria for participation were made more stringent; though not nearly as tough as the guidelines the US government adopted that same year.15 Like its superpower neighbour, Canada was trying to be more selective. Accordingly, missions earning Canadian participation should be part of a comprehensive strategy to secure long-term, realistic and achievable solutions, e.g., to avoid the Cyprus scenario. The US restrictions on peacekeeping were stronger than the Canadian ones, post-Somalia. In Presidential Decision Directive 25 (PDD-25), President Clinton specified that US involvement was dependent on: the advancement of US interests; the need for a US presence to achieve mission success; acceptable risks to US troops; available resources (with sizeable contributions by others); and domestic and congressional support. If a combat risk existed, there needed to be "a determination to commit sufficient forces to achieve clearly defined objectives", "a plan to achieve those objectives decisively", and "a commitment to reassess and adjust as necessary the size, composition, and use of forces". Ironically, PPD-25 was signed on 3 May 1994, at the height of the Rwandan genocide, when an intervention force was desperately needed. Later US President Clinton stated that one of his main regrets about his time in office was not responding better and faster to the Rwanda crisis. (Serafino 2002) The missions should also have:

  • a clear and enforceable mandate, including a clearly defined goal and exit strategy;
  • an identifiable and accepted reporting authority, and a clear division of responsibilities, particularly when military and civilian resources are used;
  • consent of all parties, including consent to Canada's participation (although this was not needed for peace enforcement or humanitarian assistance operations);
  • a defined concept of operations, an effective command and control structure, and clear rules of engagement; and
  • sufficient international backing (political will) and adequate financing.

In addition, it was incumbent on Canada that "the national composition of the force should be appropriate to the goals of the mission ... [and] the size, training and equipment of the force must be in keeping with the anticipated degree of force to be used in carrying out its mandate". (DND 1994) Over a decade later, the Defence section of the International Policy Statement (Canada 2005) listed roughly the same criteria as the 1994 White Paper on Defence but significantly (and dangerously) omits the need for consent. It also stipulates that proposed international operations should support Canada's Foreign Policy objectives, and not jeopardize other Canadian Forces commitments. As well, it calls for an exit strategy to be in place and an effective means for consultation among mission partners.

These criteria remain important policy guidelines, but in the heat of the moment, politicians are still led by their own overriding motivations. For instance, the humanitarian impulse drove Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to offer Canadian leadership of a Multinational Force in Eastern Zaire in November 1996, despite the lack of any checks against established criteria.16 The situation in the war-afflicted refugee camps was dire, as portrayed on daily television broadcasts. In addition, the Prime Minister was receiving briefs from his nephew, Raymond Chrétien (then Ambassador to Washington), who had been appointed as the UN Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region. Despite initial hesitation from the Department of National Defence, Canada's Army Chief, Lieutenant-General Maurice Baril, was mandated in a UN Security Council resolution to start up the multinational rescue mission. Hoping for American and other support (especially US airlift) that never arrived, Canada committed 1,500 troops. Some three hundred of them found themselves in Entebbe, Uganda setting up a mission headquarters. However, good intentions went for naught and may even have been counter-productive. Rwanda (led now by Tutsis) feared that the UN might inadvertently provide protection to the Hutu fighters, including former génocidaires, in the camps. It therefore ordered attacks on the camps before the mission could become operational. As a result, over 700,000 frightened refugees returned to Rwanda. The number of deaths in the attack and the subsequent chase is not known but could easily be in the tens of thousands.17 The best face that the confused mission-leaders could put on the situation was that the majority of refugees were returning home as hoped. The mission could not be called an unqualified success and it was soon referred to as the "bungle in the jungle" by critics and some of the soldiers involved. More damagingly, some commentators concluded that it is impossible for Canada to act as the lead nation in a military operation. This author's view is that under the right circumstances and with the right approach, Canada can lead.

An important lesson from the Zaire mission is that expectations have to be managed so that the impossible is not demanded of peacekeepers. For this reason, Canada and other nations sought to re-conceptualize peacekeeping and to adopt new terms. To avoid taking responsibility for keeping or ensuring the peace, something that depended mostly on the parties themselves, the term peacekeeping was replaced with the term "peace support operations" (PSOs), although peacekeeping (in its classical Pearsonian sense) remained as one type of PSO. Peace support was a more realistic description, since the troops could only support the peace; they would not be responsible for keeping it. It meant that soldiers would not raise expectations to a level that would be doomed to fail if one of the parties started fighting again. One of the stark lessons from the illnamed and inadequately equipped UN Protection Force operating in the war zones of the former Yugoslavia from 1991 to 1995 was that it was unprepared to protect, despite its name.

The proliferation of roles and operations encouraged the development of new terminology. Canada initially adopted the NATO standard that PSOs were divided into five types: peacemaking (negotiations); humanitarian assistance; peacekeeping (classical); peacebuilding (mostly post-conflict); and peace enforcement (non-consensual). Canada's most recent doctrinal manual on PSOs, however, removes peace enforcement from the PSO spectrum.18 The US military has adopted the terms "peace operation" and "stability operation" and there is a desire by some for Canada to do the same.

Despite the US and NATO shifts in terminology, the UN and the general public continue to use the term "peacekeeping" and it seems to be a term that is here to stay. It has become part of the common — as well as official — language of a great many countries. Besides, it has a rich heritage and a pleasant sonorous quality, something that is unconsciously valued by the average person. More importantly, there are powerful motivations behind the concept of peacekeeping that will endure despite name changes and challenges.



Given the country's mixed experiences in peacekeeping, why does Canada remain the committed peacekeeper? The raging academic debate within Canada is over two sets of motivating factors. One side ascribes Canadian contributions to a sense of world service, an altruistic desire to improve international peace and security. This view reflects the aspiration of many Canadians to see a world based on law and order, where military force is used only in the common interest as envisioned in the UN Charter, not an anarchical system based on survival of the fittest. Instead of the law of the jungle with its principle that might makes right, the idealist view is that right makes might in a civilized world. The international system should be moral and just, one in which all nations have a say and where they work collectively to keep the peace. The UN is naturally at the centre of such aspirations. Canada has to do its part, the internationalists say. "We do it not for the glory but as our duty", declared External Affairs Minister Paul Martin Sr. when discussing why Canada played a leading role in peacekeeping. Four decades later, his son, as Prime Minister, sought to champion the responsibility to protect. (Martin 2005) Closely associated with the internationalist sense of global responsibility is the humanitarian impulse to save lives and reduce human suffering, easily brought into play in an information age when images of tragedy are broadcast nightly into living rooms across the country and around the world. Another Canadian motivation is to distinguish the country from its superpower neighbour, the US, which places much greater emphasis on the exertion of military power and deadly force.

The idealist or internationalist school often clashes with the realpolitik school, whose members are usually called realists (although not necessarily realistic). Canadian realists hold that Canada's contributions do not arise from the purity of our souls or national benevolence, but because of basic national interest. For them, the first and foremost Canadian national interest, both during and after the Cold War, was to support the Western allies, especially the US and NATO members.19 Thus, they believe that Canada contributed a substantial number of troops to the peacekeeping force in Cyprus for almost three decades (1964-1993) in order to prevent two NATO allies (Greece and Turkey) from going to war over Cyprus and splitting the alliance. Similarly, Canada's greatest victory in peacekeeping, the creation of the UN's first peacekeeping force during the Suez crisis in 1956, was done to help the UK and France out of a predicament from which they could not withdraw their forces without great embarrassment. Thus, the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), proposed and led by Canadians, that replaced the allied forces was a means of face-saving for the great powers.20 Similarly, other Cold War peacekeeping contributions were, according to the realists, done to avoid overt superpower clashes and, ultimately, a third world war. Even after the Cold War, they point out that practical considerations predominated. Canadian participation in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan (the International Security Assistance Force or ISAF), announced in February 2003, was seen by many as a means to deflect US pressure to participate in the March 2003 attack on Iraq. (The Canadian government has said it did not participate in the invasion because it lacked UN sanction, something that realists dismiss as unimportant.) Also, Canada's large contributions to the UN's successive missions in Haiti are also explained in part by a desire to assist the US in the continental backyard.

Whether the motive is idealistic or pragmatic (probably both), Canada seeks a place and some recognition in the wider world. Canada seeks to find a special role that great powers like the US have difficulty filling. These powers did not participate in peacekeeping during the Cold War because they were deemed unable to act impartially, given their global involvement, ideological struggles, and intelligence activities. A middle power like Canada was seen as a better choice for the peacekeeper role, perhaps the ideal candidate, (Manson 1989) even though Canada was part of the NATO alliance. At times, the superpowers welcomed the helpful fixer role played by Canada (even the G.W. Bush administration welcomed it),21 while at other times they considered it an annoyance. US Secretary of State Dean Acheson (1949-52) sarcastically called Canada's moralistic preaching "the stern voice of the daughter of God". (Sokolsky and Jockel 2000-2001: 7) While the US has always been eager to see Canadian peacekeepers in Middle East, and especially, in Haiti, it was much less happy to see Canada participate in the United Nations Dominican Republic (DOMREP) mission after the US invaded the island in 1965. The Soviet Union, for its part, protested Canadian participation in the UN's Congo operation (1960),22 but later it warmly welcomed the Canadian contribution to the United Nations Good Offices Mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan (UNGOMAP) that was verifying Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan (1987-88).

In any case, both idealist and realist schools recognize that Canadian security, especially after the end of the Cold War, remains linked with the security of the world as a whole. What ails the world will eventually cause trouble for Canada and disturb the peace, prosperity, and domestic harmony in one of the world's most multicultural nations. It seems that Canada can function best and contribute most when it is able to satisfy both its idealist and pragmatic tendencies at the same time. UNEF was a case in point. It demonstrated the genius of Lester B. Pearson, the effective Canadian Foreign Minister in 1956, who gained allied gratitude while at the same time helping improve the position of the UN. The idealist and pragmatist in Pearson spoke about peacekeeping in his Nobel Peace prize acceptance speech in 1957: "We made at least a beginning then. If, on that foundation, we do not build something more permanent and stronger, we will once again have ignored realities, rejected opportunities and betrayed our trust." (Pearson 1957)



Improvements in peacekeeping have occurred gradually from Pearson's time to the present (including two new generations of peacekeeping), but the international force that the United Nations Charter envisaged, and that Pearson originally advocated, has not come about. As the next best thing, Pearson advocated the creation of standby force using earmarked units that could be called together in an emergency. The Canadian Army Special Force was established in 1950 specifically for UN or NATO deployments, and it was sent to fight under the UN flag in Korea. (Williams 1974: 653) External Affairs Minister Pearson pointed to this Canadian precedent in his frequent calls to other UN members to earmark units for UN duty. But the UN, embroiled in Cold War deadlock, could not agree on the establishment of a standby force. Later, as Prime Minister, Pearson convened in 1964 a conference to consider the issue. Twenty-two nations that had provided troops to previous operations met in Ottawa. He suggested:

If the United Nations Assembly as such refuses to take that initiative — if it is unable to agree on permanent arrangements for a stand-by force — then why should a group of members who feel that this should be done, not do something about it themselves? Why should they not discharge their responsibilities individually and collectively, by organizing a force for this purpose, one formally outside the United Nations but ready to act on its request?

To do so would require a number of middle powers whose credentials and whose motives are above reproach, to work out stand-by arrangements among themselves consistent with the United Nations Charter. What is needed, in fact, is an entirely new arrangement by which these nations would establish an international peace force, its contingents trained and equipped for the purpose and operating under principles agreed in advance. (Pearson 1964, in Cox 1968:48)

While the conference was heavily criticized and resulted in no agreement for a standby force, Canadians repeatedly called for the establishment of such a force. In 1970, the Parliamentary Subcommittee on Peacekeeping came forward with bold proposals: a UN stand-by force of 20,000 to 25,000 men (excluding those from the Permanent Members of the Security Council) supported by earmarked reserves specially trained for UN service; the establishment of an international training centre; and a Peace Fund with voluntary contributions towards this goal.23

It took the shock of the 1994 Rwandan tragedy almost a quarter century later to finally generate the international political will to make a stand-by force a reality. Partly in response to General Dallaire's suggestion that the Rwandan genocide could have been avoided with a brigade of troops (roughly 5,000 strong), Canada commissioned a study on ways to enhance the UN's capability to project peacekeeping forces quicker and more effectively to conflict areas. This report championed the proposal for a vanguard force. (DFAIT 1995; Langille 2002)

The response was lukewarm from most nations (including the US) but strong from a few. Canada decided to work with like-minded nations, as Pearson had envisioned two decades earlier. In December 1996, seven countries (Austria, Canada, Denmark, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Sweden) signed a letter of intent to establish a Standby High Readiness Brigade for UN Peace Operations. SHIRBRIG was declared ready for UN duty as of January 2000 with a permanent multinational headquarters near Copenhagen. (SHIRBRIG 2005) The 60-90 military personnel stationed there from all participating nations coordinate the national contributions to the notional Brigade, develop exercises, and prepare for deployments. In 2000 the UN Secretary-General turned to SHIRBRIG to set up the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). The Brigade did such an effective job initiating the UN mission that most of the units and soldiers were incorporated into the ensuing UN Force — including the Force Commander, Patrick Cammaert, a Dutch general who afterwards became the UN Military Advisor in New York. Canada and the Netherlands together contributed an infantry battalion, as well as headquarters staff to the SHIRBRIG deployment, and then to UNMEE. In 2003, Canada held the SHIRBRIG Presidency. In that year the organization was called upon to stand up a headquarters, with Canadians among its staff, for the UN Mission in Liberia. (DND 2003a) In December 2003 Canadian Brigadier-General Greg Mitchell was appointed the Brigade's Commander (a two-year term normally). A new mission for the Brigade is in southern Sudan, although the SHIRBRIG deployment was not nearly as rapid as had been hoped. Currently SHIRBRIG focuses purely on peacekeeping deployments (necessitating the consent of the warring parties) but there are calls to expand its mandate to cover enforcement operations (non-consensual) of the type that would have been needed to end the Rwandan genocide. At present, the Canadian government does not want to jeopardize the progress made thus far, as well as the political consensus on SHIRBRIG, so it is not yet advocating a more ambitious role for the standby brigade. Such a step would necessitate the organization of a much stronger military force in what some call a United Nations Emergency Service. (Langille 2002:104) Despite calls for a responsibility to protect, championed by Canada after the release of a report with that title (ICISS 2001), there is, at present, little political will in Canada or abroad to create such a robust force. For most, meeting the demands of current peacekeeping — and answering the critics — is enough of a challenge.



Ironically, Canadian soldiers feel less enthusiastic toward peacekeeping than the Canadian public, although they receive considerable appreciation and praise for this kind of service. The reason is part humility; many say they are "just doing their job". However, there are deeper reservations felt by some soldiers about the "down side" of peacekeeping. After the initial excitement of deployment to a new land, soldiers typically settle into a routine of patrols and observation. Some tours of duty are characterized by long periods of boredom, interrupted by occasional bursts of violence and tragedy. When violent conflict does escalate, peacekeepers often feel there is little they can do. UN rules of engagement (ROEs) have traditionally been too weak to allow a forceful intervention. At times, soldiers even see the ROEs as a danger to their own lives, as in Rwanda when the order from UN headquarters was "not to fire until fired upon". (Dallaire 2003: 233) This restriction left UNAMIR soldiers, with over a dozen of their colleagues dead, guessing what they should do if a cocked gun were pointed at them. This sense of impotence and anger at the UN for not properly equipping and guiding them has left some soldiers bitter and others with a general sense of disaffection and cynicism towards the UN. At worst it leads to severe depression. Soldiers, like General Dallaire, who felt helpless in the face of the slaughter of thousands in Rwanda, vainly sought comfort in suicide — although, in his case, he failed and is now well on his way to recovery.

Soldiers often seek satisfaction in philanthropic work during their tour of duty — building schools and offering assistance to local causes, often on their own time. This work is useful for the mission as it helps win the hearts of the local population, which is so important for mission success. However, it also reinforces another complaint about peacekeeping.

Many personnel fear that a single-minded focus on peacekeeping will turn their military into a constabulary force, doing charitable and police-like work while rendering them incapable of high intensity combat. It would replace the warrior ethic with a softer, gentler attitude that would make them less than full soldiers. The long-standing peacekeeping principles — consent, impartiality and use of force only in self-defence that are reflected in the peacekeepers motto, "firm, fair and friendly" — might make soldiers less than the lethal fighters they are trained to be. The hardest line is that peacekeeping is not real soldiering, an attitude which is much more common in the US military.

The critics of peacekeeping, who highlight many of the soldiers' complaints and are mostly former soldiers themselves, also argue that there are other larger, systemic and detrimental effects from peacekeeping: less funds spent on weapons systems needed for fighting wars; less time for combat training; dependency on the UN's ad hoc system of deployment; fewer links to their NATO colleagues. They fear that the so-called "constabulary" role for the Canadian Forces would make them inferior to their NATO counterparts. To the critics, a greater focus on peacekeeping is disadvantageous. They fear that placing primacy on peacekeeping, as advocated by two political parties in Canada (the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois), could be all too easily transferred to the Liberal Party, which already carries the mantle of Lester Pearson.

Recently, the military reluctance to commit to peacekeeping was demonstrated by resistance to the formation of a Canadian Peacekeeping Brigade, as planned by the Liberal government. (Canada 2004) The senior military leadership convinced their political masters that it was not fruitful to designate a military body for a special task and that any new soldiers should be added to pre-existing units. They successfully argued that soldiers should be general purpose and combat capable. (Crabbe 2004)

In summary, while the average soldier sees UN peacekeeping as an important task, he or she is reluctant to see it become the primary task. Furthermore, soldiers fear being deployed on long, dull missions, away from home and family for long periods, with little to do. On the opposite end of the spectrum, they also fear dangerous missions where they are ill equipped or otherwise unable to carry out the difficult mandate of keeping the peace.



These attitudes have influenced Canadian preferences and actions over the past decade. As in other Western countries, the Canadian military prefers missions sponsored by NATO, as opposed to the UN. In NATO, the military structure is usually better defined, the number of troops deployed is larger, the level of support is usually greater, and partner nations are generally better equipped and trained than in UN missions. Like other Western nations, Canada saw its contribution to UN missions decline as NATO took on new peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. In 2003, Canada had twenty times more troops deployed to NATO PSOs than it did to UN operations. Canada dropped from its Cold War position among the top five contributors to UN peacekeeping to number 35 in July 2005, when Canada's contribution to all UN missions was only 325 personnel (207 troops, 10 military observers and 108 civilian police). (UN 2005) This total does not include civilians, who are hired directly by the UN. Canada's largest current contribution to a UN PKO is 185 troops to UNDOF, the United Nations Observation and Interposition Mission in the Golan Heights, where it shares responsibility with Japan for mission logistics.24 However, that contribution is scheduled to be withdrawn later in 2005. Of the other seven missions, the only sizeable contribution was to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), but this contribution was almost entirely civilian police (98 CivPol and only three troops). UNTSO was the next largest UN mission with merely eight military observers.

Canadian diplomats at the UN have received complaints that Canada's contribution is meagre, especially given the nation's long tradition of strong commitment. They reply that Canadian personnel sent to UN-authorized missions in Afghanistan under NATO are also doing peacekeeping. Counting these, Canada deploys more than most countries to the field. In 2003, it had the largest contingent in the NATO-led PSO in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), with over 2,000 troops. A decade of extensive deployments led the Canadian army to demand a pause in operations in 2004-05, which the government granted.

For its pan, the UN Under Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a former head of Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), has succeeded in improving the UN headquarters' capacity to generate and support PKOs. DPKO has doubled in size since the release of the Brahimi report. (UN 2000) This improvement was aided considerably by US payment of its arrears, prompted mostly by the events of 11 September 2001 — arrears that had dated back almost three decades. (By contrast, Canada has consistently lived up to its promise to pay UN dues "in full, on time and without conditions".) Many of the Brahimi report's practical recommendations are being implemented by the United Nations.



The Canadian government has a strong mandate from the Canadian public to contribute to UN peacekeeping and a long-standing heritage to uphold. In a conflict-ridden world, there are both great challenges and new opportunities for Canada to contribute to more effective peacekeeping.


Like most Western nations, Canada reduced the size of its armed forces after the Cold War, even though the demand for peacekeeping increased dramatically. During the 1990s and early 200Os, many Canadian soldiers served on numerous tours in UN and NATO operations. In 2003-4, as government announced an "operational pause" to allow soldiers to recuperate, the UN was experiencing a resurgence of peacekeeping after a slow down in the late 1990s. With Western nations suffering from contributor fatigue, as well as donor fatigue in the development sector, the UN started to rely much more on the developing world for troops. For some Canadian commentators, Canada lost its position as a leading peacekeeper. (Ram 2004)

It is time to reinvigorate the forces and rededicate them to Canada's tradition of peacekeeping, among other important tasks. During the Cold War, Canada used a planning figure of a 2,000 personnel ceiling for UN peacekeeping deployment (in addition to 10,000 troops in Europe). Canada is nowhere near that now. In the past few years, the Canadian troop contributions to UN operations have typically been only 200-300 soldiers. The Canadian government's pledge to train 5,000 more troops for peacekeeping is commendable and needs to be implemented. Given the needs of a war-weary world, there are many other creative ways that Canada could help, as illustrated in the following paragraphs.

Equipment (high technology)

If the supply of sufficient numbers of Canadian personnel is a perennial problem, then Canada can specialize in areas where smaller groups of specialized and well-equipped Canadians can fill a current need. An excellent example is advanced technology, which is lacking in current UN operations. (Dorn 2004) Canada could provide advanced remote sensing and global positioning expertise to complement its long tradition of communications. These technologies have become much cheaper and much better in recent years, and are eminently suitable for UN operations. Remote sensors can increase the range and accuracy of observation, and permit continuous monitoring over much larger areas. It is now possible to spot a person at night several kilometres away, using ground-based radar in Canada's Coyote vehicles. Much greater ranges can be obtained from planes and unpiloted aerial vehicles (UAVs). Infrared viewers on the helmets of peacekeepers can greatly increase the effectiveness of patrols at night when most of the nefarious activities, e.g., ceasefire violations, take place. Technology can make peacekeepers not only more effective at their jobs but also safer. They gain more situational awareness of threats against themselves and their missions. They are better able to protect themselves from intruders and those who might wish to spoil the peace process.

Air Force and Navy Unit Contributions

Normally peacekeeping is considered the province of the army, with other services providing support. But it is useful to explore new roles for the air force and navy. Canada could pioneer the practice of naval peacekeeping, which has at least three precedents in the Gulf of Fonseca, the former Yugoslavia, and Cambodia, where ships and boats stopped contraband weapons and goods from reaching combatants. There are many other tasks maritime forces can perform.25 Aerial vehicles can increase the scope of peace monitoring and can be used in a show of force and actual enforcement, as well as for search and rescue. The Canadian military's new push for joint operations could be a catalyst to develop coordinated roles for all three services in peacekeeping.


In the mid-1990s Canada strengthened its peacekeeping training capacity, not only for Canadian soldiers and civilians but also for visiting soldiers and civilian students from around the world. The military-civilian Pearson Peacekeeping Centre (PPC 2005) was established in 1995 and the Army's Peace Support Training Centre was stood up a year later. Thousands of people have gone through the wide-ranging courses sponsored by these institutions, with some of the courses being conducted abroad, including in Africa, Central America, and Eastern Europe. The PPC also led the establishment of the International Association of Peacekeeping Training Centres (IAPTC) that has drawn together over a hundred training, research and educational centres in some fifty countries. The momentum of the Canadian training program is at risk by funding cuts particularly to the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre. That institution needs continuous support, not merely short-term infusions of funds. In addition, Canada could invite more countries to provide soldiers for these courses, especially new or prospective peacekeepers such as Mexico.

Robust Peacekeeping

In the dangerous environments of modern operations, self-defence and the protection of innocent civilians requires an ability to apply military force.26 Peacekeepers need clear rules of engagement and adequate equipment that will allow them to deal with threats from attackers and spoilers of the peace process. Countries such as Canada that are known to act impartially and without heavy-handedness are needed to uphold the "responsibility to protect", not only in the halls of the UN but also in its field operations. As the UN is beginning to accept more robust force deployments, it needs combat-trained soldiers with the ability to discern the value and limitations of the use of force. Canada's International Policy Statement (Canada 2005) calls upon the forces to be prepared for three-block wars in which peacekeeping, humanitarian and combat operations take place simultaneously in close vicinity. Although this concept is likely to give rise to mandate confusion and over-assertion, the policy statement recognizes the reality in several modern missions, and it places renewed emphasis on combat capability in complex operations.


The Canadian military has a clear preference for NATO deployments, in part because they are more robust. However, the Canadian public and politicians generally favour the UN because it carries greater legitimacy. The UN also has a greater acceptability globally because it is representative of the entire world, whereas NATO was designed to deal with direct threats to Western security and Western interests, not problems in war-torn Africa and Asia. Canada should help the UN to develop a robust peacekeeping approach, and thereby regain its position as a leading UN peacekeeper. Admittedly, in dire circumstances, the choice between NATO and the UN is not vital. What matters most is that the operation is UN-authorized, that lives are being saved, that suffering is being reduced, and that peace is being restored. For budgeting considerations, however, UN deployments are much cheaper for Canada because the UN reimburses the majority of the expenses. They also carry greater international approval.


This multinational brigade is the most progressive development in peacekeeping in a generation. It answers decades of Canadian calls for a rapid-reaction standby force, and allows Canada to work with other outstanding and long-standing peacekeepers, such as the Scandinavian nations. Canada has a special opportunity to foster speed, efficiency, and proficiency in peacekeeping by investing more in this unique mechanism to enhance UN operations. Canada's International Policy Statement (2005) reaffirmed Canadian commitment to take a lead role in SHIRBRIG, but Canada needs to do much more to re-invigorate this body. Greater resources, more training, and better political coordination are a few of the outstanding needs.

Partnerships with the Developing World

In UN operations, there is an opportunity to work closely with forces from the developing world. These nations provide the backbone of modern UN peacekeeping forces. Canada could contribute greatly by sharing its peacekeeping experience, for instance, by conducting joint exercises, training soldiers before and during missions, and by sharing the skills needed to utilize advanced technologies. The modest efforts of the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre and the Peace Support Training Centre are a good start.



During the Cold War, politicians of all stripes proudly boasted that Canada had contributed to every UN peacekeeping mission — a "perfect record", Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy later wrote. (Axworthy 1998) It was a practice "unsurpassed by any other nation", noted Chief of Defence Staff John de Chastelain (1992: 5).27 However, Canada can no longer make this claim. While Canada still contributes much, it is not providing the leadership, intellectually or on the ground, that it once did.

For supporters of Canadian peacekeeping, there is an urgent need to re-invigorate and re-dedicate the Canadian Forces to live up to its image and legacy in peacekeeping. The fires of conflict do not stop while Canada takes an operational pause. Soldiers do need time to recuperate, but there are many ways for the nation to contribute to peacekeeping. The further development of the Standby High Readiness Brigade is a major opportunity for Canada. Building partnerships with developing nations, who provide the bulk of the UN's peacekeepers today, is another, perhaps by bringing them into SHIRBRIG. Rather than abandoning the UN, Canada should contribute more peacekeepers to more missions, where they are much needed. Canada could also invite more current and prospective peacekeepers to courses, seminars, and exercises, and offer pre-deployment training in institutions in Canada, as well as sending teams abroad. The country could offer the UN tailored systems for monitoring using high technology, as this can greatly improve UN operations in an area where it is currently quite deficient.

The critics of peacekeeping may cite the difficulties and challenges of UN peacekeeping. The response has been made frequently over the years, including by External Affairs Minister Paul Martin Sr. in the 1960s:

Instead of belittling peacekeeping because of the problems which the United Nations forces have encountered (for example in the Middle East) critics should devote their energies to suggesting ways to strengthen the United Nations' ability to discharge its primary responsibility for peace and security and to ensure that future UN forces will have better terms of reference for carrying out their mandate. ... I am convinced that Canadians want us to go on making a contribution to UN peacekeeping in spite of the undoubted difficulties.28

Canada will always bring its traditional strengths to peacekeeping: a largely bilingual multicultural force, well-trained and well-equipped, ready to reach out to partners and to engage the local populations in war-torn areas, while also able to apply force when necessary. Canada can now explore new ways to use its soldiers, sailors, aviators, civilian police, and civilians to add new dimensions to operations, whether to stop conflicts or to build the peace afterwards.

The job of keeping peace is a never-ending one. Peacekeeping has been shown to be a proud Canadian tradition but will its future contribution remain strong? Canada is likely to be there, not only because the nation's foreign policy relies heavily on multilateralism, but also because of the popular demand for Canadian contributions to peace. One thing is certain: in our conflict-ridden world, there will be a great need, much scope, and many opportunities for Canada to live up to its peacekeeping tradition.



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1 Peacekeeping Day, inaugurated in the provinces in 2002-2004, is held on 9 August. Federal observance is traditionally held during UN week (20-26 October).

2 In 1936, King publicly repudiated Canada's Ambassador to the League of Nations, Walter Riddell, after Riddell proposed that the League impose oil sanctions on Italy to curtail its conquest of Abyssinia/Ethiopia under the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. In the end, neither the League nor Canada applied tough sanctions. The six League operations that could be considered PKOs by today's definition were located in the Saar (1920-35), near Vilnia/Vilnius |1920-22), on the Albanian border (1921-23), on the Greco-Roman frontier (1925-27), and two in South America: Leticia (1933-34) and Chaco (1933-34). Canada did not provide troops to any of these operations (unlike Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as great powers France, Italy, and the UK). However, in the League's largest operation, for the transitional governance of the Saar, the second Chairman (1925-30) of the League-appointed governing Commission was Mr. Stevens, a much-appreciated Canadian who had previously been the Chairman of the Montreal Harbour Commission.

3 After the Korean War broke out in 1950 (much as King had predicted), Canada sent 27,000 troops to the aid of South Korea in the UN-authorized police action. Five hundred sixteen Canadian soldiers died in the War against North Korea and China. In today's terminology, this was an enforcement action, not a peacekeeping mission.

4 Under-Secretary-General, Ralph Bunche, was instrumental in establishing the first UN observer missions, and Sir Brian Urquhart helped in the development of peacekeeping for some four decades. Also, there are UN officials, not known in peacekeeping history, who helped set up the early missions in Greece, Indonesia and Korea and who deserve recognition. Lester Pearson is, more properly, called one of the "Fathers of Peacekeeping Forces" since UNEF was the first such force. The previous missions were all of the observer type.

5 Canada provided virtually all of the radio communications links between ONUC's headquarters in Leopoldville and its field offices, some of them over a thousand kilometres away. (Marteinson 1992)

6 External Affairs Minister Martin managed to get a commitment from Sweden, Finland, and Ireland for the start-up of UNFICYP. (Granatstein 2004: 69)

7 The Canadian defence budget in 1989 was at a high of about $ 14.25 billion and the size of the Canadian Forces (CF) was about 85,000 military personnel. Ten years later, the budget was $11.5 billion and the size of the CF was approximately 60,000. In 2004, the size of the CF is a bit less but the budget has increased. Financial figures are given in constant 2000-2001 dollars. (DND 2003a; Polaris Institute 2005; Project Ploughshares 2002)

8 There was a small and short mission in the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean half-island state, in 1965-66 to verify a ceasefire after the invasion of US forces.

9 Fortunately, a better UN definition of peacekeeping was later used, re-introducing the concept of consent: "peacekeeping is the deployment of international military and civilian personnel to an area of conflict, with the consent of the parties to the conflict, in order to: (1) stop or contain hostilities or (2) carry out the provisions of a peace agreement."

10 The informant, who called himself Jean-Pierre, said that he had been asked to prepare a list of Tutsis in Kigali, which he believed was for their "extermination". He was training his militia to kill "a thousand people in twenty minutes". To render UNAMIR impotent the extremists planned to kill members of the Belgian contingent. Jean-Pierre even showed a UNAMIR officer illegal weapons caches that were to be used to carry out the plan. (Dorn and Matloff 2000)

11 Kofi Annan, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping at the time of the Rwandan genocide, only tacitly admitted partial responsibility for the abysmal UN reaction to the genocide by accepting the conclusions of the Carlsson Report (1999).

12 The list of UN missions to which Canada has not contributed is: UNAVEM I & III (Angola), UNOMIL (Liberia), UNOMIG (Georgia), UNASOG (Chad), UNMOT (Tajikistan), UNTAES (Eastern Slavonia), MONUA (Angola), UNPS (Croatia), UNOMSIL (but did participate in UNAMSIL).

13 Table covers operations to 2004. (UN 1996, DFAIT 2004, DND 2004) Full names can be found on the UN DPKO web site (2004).

14 These criteria for participation were laid out by Foreign Minister Mitchell Sharp in 1973: reasonable expectation of a political settlement; responsibility to a political authority (preferably the UN) which can adequately supervise it; consent to Canadian participation by all concerned; a clear mandate to act and an equitable means of financing, (Inglis 1975: 31 ) Much earlier, Pearson had outlined certain requirements that would have to be met before Canada would commit troops to the start-up of the Cyprus mission. (Granatstein 1968: 172)

15 The US restrictions on peacekeeping were stronger than the Canadian ones, post-Somalia. In Presidential Decision Directive 25 (PDD-25), President Clinton specified that US involvement was dependent on: the advancement of US interests; the need for a US presence to achieve mission success; acceptable risks to US troops; available resources (with sizeable contributions by others); and domestic and congressional support. If a combat risk existed, there needed to be "a determination to commit sufficient forces to achieve clearly defined objectives", "a plan to achieve those objectives decisively", and "a commitment to reassess and adjust as necessary the size, composition, and use of forces". Ironically, PPD-25 was signed on 3 May 1994, at the height of the Rwandan genocide, when an intervention force was desperately needed. Later US President Clinton stated that one of his main regrets about his time in office was not responding better and faster to the Rwanda crisis. (Serafino 2002)

16 An excellent account can be found in the memoirs of the Prime Minister's Diplomatic Advisor, James Bartleman (2005). An overview of the Canadian preparations for "Operation Assurance" is found in Hennessy (2001).

17 An examination of the contradictory intelligence on the mission in Zaire can be found in Dorn (2005).

18 The PSO manual (DND 2002b) adds the function of "conflict prevention" to the list of PSO types. It divides PKOs into two types: traditional and complex PKOs. Unfortunately, the manual does not provide a definition for the term "peace support operations".

19 See Maloney (2002) and J.L. Granatstein, cited in Cooper (1997: 174-176). The debate is also analysed in Alistair (2002).

20 Moderate support for this view comes from the fact that Pearson's original idea for the UN force was to make the British and French occupying forces the nucleus of the new force, not to give the intervention "UN respectability" but "to change its character and make it serve different ends". He abandoned that idea after several member states in New York branded the two nations aggressors. (Williams 1974: 671)

21 President-elect George W. Bush stated that "we'd like for them [the allies] to be the peacekeepers" while the US will take on the duty of fighting wars. (New York Times 2001)

22 Dag Hammarskjöld's reaction to the Soviet complaint about Canada contributing to ONUC was: "Canada was in a unique position among the nations in having available adequate [sic] trained communication personnel with a facility in both French and English and also in having available the necessary equipment." (Granatstein 1968: 158)

23 The House of Commons (1970) Subcommittee on Peacekeeping of the Standing Committee on External Affairs and National Defence produced a report which concluded: "For Canada now to lose heart and reduce its interests in peacekeeping would be an abdication of responsibility. No other country could fill the gap thus opened — and the development of effective peacekeeping would be set back with incalculable but certainly disastrous effects." (Williams, 1974: 671)

24 Canada also contributes to the Multilateral Force and Observers (MFO), a non-UN peacekeeping mission established in 1982 to oversee the border aspects of the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty (Camp David Accords). Originally it was to be a UN mission but the Soviet Union threatened to veto its establishment so it was set up as an independent body led by the US although still based on traditional UN peacekeeping principles. Canada's maximum contribution was 140 personnel to the 2,700-troop (maximum) operation.

25 Roles for the navy in peacekeeping operations include: communications; interdiction; diplomatic assistance; humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; maritime security; migration management and facilitation; peacebuilding; prevention of naval combat; supervision/administration of ports and shore facilities; transport; and treaty verification.

26 One Canadian achievement during its tenure on the Security Council in 1999-2000 was the passage of a resolution stipulating that peacekeeping mandates and resources should ensure the protection of civilians. (UNSC 2000).

27 The fact that Canada enjoyed a UN participation record unsurpassed by any other nation was made easier by the fact that Canada contributed a soldier to DOMREP, the UN's smallest peacekeeping mission, set up to observe the situation in the Dominican Republic after the US intervention in 1965. Only four military officers (from Brazil, Canada, Ecuador and India) participated in that short mission in 1965-66, so few countries could claim to have participated in all UN missions. In the list of operations that the UN considers "peacekeeping" (UN 1996), the first UN operation to which Canada did not send any personnel was the first Angola mission (UNAVEM I) begun in 1989 just as the Cold War was winding down. Canada did contribute, however, to the much larger second mission in Angola, UNAVEM II, which began in 1991.

28 Martin, Paul, in Department of External Affairs, Statements and Speeches, No.67/27, Ottawa: Department of External Affairs, 1967, p.3-4, quoted in Williams 1970: 670.