The Trudeau government has promised to get Canada back into the peacekeeping business, but a new report from two independent think tanks says the military is ill-prepared for the task.
The study by the Rideau Institute and the Centre for Policy Alternatives was penned by Walter Dorn, a professor at the Canadian Forces Staff College and one of Canada's leading experts in peacekeeping.
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For the last decade, he says, the army has specialized in counter-insurgency warfare because of the combat mission in Kandahar and other skill sets — once second nature to Canadian training — were relegated to the back burner.
Dorn says the complexities of modern peace operations require in-depth training and education, on subjects including the procedures, capabilities and limitations of the United Nations.
He says Canada is currently far behind other nations in its readiness to support the United Nations and train for modern peacekeeping.
"Special skills, separate from those learned in Afghanistan and warfare training, would need to be (re)learned, including skills in negotiation, conflict management and resolution, as well as an understanding of UN procedures and past peacekeeping missions," said the report.
"Particularly important is learning effective co-operation with the non-military components of modern peacekeeping operations, including police, civil affairs personnel and humanitarians, as well as UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the local actors engaged in building a viable peace."
The focus of training at both the Canadian Forces Command College in Toronto and the army staff college in Kingston, Ont., is on "taking part in 'alliance' or NATO-style operations," Dorn concluded.
"At the higher (national security) level, the case studies and exercises on peacekeeping were dropped."
Some preparation needed
Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan have said rather than sending a lot of soldiers, Canada can contribute equipment and expertise, such as commanders and headquarters contingents.
But Dorn says the military regime provides less than a quarter of the peacekeeping instruction it did a decade ago.
The report recommends the reinstatement and updating of the many training programmes and exercises that have been cut, and introducing new instruction that reflects the increasing complexity of modern peace operations.
"Canadian soldiers have served as superb peacekeepers in the past and can do so again, with some preparation," the report says.
Following the Somalia scandal of the mid-1990s in which a teenager was tortured and killed at the hands of Canadian soldiers, National Defence recognized the need for specialized training. It was implemented with success between 1995 and 2005, when the army went into Kandahar.
Dorn says while the number of personnel deployed in the field by the United Nations is now at an all-time high of more than 125,000, the number of Canadian soldiers involved in those operations has dwindled to an all-time low of 29 as of Dec. 31, 2015.