Wednesday August 23, 2017

Midweek podcast: Whatever happened to our peacekeeping mission?

A Royal Canadian Air Force C-17 makes a fly past over the Peacekeeping Monument in Ottawa during a 2012 ceremony honouring fallen peacekeepers.

A Royal Canadian Air Force C-17 makes a fly past over the Peacekeeping Monument in Ottawa during a 2012 ceremony honouring fallen peacekeepers. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Listen to Full Episode 16:53

Between U.S. President Donald Trump's recent recommitment to his country's 16-year-old conflict in Afghanistan and the ongoing tit for tat threat strategy he's playing with North Korea, it's been a busy summer for defence watchers.

Domestically, there's also been plenty to talk about when it comes to Canada's role in both situations.

But a topic that isn't attracting a lot of public debate is Canada's yet-to-be-announced peacekeeping mission.

Almost precisely a year ago, the Liberal government announced it will commit $450 million to peace operations and the Canadian Armed Forces will, on top of existing commitments in the Middle East, eastern Europe and elsewhere, deploy up to 600 troops as part of the mission to Africa.

"When you put troops into harm's way you have to be very deliberate and thoughtful, which I think everyone has applauded," said CBC's defence reporter Murray Brewster.

"I think the notion of peacekeeping in the public's mind and in what the Liberals sold to us in the last election campaign was an image of a system that no longer exists," he added, noting the idea of peacekeeping as ceasefire observance isn't relevant in 2017.

Mali, the Central African Republic and Congo were among some of the nations originally floated as possible destinations by government officials last summer.

"The government has looked at some of these different conflicts, where the UN would like us to be — in Mali, in the Central African Republic — and they don't see any attempts at creating some kind of stability or framework. The phrase that was used with me a couple of times has been essentially you're going in to babysit a civil war."

Without boots on the ground this fall, Canada could be walking into an embarrassment as it hosts a major gathering of peacekeeping nations in November.

"When you talk to folks at the UN, even when you talk to some of our folks in the foreign service, I think that they are of the mind that unless Canada produces some kind of tangible commitment, either plans for boots on the ground or actually delivering those boots on the ground between now and the conference, you are going to see some countries begin to pull out," said Brewster.