Canada is forging a new peacekeeping path

Peace is not won by battalions, but in concert with innovative solutions derived through dialogue, commitment to a grander strategic vision and sustainable development.

The approach is prevention-oriented and designed to adapt to rapidly evolving conflicts

Peace is not won by battalions, but in concert with innovative solutions derived through dialogue, commitment to a grander strategic vision and sustainable development. (Hussein Malla/Associated Press)

In its newly announced commitment to UN peacekeeping, Canada has recognized that the nature of peacekeeping has changed and therefore new approaches are required beyond the traditional "boots on the ground."

As a nation, Canada has always led — not with the number of battalions that are in the field, but with innovative solutions to the problems presented by the conflicts of the day. From Canada's creeping barrage that broke the intractable deadlock of trench warfare in World War I to the world's first peacekeeping mission deployed at the onset of the Cold War era, Canada has always presented timely and innovative solutions.

In a column for the CBC, however, David Krayden argued that the new peacekeeping policy is the product of a government that has "dithered" too long, and that the announcement was essentially "a non-event."

That analysis is short-sighted. Canada has ensured that our commitment of up to 600 peacekeepers and 150 police are supplemented with a long-term investment in capacity building that will have an impact beyond one mission or region of the world.

Deployments connected to only one mission or context are predicated upon outdated understandings of peacekeeping, and they set an arbitrary limit on the impact our commitment can have.

Prevention over reaction

Canada's renewed commitment to peacekeeping comes in the midst of a larger transformation of how the international community understands and addresses conflict.  

Under the leadership of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, the UN is seeking solutions that build the capacity of the organization, and by extension peacekeeping, to prevent conflict rather than just react. Canada's new peacekeeping policy recognizes this fundamental shift in how conflict will be addressed and ultimately to how peace is forged.

Krayden correctly pointed out in his column that Canadian peacekeepers will have to face child soldiers. That's something they have done already in missions such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq.

With its peacekeeping announcement, the Canadian government has taken the road less traveled, but one that is absolutely necessary to forge if the international community is going to create peacekeeping missions that address the realities of today's wars: the use of child soldiers, complex and ambiguous theatres of operation, more equitable and prepared peacekeeping forces.

The difference now is the Canadian government and the Canadian Armed Forces have realized that we can have a tangible impact on how to help UN peacekeeping prepare for such moral dilemmas from improved tactical and strategic approaches to match the conflict on the ground.

Through the launch of the Elsie Initiative, the Vancouver Principles and the designation of the rapid deployment force, Canada is in a position to build the capacity of a large number of troop contributing countries to address the realities faced by peacekeepers today. In fact, Canada is responding directly to the calls for assistance of many troop contributing countries and the UN itself to help achieve its mandate.

Understanding how to achieve peace does not discount the "warrior tradition" of the past to which Krayden alludes. Peace is not won by battalions, but in concert with innovative solutions derived through dialogue, commitment to a grander strategic vision and sustainable development. Yes, a protection mission does require combat skills, but skills that also require adaptation to new, smarter approaches.

A need for leadership on peacekeeping

Canada is correct to be cautious of the UN peacekeeping missions it undertakes. Structural changes, capacity building and training on some of the most basic elements are needed, and Canada is in a position to provide and lead with confidence.

Canada's commitments build on a number of crucial firsts that have been undertaken this year, such as the Canadian Armed Forces Joint Doctrine Note on Child Soldiers, to ensure that its troops are prepared for the realities of contemporary conflict.

The Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and Preventing the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers lays out resolutions relating to peacekeeping and protecting children used as weapons of war. These principles were launched as part of the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial and have already been endorsed by over 55 countries representing each continent of the world.

Canada is also leading the way to a new path for peacekeeping through the inclusion of women in peacekeeping efforts within the Elsie Initiative. Through Canada's leadership, women will be enabled to undertake an essential role in amplifying and reinforcing the strategic and tactical effectiveness of peacekeeping missions.

The commitments that Canada has created draws from Canadian expertise from civil society, such as the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, to bring Canadian-created and led solutions to truly global issues. It is a whole of government approach to development, aid, defence and diplomacy.

Timely and innovative solutions

True leadership on peacekeeping recognizes where Canada is best positioned to provide support, as well as a willingness to lead and be led, to listen and to adapt to rapidly evolving conflicts.

Canada's peacekeeeping contribution will change the way peacekeeping is done. Through a prevention-oriented approach, and through collective leadership, we can ensure that we create a long-lasting contribution to peacekeeping that builds on timely and innovative solutions to conflict.

Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire (retired) is the founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative. Dr. Shelly Whitman is the executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.