U.S. presses Canada to make good on promised 200-soldier peacekeeping force

The United States is pressing Canada to commit medical units and drones to United Nations' missions at a peacekeeping summit in South Korea next week, and to come up with the 200-strong force first promised four years ago.

Canada's total contribution to the UN sinks to historic low

A Canada flag patch and UN patch are seen on a Canadian Forces member departing for a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali from Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Trenton, Ontario in July, 2018. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The United States is pressing Canada to commit medical units and drones to United Nations' missions at a peacekeeping summit in South Korea next week, and to come up with the 200-strong force first promised four years ago.

The request came in a letter to Global Affairs Canada from the U.S. on the eve of the high-level meeting in Seoul, where U.S. President Joe Biden's administration is expected to press allies to renew their commitment to peacekeeping. 

That includes Canada. The Liberal government has been criticized for failing to match past promises and rhetoric supporting the UN with commitment and action. 

The Nov. 8 diplomatic note starts by thanking Canada for providing troops and police officers to peacekeeping missions, including its recent deployment to Mali. It praises Canada for increasing the number of women deployed on UN missions. It also makes it clear that Washington expects Canada to do more. 

"We request that Canada commits to providing medical units and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to UN peacekeeping missions," said the letter obtained by The Canadian Press. 

"Additionally, we are aware that Canada committed to providing a quick reaction force to UN peacekeeping at the Vancouver ministerial. We urge Canada to fulfil this promise."

Canada hosted a high-profile peacekeeping summit — similar to next week's meeting in Seoul — in Vancouver in November 2017. There, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised the 200-soldier force along with military helicopters and transport aircraft. 

That followed two years of lofty promises from the Trudeau Liberals that Canada would return to peacekeeping in a big way, after years of declining involvement under previous governments.

Fulfilling a promise

The helicopters eventually were deployed to Mali for a year and the transport planes fly occasional support missions out of Uganda.  But the quick reaction force has yet to materialize. 

Meanwhile, Canada's total contribution to the UN has sunk to historic lows. 

Canada had 57 soldiers and police officers on peacekeeping missions at the end of September, according to the UN. While that was up from the record low of 34 in August 2020, it was still less than half the number deployed when the Liberals took power in 2015.

Officials for Defence Minister Anita Anand — who is expected to represent Canada at the Seoul summit — and Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly did not respond to requests for comment. 

But the Liberal government has indicated that it has given itself until November 2022 — five years from the Vancouver summit — to fulfil all three promises: helicopters, transport aircraft and the quick-reaction force. 

Troops needed: UN

Global Affairs Canada earlier this month acknowledged the importance of UN peacekeeping missions.

"Since this pledge was made, global dynamics as well as UN needs have continued to change and evolve," the department said in a media statement.

"Opportunities for a Canadian contribution of a quick-reaction force have yet to be determined." 

Observers have wondered aloud why it's taking Canada so long to come up with the force, or even register it in the UN's database of peacekeeping pledges — normally the next step countries take after making a commitment. 

The UN has listed quick-reaction forces as one of several "critical" requirements for peacekeeping missions around the world, saying they're needed to protect civilians and facilitate aid delivery. 

Such units have been deployed in recent years to the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, where they have clashed with different armed groups as the UN has sought to provide security and stability. 

In a regular report on its peacekeeping needs, the United Nations said in September that while it needs eight quick-reaction forces, only three had been pledged and registered in its database.

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