Canada to push for new peacekeeping pledges, but yet to fulfil its own

Canada intends to push other countries at an upcoming peacekeeping meeting to pledge more troops and commitments to international operations — despite the Liberal government's continued reticence about where it will deploy its own promised peacekeepers.

Observer says Canada's peacekeeping attitude will rub other nations the wrong way without troop commitment

A UN peacekeeping soldier provides security during a food aid delivery in a village in Central African Republic, in April. Canada intends to push other countries to pledge more troops to international operations when it hosts a peacekeeping meeting in November. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

Canada intends to encourage countries at a November peacekeeping summit to follow its example and rise to a "new level" of ambition in the commitment of troops and equipment to the world's trouble spots, federal documents show.

The intention is contained in the Liberal government's "objectives and themes" for the gathering of defence ministers, scheduled to take place in Vancouver Nov. 14-15, released to CBC under access to information laws.

The document sketches out an ambitious conference plan that, on the surface, tackles many of the long-standing concerns of both the United Nations and the countries that contribute troops to missions.

However, the idea Canada would hold itself up as a model when it has yet to fulfil its own often-hyped pledge of 600 troops and 150 police officers was greeted with dismay by a leading expert on the subject and among those in the diplomatic community who've been lobbying for greater Canadian support.

Securing pledges

"Securing new pledges for UN peacekeeping operations has been a core theme at high-level UN peacekeeping conferences," says the confidential, Canadian Eyes Only strategy, prepared for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan last winter. 

"The 2017 ministerial would be an opportunity to take stock of the implementation and impact of existing pledges, including how many have registered and moved up through the UN Peacekeeping Capability Readiness System (PCRS) which ensures that pledges progress and become deployable."

This is about listening to other nations.- Harjit Sajjan, defence minister

Encouraging other countries to register in the readiness system and ultimately getting the UN the troops it needs are seen as desired and "potential outcomes" of the conference.

At last year's gathering in London, Sajjan made a splash by announcing "a new level of Canadian ambition," when he outlined the federal government's proposed troop contribution without attaching them to any specific mission.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has not yet said where Canada will send up to 600 troops it has committed to peacekeeping operations. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

The upcoming conference "would be the moment for countries wishing to make similar announcements and pledges this year to do the same," says the strategy, dated Jan. 16, 2017. 

As part of the agenda, Canada also wants a discussion on better methods to share and co-ordinate international commitments for so-called "enablers" such as helicopters and medical support teams, which have been in short supply on UN missions.

The Liberal government is eager to see targets intended to encourage the greater involvement by women in peacekeeping are met and that last year's commitment of nations was not a "one-off."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will speak to the UN General Assembly on Thursday, but peacekeeping is not expected to figure prominently in his remarks.

We're not leading by example.- Walter Dorn, Royal Military College of Canada

Both he and Sajjan have steadfastly refused to say whether there will be a decision before the conference.

Sajjan has repeatedly defended the absence of a selection on where Canadian troops might go and said Wednesday Canada doesn't intend to dominate the conversations in Vancouver. 

"This is about listening to other nations," Sajjan said following the weekly Liberal caucus meeting.

"Canada wants to bring an innovative approach and how we can best contribute because we don't want come and look at it and say hey, we're just back and here, listen to us, this is what we're going to do or just be able to send — announce a mission just for the sake of getting a check mark."

Charges of hypocrisy

Even still, one of the country's foremost experts on peacekeeping, said Canada's do as I say, not as I do approach will rub some nations the wrong way. 

"The hypocrisy to all this is that we haven't implemented our London pledge, and yet we're pushing for pledges and a review of the implementation of pledges," said Walter Dorn, a professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College of Canada.

"We're not leading by example."

Documents obtained and published by CBC News last summer show the UN routinely presents Canada with a long list of peacekeeping duty requests, including dangerous, frontline missions in Mali and the volatile Central African Republic.

Separately, France and the European Union have asked for Canada's help in the same region.

The requests have been turned down, or remain "under consideration."

Walter Dorn, chair of international affairs studies at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto, says Canada is not leading by example. (Mike Blanchfield/Canadian Press)

The UN's peacekeeping branch held open marquee command positions and repeatedly asked last year for the deployment of helicopters to support operations in Mali.

The fact Canada wants to talk about better methods of sharing aviation duties strikes Dorn as sensible but also disingenuous.

"On all of those points, Canada has been dithering," he said.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.


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