Peacekeeping replaces pipelines in Canada - U.S. dialogue

When Barack Obama sits down for a private meeting with Justin Trudeau after today's Three Amigos Summit, international peacekeeping, and how Canada can help the U.S. co-ordinate international missions, is expected to be on the agenda.

President Barack Obama addresses Parliament today as U.S. officials talk up 'peacekeeping'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama will meet behind closed doors later today. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Canada quietly left the door open Wednesday to participating in a United Nations cease fire observer mission, should the Colombian government make a request.

Background documents, released as part of the North American Leaders' Summit in Ottawa, praised efforts by the country's president, Juan Manuel Santos, to secure a final peace deal with Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), left-wing rebels who've fought running battles with the South American government for five decades.

The three leaders said they strongly support the recent establishment of the UN Special Political Mission, which will deploy to monitor and verify the final cease fire.

"Mexico has recently announced that it will send observers for the UN Mission following the signature of a final peace agreement," said the documents, which flesh out the myriad promises and proposals made by the leaders. 

"Canada will support initiatives directly responsive to the government of Colombia's priorities for peace implementation."

U.S. officials — even before the summit — were openly uttering what some in Canadian military circles call the "p-word."

Washington wanted support "co-ordinating peacekeeping around the world," Mark Feierstein, a senior director at the U.S. National Security Council, said Tuesday.

Options for peacekeeping

It wasn't that long ago that American officials, during the Bush Administration's war in Iraq, referred to peacekeeping with disdain.

But the diplomatic language in the statement Wednesday shows the conversation between Ottawa and Washington, which has been focused on oil pipelines for years, had shifted to how both nations can meet the challenges of an increasingly turbulent world.

Federal sources told CBC News that defence planners have been examining various options for a peacekeeping mission in Colombia since the UN approved a request for an unarmed force last January.

Prior to the summit, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office released a statement that said Canada will use its expertise to help Mexico establish itself as a reputable peacekeeping nation.

Mexican efforts to establish its own peacekeeping training centre and to participate in UN operations were welcomed.

"Canada is prepared to further its support to Mexico in the development of a peacekeeping training institution by facilitating access to expertise from the Canadian Armed Forces training schools," the statement read. 

Utilizing Canada's expertise and reputation in peacekeeping was expected to be one of the subjects up for discussion between Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday. The pair were to meet at the conclusion of the Three Amigos Summit and before the U.S. president's historic address to Parliament​​.

Awaiting a decision

The apparent U.S. interest in embracing peacekeeping may be music to the ears of the Liberal government, which campaigned on returning the Canada military to that kind of role.

Although Trudeau has talked up the notion, there's been little concrete indication where Canadian peacekeeping troops, equipment and know-how might be headed.

Will Canada show up in Latvia or not?- Steve Saideman, Carleton University professor

Holding a slot open for a possible peacekeeping operation was one of the suggested reasons Canada did not automatically sign on to a NATO deterrence mission in eastern Europe and the Baltic states.

The clock is ticking towards the NATO leaders summit in Warsaw and Canada has privately signalled interest, but wrestling a firm public commitment out of Canada is likely going to be high on the American agenda, said two international relations experts.

"Will Canada show up in Latvia or not?" asked Steve Saideman, an international affairs professor at Carleton University. "In terms of a bilateral relationship, it's on the top of the list right now."

The U.S., Britain and Germany have already said they'll contribute to the highly mobile brigade of roughly 4,000 soldiers destined for eastern Europe and meant as a show of force against Russian expansionism.

U.S. Troops parachute during a NATO-led exercise with Canadian and Polish soldiers in Bledowska Desert in Chechlo, near Olkusz, south Poland in 2014. NATO is asking Canada to post more troops to the region. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

The domestic debate about whether the Canadian air force gets the F-35 or the Super Hornet, likely won't make it on to the radar, Saideman added.

Britain's break with the EU ups the stakes for NATO leaders, said Srdjan Vucetic, an associate professor of international relations at the University of Ottawa.

"NATO is looking for help to deter more of Putin's revisionism in Eastern Europe and to demonstrate post-Brexit unity," he said Tuesday.

"For Canada, the Baltic mission is relatively low-risk and it has several benefits: it builds on historical and current practices; it is likely to be popular with most Canadians, certainly relative to the sending troops to Asia or Africa; and it would give Canada clout in Brussels and Washington."

Building pipelines between Canada and the U.S. used to dominate political talks between Washington and Ottawa but U.S. officials say that conversation is all but dead. (Alex Panetta/Canadian Press)

Pipeline questions — once a dominant topic of bilateral discussions under Stephen Harper's Conservatives — are all but a dead issue, according to a senior White House adviser, who seemed content to bury it under the great green initiatives and goals being rolled out today.

"I think that the partnership is explicitly focused on trying to support our country's efforts to be more ambitious with respect to climate and clean energy and the environment," Brian Deese told reporters on Tuesday. "And there will be a discussion about infrastructure for sure. The focus there is on making sure that we have harmonizing integrated infrastructure to encourage clean energy."

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