Liberals to offer equipment, training for peacekeeping but no mission commitment

UN to get a list of Canadian peacekeeping "capabilities" at upcoming Vancouver ministerial conference, but will not commit to a specific mission, multiple sources tell CBC News.

Ottawa pledged last year to make up to 600 troops and 150 police officers available for UN missions

The Trudeau government said previously it will send up to 600 troops abroad for UN peacekeeping missions. Yet details of the plan suggest the Liberals are to offer a less conventional commitment. (AFP/Getty Images)

Canada is ready to offer the United Nations a list of high-end equipment and troops who could train peacekeepers from other countries for dangerous deployments, CBC News has learned.

The pledge, to be made Wednesday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at an international gathering of defence ministers in Vancouver, does not involve a long-awaited commitment to a specific mission, nor will it see large-scale boots on the ground, said multiple sources.

The Liberal government pledged over a year ago to deliver up to 600 troops and 150 police officers to UN-mandated peace operations.

The goal is still relevant, said one official who spoke the condition anonymity, but it is something the government "is committed to build up to."

The Vancouver proposal will attempt to address critical institutional gaps at the UN, one the world body has repeatedly complained about, including shortcomings in planning, surveillance, the quality of forces going into the field, and also the number of women involved in deployments and conflict resolution.

The sources say the UN will be given an inventory of Canadian military and police "capabilities" — options for them to choose to support ongoing operations.

That would, in effect, involve smaller deployments of higher-skilled Canadian troops on an intermittent basis in the future, the sources said.

It would be a departure from the traditional concept of peacekeeping — involving battalions of infantry soldiers.   

A new kind of peacekeeping

Among other things, Canada also wants to develop better methods to share and co-ordinate commitments between countries, said sources with knowledge of the file.

The sources say the Liberal government's contribution will also highlight the need for institutional reform.

"Peacekeeping is a great thing. Canada invented it. But it is sorely in need of reform," said one senior government official speaking to CBC News on background. "The traditional way of going about things needs to change for new world situations."

The Liberals committed to specific troop numbers in order for Canada to get a seat at the peacekeeping ministerial meeting in London last year.

But it was made without a full analysis the situation at the UN and the state of peacekeeping, said a source who was privy to the discussions at the time.

Canada's proposal will include addressing critical gaps at the UN including increasing the number of women involved in deployments and conflict resolution. (G2P2 Films/​SOC Films)

There are few traditional ceasefire observer missions around the world, the kind most Canadians associate with peacekeeping.

The UN has pitched Canada on a number of specific missions, including the dangerous deployment in Mali and several smaller ventures in the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

All of them have been turned down, much to the frustration of European allies, such as Germany, France and the Netherlands, which have been involved in missions in that region.

Atul Khare, the under-secretary general for the UN Department of Field Support, was more diplomatic in a recent interview.

"I wouldn't say we are frustrated," Khare told CBC's Power & Politics. "I would say we hope that this visit in Vancouver will be an opportunity to elicit from Canada their exact plans for their deployment and to work very closely with them to actually finalize those plans in the shortest possible time."

Equipment on offer

Preliminary discussions on what capabilities Canada could contribute have been taking place at UN headquarters in New York for weeks.

In late October CBC News, quoting sources in New York, reported on some of the exploratory capabilities that could be on offer.

They included a C-130J Hercules transport operating out of the UN's logistics hub in Entebbe, Uganda.

The military aircraft could be used to help transport personnel and equipment between missions in South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and possibly Somalia.

There was a separate proposal to train peacekeepers in specific threats, such as countering roadside bombs and booby traps.

"We always need high-end capabilities, what I call the tactical airlift and even the strategic airlift," said Khare. "My department particularly is in discussions with Canada on this score and I hope an announcement can be made very soon."

Whether those suggestions made the final cut for Wednesday's announcement is unclear.

The Liberal government is also closely examining what sort of innovative technology can be piloted and introduced to UN missions, such as surveillance drones with infrared technology.

It has also examined the usefulness of GPS location devices for peacekeepers, among other things.

The Liberal government is also asking other countries attending the meeting to sign on to an initiative that aims to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers.


Murray Brewster

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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