By Stewart Webb
The Trudeau government affirmed that Canada will once again engage in United Nations peacekeeping operations. For years, Canada’s commitment to UN peacekeeping missions has waned. Our country has slid to the global rank position of 63rd. It is not known where Canadian troops will be deployed, but an African deployment is likely. The political and security situations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mali, South Sudan, or the Central African Republic, each provide unique challenges for a possible deployment. The harsh reality is that peacekeeping missions have changed and we must be prepared for the challenges ahead.
The fact of the matter is that peacekeeping missions have moved away from traditional, neutral peacekeeping; they are now more about peace enforcement. Peacekeepers are now engaged with insurgents, terrorists and criminal elements and not ethnic groups that want some form of self-determination. This trend was already becoming apparent in Somalia, Rwanda and Yugoslavia in the 1990s. But since the advent of 9/11 and the spread of militant groups across the globe, this is the new reality.
Now, the UN combats rebel groups with mineral interests in the DRC and Islamic insurgents that were aligned with an ethnic Tuareg uprising in Mali. French peacekeepers are leaving the Central African Republic and declaring their mission a success even as new violence erupts in the region.
Deploying a Canadian peacekeeping contingent has been seen as an attempt to regain national pride in something that our nation was once emblematic of. These are troubled times and UN peacekeeping missions are becoming more robust and are more about peace enforcement than peacekeeping. The UN has deployed surveillance drones in the mission in the DRC and peacekeeping missions are now putting a greater emphasis on integrating intelligence assets. Our re-engagement with UN peacekeeping should not be about looking back upon our past, but looking towards the future.
This will require leadership and determination. UN peacekeeping missions have changed since the 1990s and they will probably change again by 2030. If the Trudeau government wants to truly make its mark in the history books and reclaim a past notion of leadership in peacekeeping, Canada must provide the decisive leadership for innovation and advancement.
There are two ways that Canada can improve upon UN peacekeeping missions. One avenue was proposed by Dr. Walter Dorn, of the Canadian Forces College, and was recently published by the International Peace Institute in a report entitled Smart Peacekeeping: Toward Tech-enabled UN Operations. The premise of Dorn’s report is that, aside from troop-contributing nations, there should be tech-contributing nations. Tech-contributing nations will provide equipment, and the training, for UN peacekeepers.
It has been well-documented that troops from some developing nations are sent on missions with little to no kit. Moreover, troops from developing nations are not as well-equipped as Western troops and the UN has created a minimum standard of kit so it would be inclusive for all nations. This minimum standard does not include items such as night-vision googles and so, as a consequence, there has been a ban on night missions. Other items that can help bolster UN operations are items as simple as bullet-proof accommodations and GPS trackers for UN vehicles.
The other possible improvement for UN peacekeeping missions is to bring in the concept of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) model. This has been controversial as this has been described as the ‘militarization of aid’. However, there are some things to consider. Firstly, many of these insurgent groups are assisting in local development. Al-Shabaab in Somalia created an agricultural development program that greatly assisted local farmers. A UN PRT could make an immense impact. Before the last revolt in Mali, the average poverty rate in the Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal regions ranged from 77 to 92 per cent.
Although PRTs were once described as the militarization of aid, some of these areas are just too dangerous for aid workers. In South Sudan, peacekeepers ignored the rape and assault of aid workers in the country. The adoption of a UN PRT model would allow aid workers to operate more freely in the country. It would also allow more positive interaction between the indigenous population and UN peacekeepers. The interaction with aid organizations and the local population will foster trust and, in turn, hopefully, generate useful, operational intelligence.
PRTs involved a level of Civil-Military Co-Operation (CIMIC) and that level and overall approach can vary depending on the model. There are four generic PRT models: American, German, British(-Nordic) and Turkish. These four generic models can be then divided into many sub categories that vary depending on which nation implemented the model in Afghanistan. A PRT model can be adapted to suit the requirements of a UN peacekeeping mission. Moreover, a UN PRT model in Mali may not work for South Sudan or Somalia and therefore a PRT model will need to be drafted to meet the requirements of each individual theatre.
The Trudeau government is weighing its options and conducting fact-finding missions to pinpoint the one mission that has the least of political consequences. The last thing the Trudeau government and the Canadian Armed Forces need is another Somalia incident. Since our withdrawal, UN peacekeeping missions have been blighted with accusations of rape and the solicitation of sexual relations with prostitutes and even trading weapons for gold.
Canada’s re-engagement with peacekeeping will offer its own unique challenges. Peacekeepers are regularly fired upon and that alone will create a political fervor in Canada. Our re-engagement will take political fortitude, but if the Trudeau government really desires for Canada to take international leadership, we must drive the evolution of UN peacekeeping missions.