By Col. (ret’d) Pat Stogran
Dag Hammarskjold, Secretary General to the United Nations from April 1953 until his death in a plane crash in September 1961, once said “Peacekeeping is not a job for soldiers, but only soldiers can do it.” That statement was considered profound back in the day but has long since lost its meaning.
Peacekeeping as it was conceived and practiced during the latter half of the 20th Century were operations conducted by conventional forces under the auspices of the United Nations; however, it was a misnomer. Peacekeeping was invariably conducted in active theatres of war where there was no peace to keep. It was generally agreed that the situation had to be relatively stable and the warring parties, which were normally sovereign states and most often members of the UN General Assembly, had to agree to the deployment of peacekeeping forces. Those conditions were more-or-less universally present in peacekeeping missions although the objectives, methods, and configurations varied wildly. Peacekeeping was but a label for almost any military operation conducted in a conflict area other than war.
If we take the term in its literal sense of “preserving peace”, however, it most certainly is a job for soldiers. More than one intellectual has suggested that readiness for war is a way of preserving the peace. When Canada joined battle in the World Wars it was to re-establish the peace that had already been violated by German aggression. Similarly, we joined the war in Korea in response to an act of aggression by Soviet-backed troops of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea when they invaded the pro-Western Republic of Korea in the south of the Korean Peninsula. Our contribution to United States Operation ENDURING FREEDOM was also a manifestation of that ethos, in that peace was violated on 11 September. Normally as soon as peace was reestablished we would pick up our pieces and go home, except in Afghanistan we were forced out long before there was any sign of a peaceful outcome.
Our deployment to Afghanistan represented the end of the peacekeeping tradition. Under the so-called “Bush Doctrine” the United States left the operation in Afghanistan to languish and turned its attention to invading Iraq and six other countries in the region. The government of Canada adroitly managed to avoid participating with the initial US act of aggression in Iraq but with the operation to rid Libya of the Qaddafi regime we became full-fledged partners of the Imperial powers, at least in the eyes of the indigenous population. The Trudeau government contributed to the combat operations but also promised to roll the clock back and re-establish the perception of Canada as a peace-loving nation, graciously offering up 600 troops to the UN to embark on a peacekeeping mission. The offer was quickly accepted, but not before stirring up the hornets’ nest of pundits and military professionals here at home who were adamant that peacekeeping missions are a thing of the past.
It didn’t take long for the Trudeau government to realize that it may have made a misstep, that any contemporary military intervention would be exceedingly dangerous, nothing like the relatively bloodless offerings of 20th Century. Notwithstanding, they went through the reconnaissance and consultation process but it was taking so long that it became apparent the government was dragging its feet. Then in March 2018 they announced Canada would deploy two Chinook helicopters for airlift and four armed Griffon helicopters for escort operations to the United Nations mission in Mali. It is expected that 200 to 250 personnel could be deployed as air crews, medical crews, support staff and, of course, special forces. With the exception of the latter it amounts to a pretty pedestrian deployment, although the government is quick to point out they include specialist’s skills and aircraft that are key enablers and force multipliers the United Nations is in desperate need of.
The other problem with Secretary General Hammarskjold’s depiction of peacekeeping is that it is no longer a job that only soldiers can do. Civilian police have become key players for contemporary peace operations and, while I have been critical of how conventional forces have continued to fight industrial-style battles while the threat of this digital age has become more of an asymmetric global insurgency,non-government organizations have continued to develop non-violent ways of resolving conflict that are relevant in this new security environment. General Dallaire’s initiative to eradicate the employment of child soldiers is an example of doctrines that developed and practiced by NGOs known as DDR, or Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration.
As the threat has become increasingly non-conventional in a military sense the scope of DDR doctrines has expanded to include protocols to prevent and counter violent extremism (PVE/CVE). In Haiti the U.N. have taken the concept further with a Community Violence Reduction programme. CVR was so successful in that theatre of operations that they have expanded it to five other peacekeeping missions in the Central African Republic (CAR), Mali, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan and Cote d’Ivoire.
On the heels of the announcement of our deployment to Mali and representing the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association at the Standing Committee on National Defence for the 42nd Parliament, retired Brigadier General Gregory Mitchell — one of my warfighter role models as a young officer — stressed the importance of quality leadership at all levels of peace support operations. He recommended Canada develop an international peace support training centre and went on to reflect on the great utility that the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, (PPC) which really resonated with me.
I was seconded briefly as the Vice President of the PPC along with a half dozen military officers just as the Canadian Armed Forces were ramping up operations in Kandahar in 2004/2005. Working in civilian attire alongside civilians dedicated to conflict resolution operations I was impressed with the expertise within the PPC and the influence we enjoyed in the NGO community. PPC played a key role in the research and development of conflict resolution doctrine and provided a vast array of training for military and civilian audiences. Police were also an important client of the Centre because, unlike military forces who maintain a huge capacity to train and develop doctrine for themselves, few police services possess such a luxury. Unfortunately, the Harper government was determined to get rid of the Centre.
I was so taken by the potential that PPC offered as a sort of a multidisciplinary and interagency “staff college” for the whole-of-government operations in Afghanistan and the NGO community, (who are reticent to be seen co-operating with military forces in a mission area), that I approached the then Conservative government to relay my impressions. I marched myself in to meet with then-Minister of Defence Gordon O’Connor, the Chief of Staff to Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter MacKay, Robert Fonberg in his capacity as a deputy secretary to Cabinet (Operations) at the Privy Council Office, David Mulroney who was the Deputy Minister responsible for overseeing inter-departmental coordination of all aspects of Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan, and then-Lieutenant General Walt Natynczyk who was the Vice Chief of Defence Staff at the time. As can be expected my sales pitch fell upon deaf ears, but General Natynczyk’s response was especially disappointing. “Pat,” he said, “I can’t afford to put fuel in the bellies of our CF-18s or send ships to sea, so I can’t support keeping Pearson Peacekeeping Centre.” My aim was to help win a war, not balance a budget.
So, with the lack of innovation that seems to characterize senior management in the CAF National Defence Headquarters sought to satisfy the desire of their political masters to be seen to doing “peacekeeping” without stepping too far from their personal comfort zones. It is ironic that they seemed to trip over themselves to mount combat operations in accordance with the Bush or Weinberger Doctrines (the latter of which I wrote about in a previous article) like their American colleagues, but incapable of designing campaigns that reflect a Canadian ethos, our place and potential as a middle power in the world.
No doubt that our troops going over to Mali will do an outstanding job! It is just too bad they are a fire-and-forget asset dispatched by a system that cares more about managing perceptions than preserving peace. W