Why hasn’t Canada kept its UN peacekeeping promises?

Walter Dorn, Canada’s leading expert on UN peacekeeping recently examined Canada’s much-vaunted return to UN-led “blue helmet” operations:

…as the Trudeau government nears the end of its term, it is fair to ask if it has kept its previous election promises to re-engage in UN peacekeeping.

Pledges included increased military and police personnel and specialized military capabilities, including a “Quick Reaction Force,” as well as a “leadership role” in UN peacekeeping training.

But the reality proved far more modest:

The government has deployed only one military unit and only for a short-term: a highly capable task force in Mali…. the promised peacekeeping training program has not been launched in four years…[nor has] the Quick Reaction Force.

Meanwhile, the only new equipment to be put at the UN’s disposal is a recently-announced C-130 transport service on loan to the UN for five days per month.

Given this extraordinary gap between what Canadians – and the UN – were promised, and what was actually delivered, Dorn is right to query:

It is only fair to ask: what or who was responsible for this broken promise?

He identifies the following contributing factors:

  • A “cautious,” “plodding” approach by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan
  • A lackluster commitment from the Chief of Defence Staff, General John Vance
  • A lack of leadership from the “lead” minister for UN peace operations – Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland; and
  • An even bigger failure of leadership from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself.

Dorn concludes:

So who undermined Trudeau’s peacekeeping promise? Well, it was Trudeau himself. He failed to get important proposals passed by his cabinet. He did not pressure his ministers on the issue. So Canada’s peacekeeping reputation suffered and the world learned that reality lagged far behind rhetoric on the Trudeau government’s support for UN peacekeeping.

We at the Rideau Institute are perhaps inclined to lay more of the blame at the door of Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland. A UN integrated peace operation under civilian leadership is one of the few areas of international affairs where Canada can shine, without fear of blow-back or censure from the petty and unpredictable American President. Yet Canada’s Foreign Minister did not even bother to publicize Canadian financial support for the Mali peace process or other UN peacebuilding activities, let alone make the case in Cabinet for a level of Canadian engagement commensurate with Liberal promises and our now too-long-past tradition of leadership in UN peacekeeping.

For the full article, see: What happened to Trudeau’s peacekeeping promise? (Walter Dorn, thestar.com, 21 Aug 2019).

Related peacekeeping materials:

But this is not the end of the story. To regain credibility at home and abroad, the Liberals must convince Canadians they will do much better, if given the privilege of a second term. And the NDP and Greens must also step up, with full details of their respective UN peacekeeping re-engagement plans.


For the latest Ceasefire.ca* blog, click: Can a rules-based international order survive without nuclear arms controls? (23 Aug 2019).


Photo credit: (Canadian Forces)



*Ceasefire.ca is a project of the Rideau Institute.


    For an excellent article by Globe and Mail columnist Elizabeth Renzetti, see: We can’t be bystanders to a new nuclear arms race. http://ow.ly/wSBC50vLz8K

    - Comment by Rideau Institute on August 27, 2019 at 2:55 pm

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