Committee Testimonies

Opening Statement: Examination of Peace Operations

by Colin Robertson

Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence
June 20, 2016

Dag Hammarskjöld, the second United Nations secretary general, once ruefully declared that the UN “was created not to lead mankind to heaven, but in order to save humanity from hell.”

Hammarskjold’s observation holds true today. It has particular relevance for this committee in its consideration of how Canada can best respond to Secretary General Ban-Kai Moon’s request for more help with peace operations.

For all its faults the UN is still our best vehicle for supplying peacekeepers to separate warring factions, in providing food, aid and development and in saving endangered women, children and minorities.

But the UN peace operations need our help.

Transparency International and Human Rights Watch have assessed the militaries of the 30 countries – almost all developing nations - that provide the most soldiers and police officers to United Nations peacekeeping operations. They observe these militaries are also are among those most susceptible to corruption, guilty of abuse and crimes against those they are sent to protect.

In short, they need better training, both in preparing for operations and then in the field.

Canada can help, drawing on our acknowledged expertise in successful pluralism and good governance

As a people we celebrate diversity and our many cultures. We define progressive pluralism – the ability of people of different origins to get along together.

Our constitutional commitment to “peace, order and good government” means that for us governance is a continuous work-in-progress and we are good at it.

During its two decades of operation the Pearson Peacekeeping Center trained more than 18,000 coming from the military, police and civilian communities of more than 150 countries. These graduates went on to contribute to global peace and security operations and they brought this knowledge and experience back home.

Some of the Pearson Center’s work was picked up by the US-based Peace Operations Training Institute. With an international advisory staff, it now provides accessible and affordable self-paced, online, on-demand courses on peace support, humanitarian relief, and security operations.

But the Secretary General argues there is a need for more.

There is a seller’s market for peacekeepers given increasing situations involved failed or failing states. Many less developed countries are effectively renting their soldiers as peacekeepers. Today’s average peacekeeper – there are roughly 120 thousand of them - comes from a country that is not just poorer but also less democratic and institutionally underdeveloped.

The training, combat experience and relatively high salaries these peacekeepers receive equip them to affect politics when they return home. Their training is important not just for the immediate mission but for the longer term. In teaching them about peace operations we are also developing and reinforcing habits around good governance that will make a difference when they return home. Colonels and genrals often become prime ministers and presidents in later life.

I ask that this committee include in its recommendations the reestablishment of a Canadian Peace Operations Training capacity that draws on Canadian expertise.

We should aim to have equal representation of men and women – our bilingualism is a real asset - in our trainers. Thanks to our enlightened immigration policies we have significant languages capacity in our Armed Forces that we can mobilize. Our trainers should also reflect Canadian cultural diversity, including those from the LGBT community.

Our training approach would be different than before and likely involve setting up regional centers in other continents. It would draw on the best of what we achieved through the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre but with equal emphasis on both immediate stabilization of the situation and sustainability for the longer-term.

In teaching the profession of arms in asymmetric warfare conditions– increasingly the essence of contemporary peacekeeping - we would draw on our Afghan experience.

We are well placed to develop a UN standard – the ISO 14000 equivalent. Called it “UN Blue Helmets – Certified to Protect”.

As an incentive we could make UN allowances conditional to a set of performance measures.

We would draw on other agencies of government – our diplomats, police, intelligence, lawyers, doctors and nurses. There is considerable practical experience of our civil society – for example, Medecin sans frontieres, OXFAM and the Parliamentary Center - drawing on their experience in disaster relief, longer-term humanitarian relief and good governance.

If we have learned one lesson from traditional peacekeeping it is that while our blue berets are essential to stabilization of a situation, long term peace depends as much on those with experience in policing, diplomacy, development, and the re-establishment of law and order.

Having spent my professional career, much of it abroad, as a foreign service officer I know that we are the most blessed of nations. Canada has talent and experience. To those whom much is given much is expected.

There are many other things we can also do – provide lift support, logistics, command – but I believe our most useful role would be as trainers for those engaged in peace operations.

Inscribed on our Peacekeeping Monument, not far from Parliament Hill, are these words : “We need action not only to end the fighting but to make the peace... My own government would be glad to recommend Canadian participation in such a United Nations force, a truly international peace and police force." What Lester Pearson said then is still what Canadians expect of their government.

Colin Robertson is the Vice-President and a Fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.


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