Opening Statement: How the CF can contribute to renewing Canada’s commitment to United Nations Peace Support Operations

feat. Elinor Sloan

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

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Senate Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence on the important topic of “How the CF can contribute to renewing Canada’s commitment to United Nations Peace Support Operations.”

I’ll start with some facts and figures to put the question into context.

During forty years of the Cold War (1948 to 1989) the United Nations launched 18 missions, a mix of peacekeeping and observer missions—the distinction being whether or not the force involved armed military units or unarmed personnel. Canada participated in almost all these missions. Our military contributions varied widely, from a few aircraft with crews or unarmed military personnel, to a few hundred troops, often with a large Signals component, to a battalion or battalion group sized force.

In the first five years of the post-Cold War period (1991 to early 1996) the UN launched 23 missions. With such an explosion of missions in so short a time it was not possible for Canada to contribute to all or even most of them. But our largest ever peacekeeping deployment was during that time, in Bosnia and Croatia (about 1600 troops). Concurrently, we also had a battalion sized force in Somalia and later significant combat support elements in Rwanda and a small force in Cambodia, for a total of about 4500 troops deployed abroad. In the last 20 years the UN launched 28 new missions, many of them very large ones in Africa, and Canada has had little or no involvement.

The year 1996 is important to our timeline because that’s when NATO reluctantly entered the peace support operations business. In the dangerous circumstances of the Balkans the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) was required to go well beyond the traditional peacekeeping principle of use of force in self defence, yet the force was not properly equipped or sized to do so. In 1995 the UN Secretary General stated outright, “neither the Security Council nor the Secretary-General at present has the capacity to deploy, direct, command and control operations” of this nature. Canada’s commitment shifted from the largely unsuccessful UNPROFOR, which ended, to NATO-led peace support operations in Bosnia and later Kosovo.

Canada’s large commitment to the Balkans ended in the early 2000s as we began operations in Afghanistan, where we committed forces on an almost uninterrupted basis from 2002 to 2014. A major component of Canada’s contribution was to security sector reform, building and training the Afghan National Army under a NATO-led mission. “Security sector reform” means a process of building or rebuilding a state’s security sector, including military and police forces, and is an important part of peace support efforts. In 2015 Canada deployed 200 troops to Western Ukraine to train Ukrainian forces under a NATO-led mission, and it now has 800 troops training and helping build the capacity of Iraqi forces as part of a US-led coalition.

I highlight this background to illustrate that while Canada has not been heavily involved in UN-led peace support operations for about 20 years, it has been consistently involved in peace support missions.
With this background in mind, let me make a number of points about how and where Canada could contribute to UN peace support operations:

  1. Canada should prioritize participation in UN missions that are most directly linked to our security interests and those of our key allies, meaning NATO and five eyes. Today, this involves limiting the spread of ISIS and stemming the flow of migrants and refugees to Europe. ISIS threatens stability in Libya and also in Mali. If a stabilization mission were to be launched in Libya, Canada could look at playing a key role. Alternatively, it could look at contributing to the UN mission in Mali, MINUSMA, which is seeking to stabilize the northern part of the country so that Islamists cannot establish power.

  2. Canada will want to focus on missions where at least one or more of our traditional NATO allies are operating. This is due to the dangerous nature of the post-Cold War era’s intrastate peacekeeping missions. Mali, again, comes to mind because the Netherlands operates a sizable contingent and Germany has just deployed troops to MINUSMA in the north and to the EU training mission in the south.

  3. Canada can make its greatest contribution to UN peace operations through the provision of critical enablers like signals, logistics, intelligence, engineering and air transport. These are high end capabilities that can assist today’s largest troop contributors like Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India and Pakistan. During the Cold War it was these sorts of things—especially signals and aircraft—that we most often contributed. On only three occasions did we deploy a combat arms regiment or battalion group, i.e., combat arms combined with the critical enablers just mentioned.

  4. Peacekeepers need to be equipped and trained for war-like circumstances. Peace support operations are distinguished from warfighting on the basis of political intent (impartial intervention to stop the killing versus defeat an enemy), not on intensity of the operation. An indication of how close peace support can come to outright war was implicit in the UN Under-Secretary General’s testimony here 3 weeks ago when he asked if Canada could provide attack helicopters for UN operations. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are also a feature of today’s most dangerous peace missions. Helicopters for troop transport and unmanned aerial vehicles for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance are absolutely critical and no force should be deployed without them. If there are direct fire and/or IED threats, patrolling will require reinforced armored vehicles, protective body armour, and lethal firepower.

  5. Canada should focus on security sector reform. When it comes to the stabilization of countries, security sector reform is vital and takes many years to accomplish. On the military side this involves a long term effort to train an indigenous military force to a level approaching the capability and professional standards (including rule of law) to which we are accustomed. Security sector reform is a big part of the answer to the question posed by Minister Sajjan before this committee three weeks ago on how to “turn off recruitment.” Notably, however, it is not only or even primarily the UN that is engaged in security sector reform. NATO’s Operation Resolve in Afghanistan involves security sector reform, as does the EU mission in the south of Mali. The current non-UN Canadian missions in Ukraine and Iraq are essentially ones of security sector reform. They are important and should be maintained.

  6. It is important not to assess our contribution to the UN solely in terms of numbers of soldiers. Although I know “quantity has a quality all to itself” I read with dismay commentary about where countries “rank” in UN peacekeeping based on numbers. For example, with only 80 troops committed to UN operations today the United States ranks number 76 out of UN peacekeeping contributors. Yet under its global peace operations initiative, the US has trained more than 75,000 peacekeepers to build regional capacity for peacekeeping operations. If tomorrow Canada were to deploy a UN force as large as were our biggest missions of the Cold War and early 1990s (Egypt, Egypt, Cyprus, Bosnia, Somalia) we would still only “rank” between number 20 and 27 in the list of peacekeeping contributors. The most important measure of any contribution to UN peace support efforts is the effectiveness of the deployed force. The force needs to be cohesive and nationally self-sufficient.

  7. Canada could consider going back to Cyprus. UN-brokered peace talks are underway on creating a unified federal Cyprus, which has been divided been Greek and Turkish sides since 1974. It is thought these talks could be successful by the end of this year. Canada could play a major role in the implementation of any peace plan. Cypriot peace is in Canada’s interests because Greece and Turkey are members of NATO.

  8. With regards to the Peacekeeping Capability Readiness System launched last fall a valuable contribution on the part of Canada might be to make one of our C-17s available for UN-led peacekeeping missions.

  9. Finally, Minister Sajjan talked about broader capacity building that would include civil bureaucracy and good governance. He asked, how does the military fit into this? I do not have a well formed answer to this question but I just want to highlight or remind people that a CF-led Strategic Advisory Team operated in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2008 with the specific goal of constructing viable governance institutions in that war torn country. This committee may want to engage those who were involved in the SAT effort.

Honorable Senators, those are just a few ideas on how Canada can renew its commitment to UN peace support operations. I look forward to your comments and questions.

Elinor Sloan is a Fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

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