Friday, November 4, 2016

Start in Senegal for new "peace and stabilization" operation

Globe and Mail Editorial 

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan continues to be very discreet about his plans to give content to Justin Trudeau’s 2015 election pledge to revive Canada peacekeeping – or rather, in contemporary terms, to “peace and stabilization operations.” The straightforward Pearsonian era of supervising an agreed-upon ceasefire lines is long past.

On a trip this week, Mr. Sajjan is going to Mali and Senegal. The federal government has already been considering Mali, the Central African Republic and the not so very Democratic Republic of the Congo. The government insists that any visit to a particular country does not signify an intention to undertake a military mission there.

But if a military mission in Africa there must be, Senegal may be a good way to start. Though hardly a utopia, it is much more stable than any other country that has hitherto been mentioned in this context. The prevalence of peaceable Sufism there does not provide much ripe ground for radical jihadism.

Nonetheless, there have been incursions into Senegal by Islamic extremists from time to time, unsuccessful so far, from neighbouring Mauritanian and Malian militias. (A Christian and animist uprising in Senegal ended with a unilateral ceasefire in 2014.)

Hypothetically, in any case, it’s worth looking at what a Canadian military contingent of 600 troops and 150 military police in Senegal (the number that Canada is thinking of) or some other African country might find itself dealing with.

On its face, a Canadian the new peacekeeping or “peace security operations” contribution in Senegal might be more like an allied presence, to share in the continuing defence of Senegal – perhaps a little like the Canadian forces in Germany in NATO before the end of the Cold War.

A counterinsurgency in a chaotic, arid country such as Mali or Mauritania would be outside the experience of most members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Mr. Sajjan has prudently said, “We need to go into this eyes wide open. So based on that, I have not set a deadline,” specifically, not the end of 2016, “as I want to make sure that we do all the necessary work, so that we can have [a] meaningful impact.”

Such a moderate initial objective may be a good start.

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