Opinion Column - The Hamilton Spectator
After months of wavering, Justin Trudeau's Liberals have finally committed Canadian peacekeepers to a dirty, dangerous mission in Mali.
The wisdom of the government's decision this week has already been challenged by critics who say this is not peacekeeping as Canadians have ever known it because much of this impoverished, West African nation is still torn apart by fighting.
There is no peace to be kept, they point out, fully aware Mali is the United Nation's most dangerous, ongoing mission and that 162 peacekeepers have died there since 2013.
Despite there being some truth in these words of warning, on balance Ottawa made the right call.
The Liberals campaigned in the last election with a pledge to renew Canada's peacekeeping commitments, but did little in their first two years in office, for which they were roundly criticized.
At the start of 2018, there were just 43 Canadian peacekeepers deployed on UN missions — the lowest number since Canada helped initiate those missions 62 years ago.
While defending Canada must be the priority for our military, there is a long and honourable tradition in this country of deploying our Armed Forces in tandem with our allies, not only to promote peace but also to end conflicts that claim innocent, civilian lives.
But is Mali the place for Canada to breathe new life into this tradition?
In theory, the Mali government and two coalitions of armed groups have agreed to a peace process. In reality, peace remains elusive.
Parts of the country are lawless and chaotic due to ongoing fighting that involves not only Islamist jihadists but rival ethnic groups. That instability could spread to neighbouring countries, igniting a regional crisis.
And just as al-Qaida insurgents in Afghanistan played a role in the infamous 911 attacks on the United States, so al-Qaida fighters in Mali could decide to export their violence to Europe or North America.
No wonder the UN sent 12,000 peacekeepers and 1,900 police officers into Mali to lay the groundwork for a lasting peace there. Most of this support comes from poor, African nations.
They should not have to shoulder the burden alone. As one of the world's wealthiest countries, Canada has a role to play.
Canada should not help Mali just so the Liberals can say they kept a promise — though it's welcome to see them doing this.
Instead, Canada should send troops to Mali to help that tormented nation, stabilize a shaky region and, quite possibly, protect our own continent from terrorists.
The plan is to deploy two Chinook transport helicopters and four Griffon attack helicopters to provide armed escort and protection in the fight against the Islamist militants in Mali. An infantry unit and military trainers will also go along.
This is a relatively modest yet significant, 12-month commitment that can be reviewed next year.
Our forces will be in danger, but less so because most of their work will be done in the air, not on the ground.
Of course Canadians should not blindly underestimate the risks. But we should not shirk a job that should be done, eyes-open.