Canadian troops deployed in UN peacekeeping missions, as of Feb. 28, 2018: 0.
Canadian police deployed in UN peacekeeping missions as of Feb. 28, 2018: 19.
|Helicopters piloted by German soldiers take off from Gao airport in Mali last year. When the Canadians are deployed later this year, they will be replacing the Belgians, who are currently in the process of replacing the Germans. (SOULEMAIN AG ANARA / AFP/GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO)|
In all, 22 actual soldiers — excluding some staff positions — are participating in four of the 16 international peacekeeping operations around the world sanctioned by the UN Security Council, according to National Defence figures. Lowest number ever.
Out of 90,000 — 77,456 troops — deployed under the UN flag by 123 nations.
Which is surely an indictment for a country that likes to think it invented the whole blue helmet thing and still rhapsodizes/romanticizes over the concept.
Operationally, we are frauds.
Just as a by-comparison, for instance: Bangladesh has 6,342 troops in UN peacekeeping missions. Ethiopia has 8,121. Nepal has 4,672. (As per most recent UN statistics).
Of course Canada played a key role — sacrificing blood and treasure — in NATO-led operations in Afghanistan. Canadian CF-18s conducted airstrikes in the military intervention that brought down the Gaddafi regime in Libya in 2011, with a Canadian general in top command of that NATO undertaking. It was a spectacular success — until NATO wiped its hands of Libya, leaving a frail democratic movement to be overwhelmed by all the warring militias and terrorist groups on the ground. In a sideways development, tons of weapons from what is now a failed state were dispersed across Africa, fuelling conflicts in Syria, Somalia and Mali.
Some of those arms, now in the hands of Malian insurrectionists, could very well eventually be trained on the Canadian helicopter contingent — two Chinook choppers to provide medical evacuations and logistical support (unclarified in the details) and four smaller, lightly armoured Griffons to act as armed escorts for larger transports — that Ottawa this week announced will be sent to Mali by the end of the summer. For one year.
Fulfilling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s long, lazy, laggard commitment to step up Canada’s peacekeeping pledges to the UN.
While Mali is the worst of hellholes for UN peacekeeping missions — 162 peacekeeping fatalities since the mission began in 2013 — only four resulted from helicopter incidents and all of those were the result of mechanical failures, as Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance told Global News in an interview a few days ago. Though I still don’t much like the idea of lightly armoured aircraft for the purpose in a war zone.
If nothing else — and a deployment of some 250 Canadians for the Mali endeavour, which is pitifully meagre — the commitment makes good on a Trudeau electoral vow after three years of dithering and dawdling and, even before that, as Opposition leader, disrespecting Canadian pilots (advocating humanitarian aid to Iraq rather than joining the military coalition against Daesh, “trying to whip out our CF-18s to show how big they are.”)
And nowhere near the later promise to deliver 600 troops and 150 police officers to UN operations.
Still and all, Mali wins the lottery. Canadian troops will, in about six months, replace the Belgians, who are currently in the process of replacing the Germans.
Also, this being Trudeau, the deployment comes wrapped in gender parity tinsel, because that is Trudeau’s obsession.
So off to war-ravaged Mali we shall go, where a peace agreement signed in 2015 hasn’t been worth the paper it was written on.
Listen, I’m all for peacekeeping, when there’s any peace to keep. I’m much more for peacemaking and boots on the ground when absolutely necessary. I know Canadian Forces personnel are well-trained and eager to deploy somewhere — and that they don’t require being swathed in no-risk gauze. That’s what Ottawa would deeply prefer, of course — noncombat no risk and no blowback should a Canadian be killed.
(A bit rich, however, for the Conservatives to be leading that war-leery charge now, a change-lobsters-and-dance position from the Afghanistan years.)
Not to Syria, then. Because, oh no, Ottawa doesn’t want any part of that endless atrocity. Not for a combat capacity contribution to Northern Iraq, where a U.S.-led coalition of the more-willing has seized back most of the territory which had fallen under the control of Islamic State (also known as ISIS and Daesh). And not to Burma, where a genocide against the Muslim-minority Rohingya continues to unfold before our uncaring eyes.
There are compelling reasons to intervene — to contribute to a military intervention — in combustible flashpoints across our war-exhausted planet:
Urgency. Except civilians dying by the tens of thousands in Syria is apparently not catastrophic enough for Canada, and in any event Russia’s veto at the Security Council would block a sturdy response under the UN aegis. President Barack Obama’s “line in the sand” — gas attacks — was just a rhetorical figment.
Reasonable expectation of making a difference. As Canadian troops clearly did in Afghanistan, until they were withdrawn and the Taliban tide erased just about every security and governance footprint.
Keeping the fighting sides apart by putting some armed muscle into ceasefire agreements. Not happening in Mali.
Places where Canada could make a difference, could be on the side of the angels. Because the Canadian public apparently insists on this — on clear-cut virtue.
Maybe that will be Mali as Canada returns to Africa, a continent where this country’s peacekeeping bona fides went to just about die: the 1993 shooting of an unarmed Somali drawn into an ambush to prevent looting and, two weeks later, beating to death a Somali teenager who snuck into their compound. Followed by denials and coverup conspiracies and, finally — there really was no choice, it was rotten to the core — disbandment of the Canadian Airborne Regiment.
There is always the potential for unforeseen consequences, in a strange land, and Mali is among the strangest of lands of all, torn apart by civil war between north and south, overrun with child soldiers and Islamic terrorism, reeling from severe food shortages.
Great big HOWEVER: Mali is a madhouse. And the United Nations MINUSMA (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) has mismanaged the operation from the get-go, originally sending 10,000 soldiers in response to a terrorist takeover by independence fighters from the north, turned back from reaching the captial only by the earlier intervention of rapid response French troops in their former colony.
The UN troops were unprepared to engage in counterterrorism, which fundamentally the mission has become. In fact, they were explicitly ordered not to engage, until the rules of engagement were changed.
Writing in the New York Times two years ago, outgoing UN assistant secretary general Anthony Banbury called the Mali mission a blunder, with 80 per cent of the deployment’s resources going to logistics and self-protection. “The UN in Mali is day by day marching into its first quagmire.”
We’ll lock-step with them.
Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno