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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves Centre Block following a weekend meeting of the national caucus on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Saturday, March 25, 2017. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves Centre Block following a weekend meeting of the national caucus on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Saturday, March 25, 2017. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Globe editorial

Globe editorial: Justin Trudeau wisely backs away from Mali peacekeeping mission Add to ...

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, once so keen to get Canada back into the peacekeeping game at any cost, suddenly isn’t sure that that’s such a good idea. We are with him on that.

In the 2015 election campaign, Mr. Trudeau vowed to revive Canadian peacekeeping missions that had been cut back under the Harper government. The demand for it was certainly there: The United Nations, and particularly allies such as France, are eager to have Canadian troops take part in operations in Mali, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

But at a Liberal caucus meeting last Saturday, when reporters asked Mr. Trudeau whether there would be any Canadian troops in Africa in 2017, he said, “I wouldn’t draw that conclusion.”

He rightly pointed out that Canada has had “a difficult history in Africa as peacekeepers.” There can be little doubt that he was delicately alluding to Canada’s painful experiences in Somalia and Rwanda in the 1990s.

Even more cautiously, he remarked, “We’re not going to fast-track” this decision. And again, “We’re making” the decision “responsibly and thoughtfully.”

Indeed, the government would do well to “slow-track” its peacekeeping ambitions. Peacekeeping is no longer the simple task it used to be, when UN soldiers manned the border between antagonistic neighbours, but pulled out if any shooting started.

By Ottawa’s own admission, today’s “peace support missions” can involve putting troops into ongoing and dangerous counter-insurgency operations. The risk of casualties is high.

The federal government is under pressure on this file. France, especially, with its long presence in Africa, wants additional troops from Canada for its UN-led struggle with Islamic extremists in Mali. The French should be careful what they wish for. If Canada were to send soldiers, they would be military personnel with virtually no experience in the region.

The government doesn’t want to disappoint allies seeking Canadian support for their various “peace stabilization” missions. But the African project should stay on a very slow track. Canada is much better off continuing with strictly limited international missions, such as in Latvia and Ukraine.

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