Justin Trudeau campaigned in the 2015 election for more Canadian peacekeeping. It fit with the Liberal brand. But does it fit with the interests of this country, or the realities of 21st-century conflicts?
Canadians have a naive idea of what "peacekeeping" now means. Once upon a time, there were many opportunities for the traditional job of sending troops to stand on the border between two states that were at peace, and wanted help preventing clashes. These days, however, most peacekeeping involves a mission to an internal rather than an international conflict, where there is often little actual peace to be kept. It is peacemaking more than peacekeeping. Sometimes it is synonymous with war.
Now, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has been tasked with finding a military mission, presumably to be given the name of peacekeeping, that Canada can join. Among the countries apparently under consideration are Mali and the Central African Republic, two countries with high rates of death for peacekeepers, as well as for the peoples of their own war-ravaged countries.
Next week, Mr. Sajjan's search will take him to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
The DRC and its neighbours to the east, including countries such as Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda in the Great Lakes of Africa, have been chronically swept by devastating wars and civil wars, so much so that some observers have spoken of a "Great War of Africa," or sometimes, the First World War of Africa.
Professsor Walter Dorn of the Canadian Forces College, an expert in peacekeeping, expects that Canada will decide to join the peacekeeping missions in the DRC and in Mali, because of the skills acquired by the Canadian Forces in the Afghanistan mission. However, the most significant thing the Canadian Forces acquired in Afghanistan were hundreds of dead and wounded Canadian soldiers. It was not in any way a traditional peacekeeping mission. It was a war.
The government needs to be very cautious about when and why it sends Canadian soldiers into harm's way. Voters who were captured by the Liberal promise to rediscover Canada's peacekeeping heritage will be surprised and disappointed if the brand-revival exercise ends up justifying a mission that is very different, and far more dangerous.