There may be little to no traditional peacekeeping to be done anymore – patrolling an international cease-fire line, the peacekeeping of Lester Pearson, is not exactly an in-demand career these days – but many Canadians retain an emotional attachment to the idea. It has power, plucking at heart strings and stirring nostalgia.
That's why the Liberal Party made the return of Canada's United Nations blue helmets a central part of the 2015 campaign – even though it was a little bit like Donald Trump pledging to bring manufacturing jobs back to the Rust Belt. As the Team Trudeau platform put it, in bold letters, "We will renew Canada's commitment to peacekeeping operations."
Ever since making that promise, the Trudeau government has been trying to figure out how to fulfill it. It has spent two years delaying and fudging, and on Wednesday, with the Prime Minister announcing vague, and small, commitments to future UN peace operations, the fudging continued.
For that, Canadians should be thankful.
We come not to bury Justin Trudeau's policy of peacekeeping prevarication, but to praise it. This is not a case of moving from the idealism of opposition to the cynicism of power. On the contrary, it looks more like an evolution from a cynical campaign fantasy to a more honest assessment of objective reality.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau announced that his government will commit a mere 200 Canadian troops to future, unnamed UN missions – continuing two years of declining to specify a destination. He also promised extra logistical support for the UN, and (Liberal party branding alert) $21-million to encourage more female soldiers in UN operations.
It's a lot less than what the Liberals seemed to be promising on the campaign trail. In fulfilment of that election pledge, the government until recently appeared determined to find somewhere dangerous to put hundreds of Canadian boots on the ground. A leading candidate was Mali, where 80 UN personnel have died since 2013.
On its self-scorecard, the government will surely call this promise "fully met." It should more accurately be graded somewhere between "modified" and "not being pursued." Again, that's wise and prudent.
Canada shed an enormous amount of blood in Afghanistan, and there is no enthusiasm, in Ottawa or the country, to search for new war zones to enter. The government of Canada can, and sometimes must, send our troops into harm's way. But it had better have an exceedingly good reason for doing so. Until it does, the government should tread cautiously.