As he makes a whirlwind trip through half a dozen African countries, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is speaking honestly about a term beloved of many Canadians, particularly Liberal voters: peacekeeping.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's election platform promised: "We will renew Canada's commitment to peacekeeping operations."
Problem: The peacekeeping that Baby Boomers grew up with, and that some Canadians still mythologize, no longer exists. As invented by Lester Pearson, it involved troops standing on an international border or ceasefire line, placed between two states that wanted to prevent incidents that might restart a war.
But traditional peacekeeping is a business that died a long time ago. There's a great demand for it in Canadian domestic politics, but nowhere else. Mr. Sajjan acknowledged this recently, saying that the "terminology of 'peacekeeping' is not valid at this time."
The word "peace" is still part of the Liberal government's emerging policy, but it means something very different. The prevailing phrase is "peace support operations." Those operations may include combat. And "peace support" does not necessarily imply that there is an existing state of peace in the country or region in question.
Indeed, one of the "peace supports" in this evolving doctrine will be "more forceful military action required to establish peaceful conditions," as some of its advocates put it. Call it peace imposition. Call it war.
The ironic upshot may well turn out to be that the Trudeau government, having campaigned in 2015 on what sounded like traditional Pearsonian peacekeeping, will end up having a more muscular foreign policy than anything the ostensibly hardline Harper government ever aspired to.
Some of the African countries Canada is considering sending "peacekeepers" to are dangerous places. It is telling that the Canadian Forces' experience with so-called "peace operations" in Afghanistan is seen as helpful. Our troops in Afghanistan were not peacekeeping. They fought a war, and one more deadly than any Canadians had faced since the Korean War.
The Liberal spin-doctors want something they can brand "peacekeeping." The government should be very careful about using and misusing that label, lest it end up deceiving the public, and itself.