SEOUL MINISTERIAL: Expectation for Canada’s Peacekeeping Agenda

An Interview with Walter Dorn

What major themes or challenges were addressed during the recent Seoul UN peacekeeping ministerial, and how do you think it differed in terms of dialogue, or deliverables from previous years? What kind of signal do you think Canada is sending to its allies through its current peacekeeping contributions?

This is a continuation of the previous ministerials, which are quite valuable for the UN, since it puts political pressure on the member states to contribute to peacekeeping.

One of the conditions to appear at the ministerial is to make a pledge. One of the problems is that a lot of the older pledges, including Canadian ones, are not fulfilled. This makes these current pledges less valuable.

The signal is that we are not living up to our promises, that we are not becoming a prolific or engaged Peacekeeper, and that we are not coming up with new personnel contributions, new equipment, or new ideas.

The financial contributions are welcomed by the UN, but the really heavy lifting in peacekeeping is best done by the Canadian men and women in uniform, who have served so well in the past and could serve very well in future peace operations.

The Trudeau Government has promised Canadian reengagement in UN peacekeeping throughout three electoral campaigns. What is your assessment of the current state of Canadian peacekeeping? Are we seeing greater allignment between what was announced and what actions have since been taken?

The most substantive Canadian contribution to peacekeeping in the last half decade has been just one short term deployment in Mali, with medivac support and transport for the UN mission, but not a prestigious or frontline role. The heavy lifting was left to African countries, and to Germany, the Netherlands and France. Otherwise, Canada’s major contribution has been financial.

We have been giving the UN extra-budgetary funds—beyond the required dues that we are required to pay. That ex-B funding has been substantial , but I cannot speak to the effectiveness of the use of those funds, because it seems to be very mixed record.

Are there any concerns attached to China’s increased role in UN peacekeeping operations? In what ways, if any, are Chinese contributions providing opportunities for greater influence within the multilateral system?

In many ways, we should welcome China’s contribution to peacekeeping. They are providing over 2,000 military and police personnel into the field. They are under UN operational control, and they are doing a lot of creative engineering projects and making contributions in war-torn areas of the world.

Now, a lot of that corresponds with Chinese interest in trade, but I think that is a healthy coincidence that we should encourage. China will want to play more of a leadership role, since it is providing so many troops—the largest of any of the Permanent members of the Security Council.

China will be demanding leadership positions in New York and in the field. Over time the Chinese ability and justification will increase. Unless other powers like Canada—which was once a major leader, if not the leader of peacekeeping—do not step up, then the vacuum will be filled by those who may want to stake a claim to leadership positions. We must make sure that we have more Canadian personnel deployed and try to ensure that peacekeeping is really supported by the Allies. Canada had nine force commander and mission commander positions in the 1990s and has had zero since.

What are the major obstacles limiting Canada’s greater reengagement in peacekeeping operations?

First—a longstanding sense of apathy. Since we have not been engaged, we just continue with the status quo. We have not rotated units in peacekeeping since 2001, excluding the one rotation in Mali—in twenty years, only one rotation of peacekeepers! In terms of deployed units in peace operations, Canada’s is so far behind where it used to be (with about 1,000 soldiers in the field for about 40 years), and currently far behind many other countries—including our allies, like Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Norway. The latter two countries defeated us in getting a seat in the Security Council.

A lot of this is due to a lack of political will. Trudeau came into power, saying Canada’s back, and that we should be contributing more to the UN. But in fact, Trudeau’s contribution on a monthly average of peacekeeping personnel to the UN is 58% LESS than the Harper government.

We now have a case where our best contribution, which is the men and women in uniform, is near an all-time low—only 27 military and 31 police. It means that we have gotten into a modus operandi that we cannot seem to break out of. There is no political will to break the bureaucratic machinery that focuses on funding promises, rather than doing more complicated things, like providing equipment, technology, new ideas, and personnel to the UN.

How are emerging technologies being utilized to enhance and strengthen UN peacekeeping operations, and what do you think are some opportunities and challenges being created through technological innovation in respect to peacekeeping? Is this an area where Canada might be able to enhance its role?

I think so. Canada could very well provide a leadership role in helping bring the UN into the 21st century, where technology plays a major role in field operations. We can provide capacity for infrared and visible-light imagery, as well as radar imagery. Canada is a leader in space-based radar imagery through our Radarsat programme. We could help the UN make use of all-weather, day and night capability provided by radar capabilities based on satellites and airplanes. There are so many areas where Canada could contribute to UN peacekeeping technology, such as communications and information analysis. These would be very fruitful areas for Canada to explore, particularly since the Canadian Armed Forces had a major role in communications tech in the past. It provided the communications backbone of many missions. There are so many areas where Canada could make a difference if the political will existed.

Walter Dorn is Professor of Defence Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) and the Canadian Forces College (CFC). He teaches officers of rank major to brigadier-general from Canada and about 20 other countries. He specializes in arms control, peace operations, just war theory, international criminal law, treaty verification and enforcement, and the United Nations.