OTTAWA – The United Nations may soon start questioning Canada’s definition of “quick” now that the government has given itself three more years to deliver a 200-soldier peacekeeping force.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first committed Canada to providing a quick-reaction force in November 2017 when he hosted a major international peacekeeping summit in Vancouver.
UN officials at the time welcomed the commitment, which coincided with Canada’s campaign for a temporary seat on the UN Security Council.
But Canada ended up losing that campaign, and six years later, it still hasn’t made good on the promise to deploy a quick-reaction force.
The UN and the United States have pressed Canada since then to create the force, and the Liberals insist it remains on the table.
“We continue to be a strong supporter of UN peacekeeping,” Trudeau said during a news conference in Regina on Thursday, in response to a question from The Canadian Press.
“We continue to work actively with UN partners and with the UN itself to ensure that we’re there to support the important missions they do.”
But after having already given itself an extension last year on an initial five-year deadline, the government says it now has until March 2026.
Canadian Forces College professor Walter Dorn, one of Canada’s foremost experts on peacekeeping, says he doesn’t believe the government will make good on the promise. And he says the UN doesn’t either.
“As a pledge, the UN considers it dead,” said Dorn, who frequently collaborates and works with UN officials in New York and elsewhere. “This is the slowest-deploying (quick-reaction force) in Canadian history.”
The government has previously pointed to the various other ways Canada is contributing to peacekeeping, some of which were also pledged in Vancouver more than five years ago.
Those include the deployment of a helicopter detachment to Mali, the provision of Hercules aircraft to ferry troops and equipment between several peacekeeping missions in Africa, and military trainers.
Those efforts, known collectively as Operation Presence, were recently extended along with the promise of a quick-reaction force at some future date.
“Operation Presence has been extended until 2026, for a period of three years, with the same authorities,” Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said in a statement.
“Canada continues to be a significant contributor to UN peace operations, and will continue to look for ways to contribute to United Nations efforts to build peace and security around the world.”
Dorn questioned such claims, noting Canada had only 58 peacekeepers on UN missions at the start of the year. That is less than half what it was when the Liberals took power in 2015.
Canada faced pressure from the U.S. in December 2021 to produce the promised quick-reaction force as well as much-needed medical personnel and drones for peacekeeping.
The pressure came before a peacekeeping conference in South Korea, where Canada promised millions of dollars in financial aid for UN missions in lieu of troops and equipment.
It is not clear whether Canada will face similar pressure later this year when Ghana hosts a pledging conference in December.
But the UN says it needs such a force to respond to attacks on peacekeeping units and other emergencies in the Central African Republic.
Senior commanders have warned the military is already stretched, with the Armed Forces being asked to do more at home and abroad even as it struggles with critical personnel and equipment shortages.
While Dorn pushed back on such warnings, arguing the burden of deploying 200 peacekeepers would be minimal for a military of Canada’s size, he said the damage is done.
“We pledged to re-engage in peacekeeping and that has not happened. And it’s been enough time now we can say that they failed.”
Source: CTV News