Na­ture of peace­keep­ing chang­ing for cana­di­ans

Simcoe Reformer - - OPINION - Craig and Marc Kiel­burger are the co-founders of the WE move­ment, which in­cludes WE Char­ity, ME to WE So­cial En­ter­prise and WE Day. For more dis­patches from WE, check out WE Sto­ries. CRAIG AND MARC KIEL­BURGER

When four amer­i­can Green berets were killed in an am­bush in Niger last month, the first re­ac­tion from many was sur­prise: When did the war on ter­ror sprawl to West africa?

a ma­jor part of the in­ci­dent’s news cy­cle con­sisted of pun­dits strug­gling to an­swer this fun­da­men­tal ques­tion. “Prob­a­bly even fewer peo­ple know that canada is in Niger,” says Lau­rier univer­sity pro­fes­sor tim­o­thy don­ais.

don­ais is re­fer­ring to task force Naberius, an elite team of 24 cana­dian armed forces mem­bers on the ground in Niger since 2013. they’re train­ing the Nige­rien mil­i­tary in ev­ery­thing from coun­terter­ror­ism to the pro­tec­tion of vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions. the low-key mis­sion is billed as ca­pac­ity-build­ing — but as the re­cent events in Niger demon­strate, all mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in un­sta­ble re­gions carry risks.

op­er­a­tion Naberius is a small con­tin­gent of sol­diers, to be sure. taken with other on­go­ing mil­i­tary en­gage­ments around the world; how­ever, it paints a dif­fer­ent pic­ture of our army than the one im­printed on canada’s na­tional con­scious­ness.

We see our­selves as peace­keep­ers, but the na­ture of peace­keep­ing has changed.

in light of the un con­fer­ence on peace­keep­ing bring­ing del­e­gates from dozens of na­tions to van­cou­ver next week, the na­tional de­bate has fo­cused on how canada can sup­port united Na­tions ef­forts. but this di­a­logue risks over­look­ing the ma­jor­ity of the cana­dian army’s cur­rent mis­sions.

“that’s a gen­eral mis­per­cep­tion among cana­di­ans,” says Queen’s univer­sity pro­fes­sor Joel Sokolosky.

“the ma­jor fo­cus of the cana­dian armed forces is over­seas in sup­port of our al­lies, not in sup­port of the united Na­tions.”

be­yond un mis­sions in the demo­cratic repub­lic of congo, South Su­dan, Haiti and the Golan Heights — and the high-pro­file en­gage­ments in afghanistan, iraq, Syria, and ukraine — there are cana­dian forces in Latvia and Kosovo. cana­dian navy ships pa­trol the eastern Pa­cific ocean to fight drug traf­fick­ing. air force planes trans­port per­son­nel and equip­ment in mali. mil­i­tary en­gi­neers and doc­tors op­er­ate in the Si­nai Penin­sula in egypt. of­fi­cers train Pales­tinian au­thor­ity se­cu­rity forces in Jerusalem. Sol­diers de­liver aid in the hur­ri­cane rav­aged caribbean.

canada’s mil­i­tary is al­ready present around the world — just not al­ways as peace­keep­ers.

many cur­rent mis­sions are “more green hel­met than blue,” says Sokolosy, mean­ing they in­volve more mil­i­tary might than peace­keep­ing vig­i­lance, and don’t fit the cana­dian na­tional iden­tity in the same way that stand­ing on guard for peace once did.

“the era of clas­sic peace­keep­ing is long gone,” he says. in­stead, we’re in an era of peace en­force­ment — a riskier man­date to neu­tral­ize more than act as im­par­tial me­di­a­tor. even as the gov­ern­ment mulls an ad­di­tional 600 peace­keep­ing troops, they’ve taken pains to ac­knowl­edge the re­al­i­ties on the ground.

Still, tra­di­tional peace­keep­ing is not for­got­ten. Within sight of Par­lia­ment Hill in ot­tawa, three tow­er­ing bronze sol­diers stand atop a pedestal of stone, a mon­u­ment to canada’s peace­keep­ing his­tory.

the world needs more canada — blue hel­mets or green — we should be proud to hon­our both.

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