Canada's commitment to United Nations peacekeeping operations was negligible in the last decade as active military operations in Afghanistan consumed sizeable quantities of time, funding, partnerships, and, sadly, casualties.
This country's narrative concerning peacekeeping is about to change, as the Trudeau government will soon announce where the deployment of some 600 military personnel will be based for a three-year period. The plan will also include air transport, training, medical, and engineering components.
The government announced a $450 million peace and stabilization fund this past summer as Canada re-engages with a peacekeeping profile that once earned it a solid international reputation.
Though few realize it, global commitment to peacekeeping operation within the UN framework is remarkably robust and, in places, effective. The most recent UN data made available on peacekeeping deployments is from July of this year and the numbers tell a complex and diverse tale. Uniformed personnel from 121 countries total 100,746 (85,808 troops, 13,200 police, and 1,738 military observers). Over 15,000 civilian personnel bring that number even higher.
While there have been 71 official peacekeeping operations since 1948, 16 of those are currently underway in regions across the globe, including:
• Western Sahara
• Côte d'Ivoire
• Democratic Republic of the Congo
• South Sudan
• Central African Republic
Such operations don't come cheap and require significant logistical support. For the period between July 2016 through June 2017, the overall budget has been targeted at $7.87 billion (US). The greatest cost of all -- casualties -- have totaled 5,087 since 1948.
Soon we will discover where the Canadian deployment will end up and we can better frame what the challenges and opportunities will be.
This is the new peacekeeping context Canada is about to enter with enhanced commitment. It is as extensive as peacekeeping has ever been. Much of it is far more complex than those blue-helmeted forces we have been used to, parked between two belligerents in peace pacts that have already been worked out. Even the term peacekeeping itself has morphed to include peacemaking and peacebuilding, reflecting the more sophisticated and gritty world of violence in the modern era.
Another welcome addition to this vital UN work has been the inclusion of more women at all levels of the peacekeeping architecture. In peacekeeping operations and special political missions, women make up 29 per cent of international and 17 per cent of national staff -- a number that has been steadily climbing.
As per its commitment to seek greater gender equality across all branches of government, Prime Minister Trudeau has vowed to increase the number of women involved in its recent commitment towards a new era in Canadian peacekeeping deployments.
Soon we will discover where the Canadian deployment will end up and we can better frame what the challenges and opportunities will be. That it will be somewhere in the troubled African continent is all but certain, but little else is known. This new incursion into global peacekeeping isn't so much a throwback to the past as a bold statement that Canada wishes to engage in a world that seems to grow more challenging with each passing year and where the peace dividend is more difficult to attain than ever.
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