That era ended as the last Canadian troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 2011. Unlike in some European countries, such as the Netherlands, which committed combat helicopters and nearly 400 troops to the UN mission in Mali last year, the debate about a return to peacekeeping has barely registered in Ottawa.
But less than a year after the report’s release, planes flew into New York’s World Trade Center towers, followed by war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Canada, like many developed nations, became a one-mission country, engaging in combat as it hadn’t since the Korean War.
Public support for a strong Canadian role internationally is largely rooted in our proud history of peacekeeping. In fact, many Canadians regard peacekeeping as the most positive contribution that Canada makes to the world. This strong viewpoint, however, does not necessarily translate into strong support for all types of peacekeeping operations. For example, just prior to the Canadian Forces (CF) deployment to Afghanistan (Operation Athena) in June 2003 under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization () banner, a study found that only 43 per cent of the Canadian public supported this operation. And, despite increases in support over the first year of this operation, more recent polling reveals that public support for the CF role in Afghanistan is again waning.
Pearson received worldwide recognition for his diplomatic efforts to contain this conflict, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957. Peacekeeping, in turn, was forever ingrained in Canadian identity and heritage, and the country continued to commit peacekeeping troops, both as observers and also in monitoring roles, to operations around the globe. Since 1947, in fact, more than 125,000 CF members have taken part in international operations.
Canada’s last major contribution was in 2000, when the Liberal government sent 450 military personnel to help secure the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea for two years. But notwithstanding this successful mission, Canada’s commitment had already started to drop dramatically in the late 1990s, in large part due to failures of UN missions to Rwanda and Bosnia and Canada's shameful role in Somalia that ended with the death of a Somali teenager.
More than 125,000 Canadian military personnel and thousandsof civilians have been deployed in conflicts from Ethiopia/Eritrea, to EastTimor, Kosovo, Bosnia, Cyprus, Sierra Leone, Central America and a host of other"hot spots"—including, most recently, Afghanistan.
In September 2003, Private Liam McGylnn of Charlie Company, 3 RCR Battalion Group (3 RCR Bn Gp), commences a foot patrol through the streets of Paghman, Afghanistan, as part of Operation ATHENA, Canada’s contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Dorn, an advocate for Canada reclaiming its peacekeeping reputation, saw it as a positive sign. “The Canadian army is not going into another Afghanistan,” he said in an interview. “I think peace operations is one good option for deploying our forces. There is an operational imperative to have some forces deployed some of the time and some vision about what our forces can be used for.”
2000: Creation of mandate by the UN Security Council (Resolution 1325) for mainstreaming gender perspectives in peacekeeping operations and to identify the importance and significance of women’s roles in peace and security.
Nor does peacekeeping now merely entail deploying static observers along a demarcation line. Today, it often begins before a cease-fire is secured and in places where there is little or no peace to keep. This is why the complex and anarchic operational context of contemporary peace support operations is sometimes labeled “Three Block Wars.” This analogy depicts a typical operational context in which CF members can be engaged in combat operations against well-armed militia forces in one city block, conducting stabilization operations in the next block, and supporting humanitarian relief in another, with the transition from one role to another occurring instantly. Other non-traditional activities include disarmament functions, de-mining tasks, foreign military training, and so on. These new roles and demands, in turn, call for more robust rules of engagement, as well as combat-capable, responsive military forces and ever-expanding expertise.
A Canadian soldier from Charlie Company, attached to the Third Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, provides perimeter security around a Chinook helicopter before heading back to Kandahar, Afghanistan.
In the aftermath of 9/11, a new dimension has been added. Over 8000 CF members have been deployed on operations in the War against Terrorism. At its peak, our naval task group deployment included six warships and approximately 1500 navy personnel. Canada’s air force continues to transport military supplies, humanitarian aid and thousands of personnel back and forth into operational zones. In 2002, more than 800 CF army personnel joined a battle group alongside US forces in and around Kandahar, Afghanistan. Beginning August 2003, Canada also committed two rotations of over 2000 troops to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, a UN-authorized but NATO-led operation. Canada has since committed to two additional rotations there through August 2005, albeit with a scaled-down force size, and is also considering future participation in Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs).
It is therefore suggested that some Canadians do not support the operation in Afghanistan on the basis that it does not mesh with their understanding of what peacekeeping entails. They prefer the more traditional – and less dangerous – role of trying to keep two conflicting sides under the banner. Given that this type of operation is, for the most part, a remnant of the past, it is apparent that this popular viewpoint does not concur with current realities.