Toronto Star's View: Canada needs to retrain...
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Feb 04, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Toronto Star's View: Canada needs to retrain military for peacekeeping

If Canada is to renew its role as a UN peacekeeper, the military will need to upgrade peacekeeping courses, training and exercises that have fallen by the wayside

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to “renew Canada’s commitment” to United Nations peacekeeping, and rightly so. Much of the world is ravaged by instability, civil war, terrorism, and the humanitarian crises that follow in their wake. We can’t afford not to be involved. This affects us all.

As U.S. President Barack Obama pointed out last fall, the UN urgently needs more support than it gets from the United States, Canada and our allies as it struggles to keep the peace in crisis zones that range from the Central African Republic to Mali, Haiti, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur, Lebanon and South Sudan. Apart from funding peacekeeping, Obama intends to double the number of U.S. officers involved, and promises more mentoring, logistical, engineering and technological help.

Canada should follow suit. We’ve been all but absent in recent years, as our troops fought in Afghanistan, and our peacekeeping skills have grown rusty. Of the 125,000 troops and police that the UN has in the field barely 113 are Canadian. That speaks volumes.

“Canada is currently lagging far behind other nations in its readiness to support the United Nations and train for modern peacekeeping,” cautions a new report written by Royal Military College Professor Walter Dorn, a leading expert in peacekeeping, and University of Ottawa doctoral candidate Joshua Libben. It was released this week by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Rideau Institute, two leading think-tanks.

Canada’s retreat didn’t begin on Stephen Harper’s watch, but it did hit a new low. At our peak, in 1993, we were a top contributor with 3,300 troops and police in the former Yugoslavia, Cyprus, the Golan Heights, Cambodia and elsewhere. Indeed, a Canadian, Lester B. Pearson, is regarded as the father of UN peacekeeping for his Nobel Peace Prize-winning role during the Suez Crisis of 1956. The UN would benefit from more of that idealism today.

Like other allies, we have our share of combat-hardened officers and troops. But our most useful contribution may well be in supplying future mission commanders and headquarters staff, plus technical expertise and field equipment. The UN can raise the necessary foot soldiers, chiefly from the crisis regions.

But if Canada is to raise its command game, we will need to upgrade peacekeeping courses, training and exercises that have fallen by the wayside. The Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, which trained troops, police and civilians together, was shut down in 2013. It should reopen. Soldiers get less than a quarter of the training they once did. Yet the job is harder and riskier today.

Canadian officers need a thorough updating in UN procedures and the lessons learned from failures in Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia. They need refresher courses in being “officer diplomats,” able to handle tricky negotiations with anarchic players, conflict management and bridge-building. And they need to be able to work effectively with a wide range of UN agencies, humanitarian groups and local power brokers.

We don’t have to rebuild from scratch, exactly. But we need to aim higher, and train harder.

Toronto Star

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