(Ottawa) The United Nations may soon begin to question what is meant in Ottawa by “swift” now that the Canadian government has given itself three more years to provide the UN with a force. 200-soldier rapid-response unit for peacekeeping.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first pledged in November 2017 that Canada would provide a “rapid reaction force” when he hosted a major international peacekeeping summit in Vancouver.
UN officials then welcomed the pledge, which coincided with Canada’s campaign to secure a temporary seat on the UN Security Council.
But Canada ultimately lost that campaign. And six years later, he still hasn’t delivered on his promise to deploy a rapid reaction force.
Since then, the UN and the United States have been urging Canada to finally create this force, and the Liberals assure that the question remains on the agenda.
“We continue to strongly support UN peacekeeping operations,” Trudeau said at a news conference in Regina Thursday, in response to a question from La Presse Canadienne. We continue to work actively with UN partners and with the UN itself to ensure that we are there to support the important missions they carry out. »
But after already agreeing to an extension of the initial five-year deadline last year, the government says it now has until March 2026 to keep the promise.
Walter Dorn, a professor at the Canadian Forces College and one of Canada’s foremost peacekeeping experts, does not believe the government will keep its promise. He adds that the United Nations does not believe it either.
“The UN considers this a dead and buried commitment,” said Mr. Dorn, who collaborates and works frequently with UN officials in New York and elsewhere. It is the slowest-deploying rapid reaction force in Canadian history. »
The government has already outlined the various other means by which Canada contributes to peacekeeping, some of which were also promised in Vancouver more than five years ago. These include the deployment of a helicopter detachment to Mali, the provision of Hercules aircraft for the transport of troops and equipment during several peacekeeping missions in Africa, as well as trainers military.
These efforts, known collectively as “Operation PRESENCE”, were recently extended, with the promise of a rapid reaction force at a later date.
“Operation PRESENCE has been extended until 2026, for a period of three years, with the same powers,” wrote Daniel Le Bouthillier, spokesman for the Ministry of Defense. Canada continues to be a significant contributor to UN peace operations and will continue to seek ways to contribute to UN efforts to build peace and security around the world. »
Professor Dorn cast doubt on those claims, however, pointing out that Canada had only 58 peacekeepers in UN missions at the start of the year. That’s less than half the number there was when the Liberals took power in 2015.
In December 2021, Canada came under pressure from the United States to provide the promised rapid reaction force, as well as medical personnel and drones needed for peacekeeping.
The pressure came ahead of a peacekeeping conference in South Korea, where Canada pledged millions of dollars in financial aid to UN missions in lieu of troops and equipment. It is uncertain whether Canada will face similar pressures later this year, when Ghana hosts a donors’ conference in December.
The United Nations, however, says it needs such a force to respond to attacks on peacekeeping units and other emergencies in the Central African Republic.
Commanders have warned that the Canadian military is already stretched thin and being asked to do more at home and abroad, even as it faces a severe shortage of personnel and resources. equipment.
Mr. Dorn refutes these arguments, saying that deploying 200 peacekeepers would represent a minimal burden for an army the size of Canada’s. But he thinks the damage is done.
“We promised to re-engage in peacekeeping and that didn’t happen. After all this time, we can now say that they failed. »