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Question 5: Security

How does the military best serve Canada’s foreign policy objectives: though national and continental defence; combat missions in support of international coalitions; peacekeeping; all of the above?



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Date: 2003-05-01 19:36:09
Canadians have taken great and justifiable pride in their country’s standing as “peacekeepers to the world.” Indeed, it was for his role in creating the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) that was interposed between Israeli and Egyptian troops in the Sinai Desert at the end of the 1956 War, that then Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs Lester B. Pearson was awarded the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize. Canadians, to this day, continue to believe that it is primarily through international peacekeeping that Canada can contribute towards the peaceful resolution of global conflicts.

While peacekeeping justifiably remains an important component of Canada’s foreign policy, there are at least two factors that must be taken into consideration as Canadians determine the current priority of peacekeeping amidst the plethora of other interests they wish their government to pursue through foreign policy.

First, as noted by a growing number of commentators and senior government officials (including Defence Minister John MaCallum himself), the Canadian military is now stretched to the brink, and probably does not have the resources necessary to fulfill the peacekeeping obligations it currently has, let alone additional ones.

Second, there is reason to believe that the traditional approach to peacekeeping that Canada perfected in the period following the Sinai War, is no longer appropriate given the fundamental changes in the nature of global conflict since the end of the Cold War. The passive approach to peacekeeping, i.e., the interposing of “blue helmets” in regional conflicts, worked sufficiently well to keep the superpowers from coming to blows during the Cold War. However, today, many regional conflicts are either tribal wars inside a country or conflicts between competing national movements. In such situations, traditional forms of passive peacekeeping are less relevant than active peacemaking. Peacemaking involves an entirely different set of physical resources and political skills than those with which the Canadian military is currently equipped, not the least of which being the leverage to compel one or the other recalcitrant party to modify their political demands and enter into a legitimate negotiating process. Without taking anything away from the sincere efforts of Canadian forces in the Balkans and Afghanistan, it is doubtful whether Canadians have either the resources or the political will to devote to retrofitting their military forces to perform the new task of peacemaking.

Recently, the Canadian government has unilaterally begun work on proposals and ideas for a peacekeeping or observer force to assist in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In September 2002, senior officials from the departments of Defence and Foreign Affairs addressed a symposium in Israel on the subject, funded and organized by the Canadian government in cooperation with a number of Israeli organizations and individuals committed to conflict resolution. The Canadian government plans to organize a parallel conference in the Palestinian territories. Given Canada’s official stance (declared in the UN Security Council and elsewhere) that no peacekeeping force can be imposed without the full cooperation and consent of all sides, the apparent absence of a willing Palestinian partner may prove to be an insurmountable obstacle to Canada’s plans.

Israel, for its part, has been reluctant to see international peacekeepers introduced into Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy for several reasons.

First, Israel has always been averse to the “internationalization” of the process. The essence of the Madrid/Oslo process is that there is no alternative to direct, bilateral negotiations involving the parties to the conflict themselves. While there may well be a role for third-parties in facilitating the implementation of an agreement, only the conflicting parties themselves can work out the agreement. The introduction of an international peacekeeping force in the absence a bilateral agreement is viewed by Israel as premature at best, and, at worst, as an attempt by the Arabs and their allies in the Non-Aligned Movement to impose a solution on Israel favouring the Palestinians.

Second, Israel has also voiced concern that international peacekeepers would unwittingly (or perhaps in some case knowingly) provide safe haven to Palestinian terrorists while at the same time hindering Israeli counter-terrorism operations. The collapse of the UN Emergency Force in Sinai on the eve of the Six-Day War was a bitter disappointment to Israel; so to was the behaviour of the UN peacekeepers in south Lebanon who stood idle while Hezbollah terrorists kidnapped three IDF soldiers from Israel’s side of the UN-designated border, in October 2000, and then obstructed Israel’s pursuit of information about the kidnapped soldiers by lying about the existence of a videotape of part of the incident.

Finally, as noted, Israel believes that outside intervention, in the form of an international or multinational peacekeeping/peacemaking force, would only be helpful once a peace settlement with the Palestinians has been negotiated and a framework established for its implementation. Given the absence of any perceptible interest toward this end on the part of the current Palestinian leadership, discussion of a Canadian role in this regard is certainly premature.


A. Canada must condition its participation in any peacekeeping or peacemaking force interposed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the full consent of all sides.

B. Canada must determine whether it has the resources required to undertake active peacemaking, as opposed to passive peacekeeping, in the Israel-Palestinian relationship.

C. Even as it seeks to generate support for future peacemaking activities in the region, Canada should work to persuade the Palestinians of the indispensability of direct, bilateral negotiations involving themselves and the Israelis.
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