By: LGen Roméo Dallaire (Ret’d) and Dr. Shelly Whitman
As of October 2015, Canada has a total of 116 security personnel — police, military and observers — serving overseas as peacekeepers, which ranks us 66th in the world by total contributions to UN peacekeeping missions. Are we not the birthplace of peacekeeping and home of this proud tradition?
Today, Canada contributes its 116 peacekeepers across 5 of the 18 United Nations peacekeeping missions currently underway around the globe. Canada has in recent years increased its efforts as part of NATO coalitions — specifically Afghanistan and Syria — while lessening our role with UN peacekeeping.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made reengaging with United Nations peacekeeping operations a clear priority. But what should our reengagement on peacekeeping look like after so many years playing such a minor role?
As peacekeeping has evolved, so should our contributions. Peacekeeping missions do not only require battalions of resources and boots on the ground. Increasingly they require specialized troops or materials that can perform specific tasks and help reinforce the larger mandate of the mission.
Let’s take for example the United Nations Assistance Mission to South Sudan (UNMISS), which stands as one of Canada’s largest UN peacekeeping contributions with 12 peacekeepers deployed.
South Sudan currently represents the UN’s second largest humanitarian mission, with a peacekeeping force of 11,350 troops. With at least 16,000 child soldiers being used by all sides, splintering factions and fluid alliances, South Sudan represents a potent mixture of fragile peace and open conflict that has devolved to mass atrocities on occasion.
Having recently returned from a high-level advocacy mission to South Sudan for the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative and UNICEF South Sudan, we can attest that the situation is dire. Establishing sustained peace in South Sudan will only be possible with the full support of peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts, and a recognition that children and youth be made central to the attainment of peace and security.
UNMISS has continually been hampered with a lack of strategic assets — rapid response teams, aircrafts and analytical staff – needed to support the ongoing efforts of humanitarians and to bring security to sections of the country where it is desperately needed. Central to this are the enormous challenges of dealing with massive numbers of child soldiers both on the humanitarian and security fronts.
With over a decade of experience fighting in complex environments in the Middle East, Canada has developed and maintained many of these critical resources that are needed by the UN in South Sudan. It would be an utter waste to let these resources atrophy, and maintain the status quo. Providing assets — rapid response teams, aircrafts and analytical staff, and new tools — will go a long way in beginning to fulfill our government’s promise to reengage in a meaningful way with UN peace operations.
In addition, supporting innovative efforts such as raising children on the peace and security agenda, blending security sector and educational approaches, committing strategic assets, and supporting the efforts of our highly competent diplomatic staff located in South Sudan will signal Canada’s re-investment in UN peacekeeping operations and create results. Supporting these efforts will lead to lasting peace to South Sudan.
If Canada wants to once again to engage with UN peacekeeping operations, we need to be able to commit on multiple fronts and provide more durable and innovative interventions to address conditions on the ground. For far too long, countries have dictated to missions what they will provide, without the information or insight of what is actually needed.
Canada is in a position to regain its place as an innovator and leader in peacekeeping operations around the globe. On Dec. 10, the UN Security Council will debate the renewal of the peacekeeping mandate for South Sudan.
It is time to show that Canada is indeed back as peacekeeper, peacemaker and honest broker.
Roméo Dallaire is a retired lieutenant-general, celebrated humanitarian and founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative. Dr. Shelly Whitman is the Executive Director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.