We do not yet know where, when and how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will deliver on his commitment to increase Canada's involvement in UN peace operations. As columnists and commentators begin to discuss these questions, however, two misconceptions are worth correcting.
The first is that the Trudeau government is exploring new peacekeeping opportunities in order to win a Security Council seat. Former general Lew MacKenzie made this assertion in today's Globe and Mail.
Of course, any contribution to the UN could potentially strengthen Canada's bid for a seat. However, the Prime Minister's commitment to reengage in UN operations seems to reflect his conviction that these operations play an important role in containing violence and promoting peace, and that Canada could make a useful contribution. (The Liberal election platform did not even mention running for a Security Council seat. Nor did the ministerial mandate letters. They did, however, clearly set out the peacekeeping commitment.)
The second misconception is that increasing Canada's contribution to peacekeeping necessarily involves sending a large contingent of Canadian troops into a UN mission. The UN would probably welcome any contributions from Canada, but the UN has long asked countries such as Canada to provide more specialized capabilities or "enablers" that are often missing in peacekeeping missions, in part because the developing countries that supply most of the troops for these missions tend to lack these capabilities.
Examples of such enablers include: special operations forces, transport planes and helicopters, engineering companies, field hospitals, signals companies, intelligence experts and capabilities, and police units. The UN also needs more and better training for the peacekeeping troops deployed by other countries (including training on proper treatment of civilians) as well as specialized units that can deploy quickly to help new missions get established, such as temporary headquarters teams.
In short, while the government may ultimately choose to deploy regular ground forces on a UN mission, renewing Canada's involvement in peacekeeping does not necessarily translate into large numbers of Canadian boots on the ground.