A Critical Look at Canada's Contribution
Canada is a historic peacekeeper in a world that struggles to keep peace.
While Canada has many reasons to be proud of its contributions to promoting international peace and security, there are shortcomings and inconsistencies in our policies that deserve further exploration.
In the past few decades, some have expressed concern about the growing gap between Canada's commitments abroad and our ability to keep these commitments. From 1988 to 1997, Canada's military expenditures dropped from US$12.7 billion to US$8.8 billion . While this figure has grown under recent injections to the Department of Defence budget ($13 billion in 2004 and an additional boost of $12.8 billion over five years, announced by Stephen Harper ) some critics believe it is not high enough. Experts such as Douglas Bland argue that the Canadian Forces could face extinction if the government does not get serious about increasing military expenditures . This argument is reinforced by academics and defence experts, such as J.L. Granatstein, who maintain that Canadian security begins with understanding what constitutes Canada's true national interests (as opposed to its 'values'), and the role the military should play in promoting and protecting them. Military historian David Bercuson argues that Canada needs to restore its ‘hard power' - and that this calls for more military hardware and personnel.
But while some argue that Canada needs a stronger, better-resourced military, others say that Canada has been successful in converting "its meager 1.5 percent share of major power military expenditures in 1995 into its desired outcomes rather well" . As John Kirton notes, "one can spend a lot and still lose the war, as the US learned in Vietnam and the Soviets in Afghanistan... Canada has sent its own forces around the world - to fight as well as to 'peacekeep' - on many occasions. By these outcome-oriented performance criteria, Canada's military capability has been enough to fight and win" .
But is Canada's current commitment to peacekeeping strong? While many Canadians cling to the image of Canada as a celebrated peacekeeper, our vision of ourselves may not fit well with reality. In December 2007, Canada had 164 people involved in UN peacekeeping forces (which includes police, mission observers, and troops), placing 58th in the ranking of the list of contributors. Reduction in peacekeeping forces has been a general trend among European countries, but whereas the UK and France still commit troops to Africa, Canada has a much more limited geographic spread.
This stands in sharp contrast to April 1993, when about 3,300 Canadians were involved in a number of large UN missions abroad, including UNPROFOR in Bosnia and UNTAC in Cambodia. As Walter Dorn notes, "Canada provided 10 percent of the UN's forces. Currently it provides only 0.1 percent" - a hundred-fold decline.
In 1948, Canada ratified the Genocide Convention, which defines genocide as acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. By ratifying that convention, Canadians confirmed that genocide, whether committed in a time of peace or in a time of war, is a crime under international law that should be prevented. Despite these UN commitments, between 1992 and 1995, 250,000 people were killed during the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 1993, Canada's own UN Force Commander Romeo Dallaire pleaded with the international community for more assistance in Rwanda, to no avail. In 1994, some 800,000 people were slaughtered in a matter of weeks in the East African country. Ongoing killings in Darfur, though smaller in scale and now receiving substantial international attention, echo the Rwandan genocide.
For many reasons, the R2P doctrine and the Genocide Convention have not gained universal support. Although many governments recognize the existence of atrocities in countries like Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Sudan, they are reluctant to commit troops for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a reluctance to see their country's sons and daughters killed in conflicts that seem impossible to solve or do not appear to have a direct relation to their lives.
This criticism has certainly been raised in Afghanistan. Although Canada sent troops to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001 (and later as part of a UN-mandated security operation), the mission does not have strong majority support among Canadians. Those opposed think that fighting a war against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan is not essential to Canada's national security, that it is not an effective way to deal with the problem of terrorism, or that it has stretched Canadian resources too thin, preventing us from making substantive commitments elsewhere.
Canada has also taken a backseat in recent non-proliferation initiatives, perhaps a sign of its waning influence abroad and a change in approach in Washington to non-proliferation issues. Though Canada participates in the Proliferation Security Initiative, the IAEA, NPT, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group in London, it has played virtually no role in recent non-proliferation negotiations surrounding Iran and North Korea. Canada has remained silent on the controversial issue of ballistic missile defence since declining an increased role in a proposed North American defence system in 2004. Other US allies, such as Japan and countries in Western Europe, have moved ahead with BMD systems - meanwhile Russia has taken an increasingly aggressive nuclear posture against the West. Canada has also faced criticism over its sales of uranium, plutonium, and nuclear technologies to states that later used these transactions to increase their nuclear arsenals.
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