Overview of UN Peacekeeping and Canadian Deployments
The work of the United Nations to restore peace and security currently involves more than 90,000 military, police, and civilian personnel, serving in 12 peacekeeping missions around the world.
Canadian contributions of military and police personnel currently stand at only 56 individuals (27 military and 29 police) deployed to UN operations as of May 31, 2021.
At the same time, UN peacekeeping is facing many challenges. Finding committed and capable nations to contribute peacekeepers is difficult. Adequate funding is also a challenge.
UN peacekeeping has always been insufficiently funded, struggling to attain the personnel levels mandated by the Security Council, as well as to properly equip and support ongoing missions.
The U.S. Biden administration is showing greater appreciation and support for peacekeeping than the previous Trump Administration. However, the US Congress continues to enforce an arbitrary cap on US contributions to UN peacekeeping, so the US financial contributions to peacekeeping remain in arrears.
The UN has approved a budget for Peacekeeping in 2021/22 of $6.4 billion (US), a slight drop from $6.6 billion (US) in 2020/21. This expenditure is less than 0.5% of total world military expenditure, which was $1.98 trillion (US) in 2021.
The Need For Peacekeepers Remains High
Since 1999, the size and number of UN missions grew, reaching a peak in 2015, then declining slightly. The recent decline is due in part to a natural winding down of some successful operations (in Haiti, Liberia, and Sierra Leone), reductions in authorized troop levels in others (notably in Darfur, and D.R. Congo, as the UN Department of Peace Operations faces cost-cutting pressures) and the inability of UN Security Council members to come to agreement on needed new deployments (e.g. Libya, Haiti).
There is an urgent need to increase the capacity of UN missions in Mali, South Sudan and D.R. Congo. New missions are desperately needed in conflict-ridden areas of the world. These actual and prospective missions face enormous challenges to support agreed peace processes and protect civilians.
Canada’s Peacekeeping Profile
Contributions from countries like Canada with advanced military and logistics capabilities are much needed to increase the UN’s operational effectiveness. However, in recent years Canada has provided only a small and diminishing presence in UN missions. The Canadian military contributes a total of only 27 personnel (8 to D.R. Congo, 5 to Mali, 1 to Cyprus, 9 to South Sudan and 4 to the Middle East). Canada has fallen from being the single largest contributor of UN peacekeepers, a position it held until 1992, to 68th position today with 56 total personnel currently deployed.
There are only 13 Canadian women deployed as peacekeepers. Given the small number of Canadian peacekeepers, this percentage of women deployed (23%) does meet the UN standard. Noteworthy also are some programs to support other nations’ women in peacekeeping that are finally being implemented, including the much touted Elsie Initiative.
Canada contributes financially to the UN peacekeeping budget according to a formula determined by UN Member States. In 2020/21, Canada was assessed a contribution that represented 2.73% of the peacekeeping budget.
In recent years Canada has made political commitments that have been only partly fulfilled.
For the record:
- Upon election in 2015 Justin Trudeau promised that Canada would re-engage in UN peacekeeping. The Prime Minister gave explicit instructions to this effect in Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s Mandate Letter.
- At the September 2016 Peacekeeping Ministerial Meeting in London, Canada announced new personnel pledges (up to 600 military and 150 police).
- At the November 2017 Ministerial Meeting held in Vancouver the Prime Minister specified the nature of the previous pledges. The 2017 commitments included training and a new project dedicated to increasing women’s participation in peace operations.
- In March 2018 Defence Minister Sajjan announced a commitment to deploy an Aviation Task Force to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
- The December 2019 Mandate Letter from Prime Minister Trudeau to Harjit Sajjan tasked the Defence Minister to “Work with the Minister of Foreign Affairs to expand Canada’s support for United Nations peace operations, including with respect to new investments in the women, peace and security agenda, conflict prevention and peacebuilding.”
Others Around The World Are Stepping Up
The world’s leading uniformed personnel contributors are Bangladesh (6,554), Nepal (5,571), India (5,525), and Ethiopia (5,488). Fellow NATO members, such as Spain (838), Italy (741), France (622), and Germany (552), are contributing considerably more troops than Canada. Ireland contributes over 508. Currently, Canada ranks slightly ahead of Belgium and Zimbabwe in personnel contributions.
As a middle power with no significant external threat to its borders, a nation dependent on international trade that supports a stable, rules-based international order, Canada’s interest lies in supporting and strengthening the multilateral system. Until 1995, Canada had participated in every UN peacekeeping mission.
The Liberal government has maintained a goal to re-engage in UN peacekeeping. This includes a 2016 commitment to deploy up to 600 military and 150 police personnel, and the 2019 mandate provided to the Defence and Foreign Ministers to “expand Canada’s support for United Nations peace operations.”
Notwithstanding these public commitments, Canada’s personnel contributions to UN peace operations remain at an all-time low and future deployments remain uncertain. The Canadian Quick Reaction Force, pledged at the 2017 Peacekeeping Ministerial Meeting, is taking years to deploy.
What Canada could and is failing to do
The Trudeau government has sought to be a leader in the deployment, training and support of UN peacekeepers. But this has not been achieved. Much needs to be done to align the priorities of Canada’s elected officials and military leadership in order for personnel commitments to fulfil public promises and for Canada to become once again a leader and prolific peacekeeper