Canada's Peacekeeping Mission in Mali

*Originally published in The Hill Times - Policy Briefing on National Defence September 10, 2018*

Taking on a support role for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali is an important mission both for Mali and for Canada.   This mission marks a good starting point for the recommitment to international peacekeeping promised by the Liberals for during the 2015 election campaign. Canada now has 250 personnel in Mali to provide medical evacuations and other critical transportation services using three Chinook transport helicopters and five armed Griffon helicopters as armed escorts.  The delivery on that promise to take on a peacekeeping mission was slow and Canada’s contribution still falls short of the 600 troops and 150 police that the Liberals promised to commit to peace operations nearly four years ago.  Yet Canada is once again making a contribution to international peacekeeping.

Saying that participating in this mission is not in Canada’s national interest ignores both Canada’s long commitment to development programs in Mali and the value of promoting peace and stability in countries like Mali.   Success in Mali means that the international community can help avoid a massive humanitarian catastrophe and at the same time deny operating space and recruiting opportunities for international terrorist organizations, the drug trade and the human trafficking operations that grow out of failed states.  Canada has a proud history of peacekeeping because Canadians understand the common benefits of participating in these kinds of peace operations.

Saying that there is no peace to keep in Mali misrepresents the complex and difficult situation on the ground.  Peacekeeping operations are always complex, difficult and dangerous and in that Mali is no different.  Since 2013 there have been 162 casualties among international peacekeepers. Yet very few of these deaths were the result of direct combat. Rather they have been accidental deaths resulting from ground and air transport accidents and deaths from ongoing failures to detect Improvised Explosive Devices during patrols. Canadian troops have had extensive training for and experience in operating in the conditions present in Mali.  New Democrats for our part have been calling on the Government of Canada to ensure our troops continue to have the equipment, training, and support they need to successfully achieve their objectives while minimizing the risks undoubtedly present in this mission.

Peacekeeping operations offer the best chance for a society to emerge from prolonged conflict by creating the necessary political, socio-economic, and security conditions. Peacekeeping not only creates the space for the peace process to succeed, in addition to providing security support, peacekeepers can also assist in rebuilding social services such as health and education which are vital to the long-term successful transition from conflict to peace. Security and social development must be given equal weight to ensure countries like Mali do not descend further into conflict and become failed states.

While the commitment to Mali by the Liberal government is welcome, it still fails to meet the government's promises made during the 2015 election campaign or the promises made during the 2017 UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Conference in Vancouver. There are also concerns that Canada's commitment to Mali is too short term in comparison to the three years that the Netherlands and Germany committed to before. Many experts agree that a one year commitment is not long enough to allow sufficient progress towards peace. In fact when you factor in the length of time it takes for the forces to deploy to the region, moving in all of the equipment and personnel, followed by the time it takes to conclude operations, Canadian Peacekeepers may effectively be in Mali for less than the promised 12 months. Peacekeeping takes considerable time and resources and one year is not the kind of engagement that Canadians expected when the Prime Minister announced that "Canada was back." New Democrats strongly support this involvement in Mali but we also call on the government to keep their promise of committing considerable resources to peace operations in Mali and other areas.