A combination of the national interest, prosperity and stability at home, and decades of peacekeeping experience means that Canada will continue to offer and be called upon to support multilateral missions to advance international peace and security after 2011 and the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan.

It is likely that most future Canadian participation in multilateral peace operations will not be much easier or more obviously successful than has been the intervention in Afghanistan. Peace operations, after all, are by definition mounted in extraordinarily difficult circumstances – where even after peace agreements are signed, state governance remains dangerously fragile, economies are shattered, security forces are seriously compromised, and political loyalties are complex and frayed.

Getting beyond that kind of perilous frailty to arrive at the stability and security that a peace agreement promises is obviously seen by the international community to be aided by multilateral peace operations that are increasingly multidimensional but still dominated by military security assistance forces. The numbers confirm the faith put in peace support missions. Currently there are more than 100,000 police and military personnel serving in 15 UN-managed or -commanded missions, another 100,000 in UN-authorized but not UN-commanded missions, and another 130,000 in Iraq – that is, well over 300,000 security personnel, joined by large numbers of civilians and non-governmental workers, are now deployed throughout the world in missions that are formally dedicated to the restoration of peace and stability in locations of serious instability.[i]

The House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence (NDDN) is currently conducting a study on the future of such “peace operations” and the role of Canadian Forces in them. In the process it will face the basic question, not whether to be engaged in the future, but under what circumstances Canada should once again venture into such risky endeavors. As important will be the question of the appropriate mix of military and civilian contributions. While the NDDN Committee is appropriately focused on the role of Armed Forces in peace support operations, the context in which those Forces function has everything to with a broad range of non-military conditions and programs.

There are compelling arguments in favor of Canadian involvement in such operations and especially in favor of shifting the balance within those operations sharply toward the multidimensional civilian efforts that are widely and rightly understood to be critical to success.[ii]

1. The Canadian national interest:

The security and well-being of Canada and Canadians are inextricably linked to global stability and prosperity. We rely on an international order that respects Canadian sovereignty and territorial integrity; we want and need an order that functions according to broadly accepted rules and international law. So Canada necessarily has a history of responding to security concerns beyond our borders, not only when our interests are directly threatened, but also when there are serious strains on the stability of the international system on which we ultimately depend. Importantly, the Canadian interest is also shaped by a core value that commits us to coming to the aid of the world’s most vulnerable – partly because chronic human suffering undermines confidence in and respect for a rules based order and thus undermines our vital security interests, but also because we simply recognize ourselves as constituents of a common humanity.

2. Privilege and responsibility:

Canada’s contributions to international peace and security are rooted in this country’s extraordinary prosperity and the climate of durable peace and stability at home. Blessed not only by domestic peace and stability but also by a safe and stable neighborhood, Canada comes to the world stage with significant resources, and responsibilities, available to try to advance beyond our borders the kinds of enviable conditions that prevail within them.

3. A diverse security toolkit:

The fact that Canada does not face imminent or foreseeable military challenges to its sovereignty, territorial integrity, or internal order means that it enjoys considerable flexibility in considering the best ways and means of addressing security challenges beyond our borders. In other words, because Canada is not burdened by the need to maintain high levels of military forces for security at home, our international peace and security toolkit need not be dominated by military preparedness. We have options—we can decide on the most effective ways to deploy resources abroad in response to contemporary security threats. Canada is thus in an excellent position to make the kinds of multidimensional contributions to international peace and security that a succession of witnesses to the Committee has said are essential. The civilian-driven UN-managed peace operations are best suited to embracing this multidimensional approach.

4. Addressing day-to-day insecurities:

It should go without saying that contributions international peace and security should ultimately be responsive to the insecurities experienced by people on a daily basis – those insecurities are most prominently in the form of unmet basic needs, political exclusion, denied rights, social and political disintegration, and the criminal and political violence that invariably attend such conditions. It follows then that the most urgent requirement is to build the favorable social, political, economic, and law enforcement conditions that can mitigate these insecurities. 

This in turn means that security preparedness involves much more than military capacity. A comprehensive Canadian approach to international peace and security requires attention to, and funding for:[iii] 

  • Development – to reduce poverty and generate economic conditions conducive to sustainable human security;
  • Democracy – to promote good governance, political inclusiveness, and respect for human rights;
  • Disarmament – to limit the availability of weapons, especially to non-state groups;
  • Diplomacy – to pursue the peaceful settlement of disputes;
  • Defence – to restore and maintain stability through military contributions to multilateral peace support operations.

 This “5-D” approach is widely understood as the logical response to the Security Council’s insistence on “a comprehensive approach to address the situation in Afghanistan” and its recognition that “there is no purely military solution to ensure the stability of Afghanistan,”[iv] but neither the financial nor diplomatic/political resources devoted to Afghanistan and some other peace support operations reflect that understanding.

 [email protected]


[i] “United Nations Peacekeeping,” The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/currentops.shtml.

   Annual Review of Global Peace Operations 2010. A project on the Center on International Cooperation, “2009 Non-UN-Commanded Military and Observer Missions,” Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2010, p. 174 and 176.

[ii] The Director General of the Stabilization and Reconstruction Taskk Force at Foreign Affairs recently told NDDN: “Today, peace operations are multi-dimensional, and demand a variety of expertise beyond military actors, to include civilian expertise and capacity. …[T]oday’s peace operations are called upon to address not only the protection of civilians but also to provide security for locations, advance peace processes and implement peace agreements, encourage reconciliation and investigate human rights violations, monitor and respond to the illegal movement of arms and natural resources, disarm and demobilized combatants, and so forth.” Elissa Goldberg Testimony, May 27, 2010.  


[iii] Ernie Regehr, “Reshaping the security envelope,” International Journal, Autumn 2005, pp. 1033-1048.

[iv] UNSC Resolution 1917 (2010), 22 March 2010. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N10/283/38/PDF/N1028338.pdf?OpenElement.

The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.