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Pearson’s dream withering to nothing February 24, 2010

Posted by Dominique Millette in Canada and multilateralism.
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Canada prides itself on its peacekeeping role, a legacy of Lester B. Pearson’s Nobel-prize winning innovation and advocacy. Today, however, it lags 56th in the world in its contributions to the U.N.-backed international missions. Such a ranking is a far cry from when Canadian forces constituted 10 per cent of the total: “Once the supplier of nearly 3,300 peacekeeping soldiers, Canada now contributes less than one busload, just 57”, states a 2009 document by the Peace Operations Working Group (POWG).

This hasn’t deterred Canadians, and others in the Western world, from viewing intervention as necessary medecine to cure what ails failed states and warring factions abroad. Such is the backdrop to human rights lawyer Ronald Poulton’s book Pale Blue Hope: Death and Life in Asian Peacekeeping, which examines missions and their outcomes in Cambodia and Tajikistan.

Poulton was one of two speakers at a Woodsworth College Alumni Association conference held on February 23, 2010.  He detailed the difficulties of persuading a judge to apply the rule of law in Cambodia, and the challenges of applying due process in a case where men were on trial for killing U.N. peacekeepers in Tajikistan.

According to Poulton, the soldiers he spoke to around the world indicated a dislike of peacekeeping — where often soldiers are unarmed, as are the vehicles they use. Instead, they expressed a desire for more active combat roles. They are certainly getting these in Afghanistan. This outlook, combined with the Defense Ministry’s budget cuts during the Chrétien administration, is what set the stage for Canada’s anemic contributions to U.N. peackeeping missions today. The lawyer-turned author deplores such a development, judging Canada’s noble legacy is worth ressucitating.