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Friday, December 11, 2009

Canada drops to 63rd in number of UN peacekeepers: report

Canada has dropped to 63rd place on the list of nations contributing troops to United Nations missions, just behind Cambodia, according to a new report.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report points out that, contrary to claims often heard in Canada that UN peacekeeping is dead, the demand for such troops has actually grown in recent years. As of September, there were 83,853 UN peacekeeping soldiers participating in 15 operations around the world.

The study points out that Canada was contributing just 55 military personnel at that time, while Cambodia contributed 58. Romania was right behind Canada, at 52.

At times in the 1990s, there were more than 3,000 Canadian troops assigned to UN missions.

“There has been a real decision by Canada to abandon peacekeeping, certainly in the military and government,” said the report’s author, Bill Robinson. “Peacekeeping, however, didn’t go away.”

He said senior Canadian military leaders and members of the defence lobby have been successful in convincing Canadians that “peacekeeping is dead.”

“What they haven’t been successful at is convincing Canadians that peacekeeping has no value,” said Robinson, who works as a researcher with the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute. That organization supports Canada’s return to United Nations peacekeeping operations.

“Canadians take pride in peacekeeping and want to get back to it,” he said.

In September, the government released the results of a public-opinion poll conducted for National Defence in which half of those Canadians surveyed said they wanted their soldiers to return to a “peacekeeping-only” role.

The Ipsos-Reid poll, done in March 2008, noted there was “a small, but statistically significant increase” in the number of people who supported a peacekeeping-only international mission for Canadian soldiers.

Military officers and soldiers, however, prefer combat-oriented operations, such as those in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Italy has expanded its contribution to UN peacekeeping, assigning 2,500 troops to missions, Robinson said. China, which had no peacekeepers assigned to the UN in 1990, now has 2,000 personnel operating on such missions.

“This is about national interest as much as it is about global security,” Robinson said.

Some missions are traditional peacekeeping operations, where soldiers separate two warring sides. Other missions require more robust military action on the part of the UN and the world organization has had mixed success in some of those, he said.

“There has been some successes, but that could be improved with more highly trained soldiers,” Robinson said.

The report also noted the significant increase that Canadian governments have made in defence spending. Canada is the 13th-largest military spender in the world in terms of actual dollars spent.

It is also the sixth-largest military spender among the 28 countries in NATO. It trails the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy, all of which have much larger populations and economies, the report noted.

Before the mid-1990s, Canada was consistently among the top 10 contributors to UN peacekeeping missions.

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