During the first half of the 20th century, some 1.5 million Canadians were called upon to defend peace and freedom around the world during the Boer War (1899-1902), the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War.
Following these terrible conflicts, in which more than 110,000 Canadians died, Canada and other countries felt that it was better to try to prevent wars than to fight them. From the founding of the United Nations (UN) on 24 October 1945, Canada has played a significant role in international peace efforts and other overseas military actions, often collectively referred to as "peacekeeping".
Canadian Peacekeeping: Introduction
Over the past 60 years, Canada's role in complex, integrated peace operations has evolved to meet new international challenges. Our steady activity in UN peace missions increasingly has expanded into regional or coalition missions mandated by the UN. Now, we support and participate in peace operations led by, for example, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU).
Excluding the UN operation in Korea, more than 150,000 Canadian Forces members have served in dozens of international peace missions to more than 40 countries over the past six decades. To date, 185 Canadians have died in these efforts and many more have suffered physical and mental injury. Peacekeeper's Park in Garrison Green, Calgary, Alberta, is dedicated to the memory of those who have lost their lives in the cause of peace and contains a memorial wall that lists their names.
Down the street from Peacekeeper's Park is Buffalo Park dedicated to the memory of the nine Canadians who died on 9 August, 1974, when their Buffalo aircraft was downed by a missile on an approach to Damascus, Syria.
Canada's part in such peace operations is intended to help bring security, stability and support to highly volatile situations, and to lay the ground for reconstruction and development.
"Peacekeeping operations" is a simple label for a huge range of connected military, diplomatic and humanitarian tasks, as diverse as reforming justice and security systems, disarming and demobilizing troops, reintegrating them into peaceful pursuits, and supporting humanitarian assistance.
Canadian Peacekeeping: The Origins
Canada's window on the world has reflected its role in international life. When the League of Nations failed, the world's leaders attempted to do better with the UN. In the 1920s Canadians were able to say they were so “far from the source of ignition, that they needed no fire insurance”. But the years 1939-45 proved, as had the years 1914-18, that what was happening in another part of the world could easily affect Canada.
As a consequence, since 1945 Canada has maintained a much larger full-time military than it did prior to 1914 or between 1919 and 1939. These forces were maintained not only to protect Canada's sovereignty, but to counter the threat of communism in Western Europe and to contribute to other international operations.
Canadian foreign policy after 1945 focused on international security, principally through the UN. While the founders of the United Nations had not envisioned “peacekeeping” as one of its activities, Article 43 of the UN Charter calls on member nations “in order to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security, undertake to make available to the Security Council, on its call … armed forces … necessary for the purpose of maintaining international peace and security".
The UN Charter makes provision for a potentially powerful Military Staff Committee with access to UN Member Nations who would provide well-equipped, well-trained military forces prepared and ready to immediately combat aggression when called upon; however, these provisions were never implemented.
Article 42 of the UN Charter empowers the Security Council to "take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security". The UN Secretary General is empowered to investigate situations where peace was being threatened, and is free to send observers.
It is mainly under the provisions of Chapter VI of the Charter, which deals with the peaceful resolution of disputes, and the above Chapter VII provisions and that the Security Council has enacted hundreds of resolutions for the creation and maintenance of peacekeeping forces.
Canadian Peacekeeping: 1947 to 1989
From 1947 to 1989, with a few notable exceptions, peacekeeping followed the traditional model envisaged by Lester Pearson under Chapter VI of the Charter: the insertion of military forces (or, in some cases, armed or unarmed military observers) between warring factions in order to permit the negotiation of peace by diplomats or political leaders.
Serving in an observer role and peacekeeping were not, however, among the highest Canadian defence priorities. Before 1955 one would have had difficulty finding any reference to this function in the official documents of the defence department.
All the same, Canadian soldiers would be asked to conduct numerous observer missions, most notably in the Middle East under the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), which investigated and reported on violations of the 1949 ceasefire between Israel and its neighbours. Canadian servicemen would also participate, directly or indirectly, as UN observers in the conflict between India and Pakistan, as well as in Yemen and Lebanon.
Canada's actions on behalf of the peace objective have occasionally involved significant resources. This was the case with the first major mission under the aegis of the UN, though commanded by the United States, better known as the Korean War.
On 30 June 1950, to help restore peace, Canada sent three destroyers that would quickly become involved in convoy escort and bombardment in support of UN troop landings and departures and against enemy trains using coastal railways.
In July, an air transport squadron was also placed under UN command to serve between the U.S. and Japan. On 7 August came the announcement that a Canadian Army Special Force was being formed for service with UN forces in Korea.
By the time the war in Korea ended, almost 22,000 Canadians had served there. With more than 1,500 casualties, including 309 dead, this action became the third most costly of Canada's overseas military commitments.
With the adoption of the Pearson proposal on 1 November 1956, to separate the Israeli and Egyptian forces until an agreement could be reached, the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) was created. While, in this case, fighting that was expected to be over in a few months went on for more than 20 years, the creation of UNEF initiated a process that continues, in various forms, to this day.
When the first UNEF was authorized, Canada elected to contribute a battalion of the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada. At that time Canadian soldiers were barely distinguishable from their British brethren who had only just left Egypt, having supported Israel in October and November 1956.
Canada provided the mission with logistical support and more than 1,000 signalmen, engineers, logisticians, pilots and sailors. UNEF continued until June 1967, when President Nasser of Egypt order its withdrawal and resumed battle against Israel in the 1967 war.
In UNEF II (1973-79) Canada would provide a similar number of personnel, and their role would approximate that of their predecessors. Since 1979 and the Camp David Agreement settling the dispute between Egypt and Israel, Canada has provided troops to the Multinational Force and Observers created under that Agreement and operating in the Sinai Desert.
Congo and Cyprus
Between 1960 and 1964, more than 400 Canadians, signalmen and air units, served as a part of the 20,000-strong UN Operation in the Congo (UNOC) to assist in the restoration and maintenance of law and order.
In Cyprus in 1964, Canada, as part of the UN Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), intervened between Turkish and Greek Cypriots. 58 Canadian contingents participated until 1993, totaling more than 50,000 thousand troops a number of whom served in Cyprus more than once.
Other International Missions
In the period up to 1989, Canadian service men and women have also participated in UN or other international missions in:
- West New Guinea (1962-63),
- Yemen (1963-64),
- Dominican Republic (1965-66),
- Nigeria (1968-70),
- Vietnam (1973-74),
- Syria-Israel (1974-present),
- Lebanon (1978-present),
- Afghanistan and Pakistan (1988-90),
- Iran-Iraq (1988-91),
- Namibia (1989-90), and
- Central America (1989-92).
Canadian Peacekeeping: Post-Cold War
Canada's role in peace operations has become dramatically more complex since the end of the Cold War in 1989 due to many factors, including:
- New missions - The Cold War's end signaled a new era of international co-operation at the UN. In the five years ending in 1996, the UN set up 24 new peacekeeping missions - six more than the total for the previous 43 years. UN peacekeeping hit an all-time high in late 2006, with more than 80,000 peacekeepers serving on 18 different missions.
- New conflicts within states - Traditional peacekeeping generally took place between states, monitoring peace treaties to which all parties had agreed, and patrolling contested borders. Lately, more conflicts have been internal. The parties are 'non-state actors', not governments. They are harder to define, making it harder to identify who should participate in peace negotiations.
- New actors - Conflict resolution is no longer the exclusive job of the UN. Regional organizations such as NATO, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Organization for African Unity are also involved. In addition, a wide range of other civil and non-governmental organizations (NGO) plays key roles in peace operations.
- New skills - Because of the complexity of recent crises, responding personnel often require a greater mix of skills. Military personnel now work with police and other experts in an attempt to return conflict societies to security. These experts may include regional and municipal administrators; judges and prosecutors to develop judiciaries and run courts; media, health, tax and social policy advisors; child protection experts; election monitors, facilitators and mediators; and even people to manage basic services such as sewage treatment plants or railways.
Also, there is often no clear area of conflict - fighting is spread through a country's entire territory. In these cases, the international community is asked to create basic structures for peace and security, and take on responsibilities that used to be internal affairs of the state.
Canadian peacekeeping policy and its military doctrine continue to evolve to meet these changes. Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Canada deployed as a part of the UN-mounted anti-Iraqi coalition under American command, three Canadian ships, two fighter squadrons, an infantry company and a field hospital to the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91.
The Canadians, under the command of an integrated headquarters located at Al-Manâma, Bahrain, served mainly in the naval blockade of Iraq and air reconnaissance or combat patrols. No casualties were suffered. Following this war, Canadians served as a part of the UN Kuwait-Iraq Observation Mission until 2001.
Canada has participated in over 50 peacekeeping missions since 1947, excluding the UN operation in Korea. Canadian Forces have supplied a total of over 150,000 men and women, more than 185 of whom have been killed in various parts of the world.
Every day Canadian Forces members put their lives at risk, often leaving their families and homes behind to courageously and selflessly serve in our nation's military, defending Canada's values and contributing to international peace and security.
Since 1991, Canada has contributed to other UN or UN-sanctioned peacekeeping operations in:
- Western Sahara (1991-94),
- El Salvador (1991-95),
- Angola (1991-93),
- Cambodia (1991-2000),
- Maritime Interdiction Force,
- Red Sea Arabian Gulf 1992 and 1995 respectively),
- Republics of the former Yugoslavia (1992-2001),
- Somalia (1992-94),
- Mozambique (1992-94),
- Haiti (1993-2000),
- Uganda-Rwanda (1993-94),
- Rwanda (1994-96),
- Dominican Republic (1994),
- Kosovo (1998-2002),
- Central African Republic (1998-99),
- East Timor (1999-2000),
- Ethiopia and Eritrea (200-2003), and
- Afghanistan (2001 to present).
Canadian Peacekeeping: Faces of Peace
The mission of the Canadian Forces members is to defend our country, its interests and its values, while contributing to international peace and security. They serve in many capacities at home and throughout the world carrying on Canada's proud military tradition.
Over the years, many Canadian Forces veterans have served overseas in a variety of United Nations (UN), North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and other multinational task forces.
International peace missions often have positive effects but the strife, conflict and death that can surround these efforts is not always easy to handle.
Being separated from friends and family for months at a time, the possibility of witnessing extreme violence and cruelty (sometimes ethnic cleansing such as that in the former Yugoslavia or in Rwanda), of having to use force or have force used against you, and the realization that you could be killed or wounded while carrying out your duties are some of the experiences that many Canadian Forces veterans know well.
Canadian Peacekeeping: Challenges
"Peacekeeping' is based on the idea that having a force of impartial troops present in a regional conflict can help reduce tensions and improve the chance of peaceful settlement to a violent conflict. But filling this role is demanding work.
Put yourself in the boots of a person leaving on an international peace mission. You could be called upon to monitor cease-fires, patrol buffer zones, act as an intermediary between clashing groups, clear landmines, be a witness to or investigate war crimes, protect refugees and provide humanitarian assistance.
The role of the Canadian Forces now involves all aspects of peace support, including peace-making and peace-building. The skills and training needed for peace support includes "combat skills' as well as "contact skills.' Their lives and the lives of others often depend on their skill in both areas and their ability to use both at the right time.
Each situation encountered by the Canadian Forces when they enter a new peace mission is unique. Canadian Forces members returning from peace missions often remark that "there was very little peace to keep", a reference to the fact that our military is often asked to intervene in situations of full-fledged war where the environment is not at all peaceful, and where war continues to exist.
Canadian Peacekeeping: Honours
In 1988, the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize was collectively awarded to the world's peacekeepers, including thousands of Canadians, who served in UN missions during that year. This honour inspired Canada to create the Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal. Tens of thousands of serving Canadian Forces members and veterans proudly wear this medal.
International peace missions have a large element of 'reaching out.' While there is always a political element to peace missions, the on-the-ground efforts are often characterized by human emotion and compassion.
For example, during the UN peace efforts in Somalia in the early 1990s, Naval Lieutenant Heather MacKinnon operated a medical clinic, worked in hospitals and orphanages and provided humanitarian assistance to the victims of war and famine in the embattled city of Mogadishu.
It was a tense and dangerous time, and the risks of working there were very real. Lt. MacKinnon helped many people in this time of great upheaval and laid the groundwork for further relief efforts in the battered country.
Canadian Peacekeeping: Sacrifice
Many Canadians have served on several international missions in the course of their careers, repeatedly fulfilling their duties against the constant background of danger. One example of this special effort comes from Master Corporal Mark Isfeld. He was a combat engineer who served in three peace missions before losing his life in a landmine explosion in Croatia in 1994.
This Canadian soldier was known for giving children in war-torn regions handmade dolls that his mother and others in Canada had made. He passed out these dolls to try to bring a little happiness and hope to the children. After his tragic death, the story began to spread of how he touched children's lives with those handmade dolls from Canada.
Thousands of these dolls then began to flood in from people all across Canada who decided to make dolls for other Canadian soldiers to give away overseas and keep Master Corporal Isfeld's tradition alive. The dolls have since become known as 'Izzy dolls'.
There is a belief held by many Canadians that Canada is a nation of "Peacekeepers". While this may be true in part, it fails to recognize the warrior spirit that lives on in this country and the belief that all peoples have the right to live in peace with freedom and justice.
Attaining this vision, through the UN or on UN-sanctioned operations involves a risk to life, courage, determination, and patience. In this respect, today's service men and women carry on a great Canadian tradition.
In spite of the many challenges and difficulties associated with "Peacekeeping", Canadian Forces veterans have made many personal and global achievements, and have made personal sacrifices to defend Canada's interests and its values, while contributing to international peace and security.
These men and women take their honoured place in our country's military history beside their fellow veterans and fallen comrades of Canada's earlier war efforts. Their commitment has earned Canada a worldwide reputation as a country that supports and protects peace with freedom.
A Summary of Canada's Peacekeeping Contributions:
- 175,000: The number of Canadian troops who have been deployed on peacekeeping missions over the last 60 years.
- 1,700: The number of Canadian deaths on peacekeeping missions.
- 25,000: The number of Canadian troops who served in Cyprus during almost 30 years of involvement there between 1964 and 1993.
- 60: The number of six-month rotations of Canadian troops through Cyprus in that period.
- 500: The number of Canadian troops dispatched to the Sinai in 1956 in the first real UN peacekeeping deployment, the United Nations Emergency Force I.
- 1,000: Number of Canadians in UNEF in 1957.
- 40,000: Number of Canadian soldiers who fought in the Afghanistan war between 2001 and 2014.