The Canadian peacekeeping monument in Ottawa is a reminder of Canada’s legacy, one that should be continued with a government-run peacekeeping training centre in Kingston, says columnist Erika Simpson. (Postmedia file photo)
The Global Peace Index reports that violence is costing the world 13.4 per cent of GDP, and there are now only 10 countries in the world free from conflict. According to the UN’s annual Global Trends Report, one in every 122 humans now either is a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. Defence requirements trump social spending. Climate change, militarization, nationalism, poverty and the global war on terrorism mean defence industries are ever-expanding and arms sales are increasing instead of decreasing. Our country’s arms exports to the Middle East are the world’s second-largest, after the United States. Canada leapfrogged Britain, France, Germany and Russia into second place this month, with $3.44 billion in annual sales. While Canadian government officials talk about respect for human rights, Canada is ranked as the world’s sixth largest weapons exporter overall and that ranking does not count our unreported arms trade with the U.S. under the Defence Production Sharing Agreement.
Civil society organizations — such as the Canadian Peace Research Association, the Rideau Institute, Project Ploughshares, Pugwash Canada, the UN Association, and the World Federalist Movement — are being decimated by cutbacks and staffed mainly by volunteers. What remains of any protest movement tends to focus on opposing particular weapon systems, like the purchase of new F-35s and the sale of London-built light-armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warns, “the world is over-armed and peace is under-funded.”
Pope Francis speaks to the problem’s crux: “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and stop the arms trade.”
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is hailed around the world for his commitment to LGBTQ rights, it is worth remembering U.S. President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and pledged to abolish nuclear weapons. Instead the U.S. is modernizing its nuclear weapons, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates nuclear forces will cost US$348 billion between 2015-2024.
While Americans invest in ballistic missile defence, pledge new B-61 bombers in Europe and send more troops to defend NATO along a new central front in Europe, our Prime Minister refused to renege on the sale of LAVs to Saudi Arabia and promised last week to contribute 1,000 troops to NATO’s symbolic trip-wire force in Latvia to deter the growing threat from Russia. The U.S.-led arms race virtually ensures the great powers, Russia and China, will respond with equivalent spending. At the same time, middle powers are planning to cut the UN’s annual peacekeeping budget of $10.58 billion (Cdn), in order to reduce the burden of long, costly peacekeeping operations.
But a Canadian proposal for a standing United Nations Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS) might help jump-start a better deal for humanity. Developed in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, it was part of a failed initial proposal to improve the UN’s rapid deployment capacity.
A new UNEPS would be inexpensive and small but could help prevent armed conflict, stem atrocities from happening, protect desperate civilians, and deliver prompt startup of demanding peace operations.
It would be an emergency ‘UN 911’ force that could be relied upon when other nations seek to avoid involvement in offshore conflicts and avoid burgeoning costs.
A Canadian initiative to set up a UNEPS would complement existing arrangements and ensure rapid and reliable first responders. Combined with the possible re-establishment of Canada’s former Lester B. Pearson Multinational Peacekeeping Training Centre (which was closed by the government of Stephen Harper), Canada could help train young interns, employ retired Canadian Forces’ personnel, and help train peacekeepers from around the world.
The Department of National Defence is holding a public consultation as part of the defence policy review that is scheduled to end later this month. The mandate letter Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan received from the Prime Minister highlighted a number of themes that could underpin the review, such as renewing Canada’s commitment to UN peace operations.
The government should commit to kick-starting a UN emergency service, and it should re-establish a government-run Canadian peacekeeping training centre in Kingston so DND and the Canadian Forces have what they need to confront new threats and challenges in the years ahead.
BY ERIKA SIMPSON
The London Free Press