President Biden pushing Prime Minister Trudeau to engage in peacekeeping may surprise those who view UN military missions as an alternative to US imperialism. But Washington has long promoted Canadian participation in ‘peacekeeping’ that serves US interests.
In a recent letter to Global Affairs the US called on Ottawa to establish a 200-strong UN military force the Liberals promised to create four years ago. Washington also called on Canada to commit drones and medical services to the UN.
Contrary to what some leftist commentators claim, Canadian internationalism has rarely been at odds with American belligerence. As far as I can tell, major Canadian peacekeeping missions have always received support from Washington.
Canada’s sizable contribution to UN missions in Egypt and Cyprus were largely designed to reduce tensions within NATO. In Egypt (1956) the US opposed the British/French invasion while in Cyprus (1964) NATO members Turkey and Greece were on opposite sides. Through UN missions in Korea (1950), Congo (1960) and Haiti (2004) Ottawa contributed to US imperial crimes.
Korea was Canada’s first foray into UN peacekeeping/peacemaking and it was done at Washington’s behest. US troops intervened in Korea and then Washington moved to have the UN support their action, not the other way around. US troops landed 24 hours before the UN endorsed military action and the UN resolution in support of military action in Korea referred to “a unified command under the United States.” Incredibly, United Nations forces were under US General Douglas MacArthur’s control, yet he was not subject to the UN. Around three million people were killed in the 1950–53 Korean war and Canadian troops remain part of the UN force in South Korea 70 years later.
In 1956 Canadian peacekeepers were dispatched to Egypt after the US opposed the British-French-Israeli invasion. After coordinating with US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, external affairs Minister Lester Pearson proposed sending an international force to Egypt to remove the invading armies. Dulles said the US “would be happy if Pearson formulated” a plan to keep the peace and Washington offered to transport troops from their home countries to join the UN mission in Egypt.
The Suez Crisis demonstrates how disunity — it’s known as a “crisis” because Washington opposed the British/French/Israeli invasion — weakened the West. US decision-makers feared that British/French actions would push parts of the Arab world closer to the Soviets unless they opposed their European allies’ actions forcefully. Additionally, Washington criticized the French/British invasion to send a message to the former colonial powers that the US was the new master in this geo-strategically important region.
Between 1960 and 1964, about 1,900 Canadian troops participated in the Opération des Nations Unies au Congo. Siding with Washington, Ottawa promoted UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold’s controversial position against elected independence leader Patrice Lumumba. Canadian peacekeepers worked to undermine Lumumba and decades later Canadian Colonel Jean Berthiaume boasted that he helped army commander Joseph Mobutu capture Lumumba who was subsequently killed.
After invading with US and French troops to oust Haiti’s president and thousands of other elected officials, Canadian troops participated in the 2004 UN mission there. Then foreign affairs minister Bill Graham later admitted the US pressured Canada to engage in Haiti and a 2008 US government cable leaked by WikiLeaks stated, “the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti is an indispensable tool in realizing core USG [government] policy interests in Haiti.”
Canadian participation in UN missions has been supported by Washington and these missions have often advanced US imperialism. As such, it’s not surprising Washington would be pressing Ottawa to increase its contribution to UN peacekeeping.