The Maple’s recent two-part series on “The Bloody History of Canadian ‘Peacekeeping’” is important to understanding Canadian foreign policy. Even though Canada hasn’t contributed significant troop numbers recently, UN missions remain important to understanding Canadian foreign policy.
Two weeks ago, Ottawa supported a year-long extension of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH). “Canada welcomes the renewal of BINUH UN ’s mandate by the UNSC”, tweeted Canada’s Mission to the UN.
Many Haitian groups campaigned against renewing BINUH’s mandate. Madame Boukman tweeted, “the UN is a tool used by white imperialist nations/blocs (US, France, Canada, EU) to control Haiti under a false humanitarian pretense.”
UN Special Representative in Haiti Helen La Lime has significant political influence and is part of the ‘Core Group’ (US, Canada, France, Brazil, Spain, Germany, EU and OAS) of foreign ambassadors that largely determines Haiti’s political fate.
After consolidating the 2004 US, France and Canada coup against Haiti’s elected government the UN mission was responsible for countless abuses. The foreign soldiers had sex with minors, sodomized boys, raped young girls and left many single mothers to struggle with stigma and poverty after departing the country. Beyond sexual abuse, the UN’s disregard for Haitian life caused a major cholera outbreak, which left over 10,000 dead and a million ill.
500 Canadian troops were part of the UN mission that backed up the coup government’s (2004-2006) violent crackdown against pro-democracy protesters. For years Canada led the policing component of a UN force that also killed dozens of civilians directly in pacifying Cité Soleil, a bastion of support for ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. “‘They came with cholera when they were tired of killing us with bullets’: Community perceptions of the 2010 origin of Haiti’s cholera epidemic” is the title of a recent Global Public Health journal study.
In June Belgium returned a tooth of murdered Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba to his children. It is thought to be the only piece of the elected prime minister remaining after his body was dissolved in acid months after he took office.
In 1960 the UN launched a peacekeeping force that delivered a major blow to Congolese independence aspirations by undermining Lumumba. As detailed in Canada, the Congo Crisis, and UN Peacekeeping, 1960-64, Canadian soldiers played a significant role in the Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC) force that enabled Lumumba’s assassination. Canadian troops dominated intelligence-gathering positions within the UN mission, and they worked to undermine Lumumba. After the PM escaped house arrest and fled Leopoldville for his power base in the Eastern Orientale province, Canadian Colonel Jean Berthiaume assisted Lumumba’s political enemies by helping recapture him. Kept in place by Ottawa, the UN Chief of Staff tracked the deposed prime minister and Berthiaume informed the head of the military, Joseph Mobutu, of Lumumba’s whereabouts. The elected prime minister was killed soon after.
Under cover of a 70-year-old UN deployment, Ottawa is stoking conflict with China today. About 27,000 Canadian troops and eight naval vessels supported a US-led UN “police action” in Korea in the early 1950s. The 1950 UN resolution referred to “a unified command under the United States” but the US-led force wasn’t subject to UN oversight. While an armistice agreement was signed to end the fighting in 1953, the United Nations Command (UNC) remains in place. Twenty-eight thousand US troops are stationed in South Korea to support UNC, which has undercut Korean rapprochement for seven decades.
A small number of Canadian soldiers are part of UNC and in 2018 Canadian General Wayne Eyre became deputy commander of UNC, the first non-US general to hold the post.
Recently, Canadian patrol aircraft and naval vessels have been stationed in Okinawa Japan ostensibly as part of UNC. Eight thousand kilometres from this country, the Canadian forces are aimed at stoking conflict with Beijing.
Over the years UN missions have served various political purposes, but there’s been one overriding principle from Canada’s perspective. As military historian David J. Bercuson pointed out in 2016, Canadian peacekeeping was “done to serve the interests of NATO, and not because we were placing our military at the service of humankind.”
Through UN missions in Korea (1950), Congo (1960) and Haiti (2004) Ottawa contributed directly to major US imperial crimes. 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.
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. Ignoring the power politics often driving UN missions has resulted in (unwitting?) support for western imperialism.
It’s long past time to lay to rest benevolent Canadian peacekeeping mythology.
On August 10 Yves Engler will be speaking at the webinar on “Understanding Canadian peacekeeping”