‘Peacekeeping’ or defund the military?

I recently participated in a debate with Walter Dorn and others on Canadian peacekeeping. It was illuminating. After Black Alliance for Peace Haiti coordinator Jemima Pierre detailed the horrors of the international body’s mission in Haiti, Dorn was asked if he agreed with the UN mission in that country. The Rideau Institute fellow answered with a definitive yes.

Dorn has aggressively supported Canada’s worst foreign policy crime of the first decade of the 21st century. He lectured on “The Protection of Civilians: The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti” and repeatedly promoted MINUSTAH in media interviews. In 2013 he told the Canadian Press that adding 34 Canadian soldiers to MINUSTAH was a “positive development.”

After helping oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and thousands of other elected officials, 500 Canadian soldiers were incorporated into a UN mission that backed up a coup government’s violent crackdown against pro-democracy protesters between March 2004 and May 2006. The UN force also killed dozens of civilians directly when it pacified Cité Soleil, a bastion of support for Aristide. The worst incident was early in the morning on July 6, 2005, when 400 UN troops entered the densely populated neighbourhood. Eyewitnesses and victims of the attack claim MINUSTAH helicopters fired on residents throughout the operation. The cardboard and corrugated tin wall houses were no match for the troops’ heavy weaponry, which fired “over 22,000 rounds of ammunition”, according to a US embassy file released through a Freedom of Information request. The raid left at least 23 civilians dead, including numerous women and children. The UN initially claimed they only killed “gang” leader Dread Wilme. (Graphic footage of victims dying on camera can be viewed in Kevin Piña’s Haiti: We Must Kill the Bandits.)

Most Haitians saw the UN as an occupying force responsible for innumerable abuses. The foreign forces had sex with minors, sodomized boys, raped young girls and left many single mothers to struggle with stigma and poverty after departing the country. Aside from sexual abuse and political repression, the UN’s disregard for Haitian life caused a major cholera outbreak, which left over 10,000 dead and one million ill. In October 2010 a UN base in central Haiti recklessly discharged sewage, including the feces of newly deployed Nepalese troops, into a river where people drank. This introduced the waterborne disease into the country. Even after the deadly cholera outbreak, UN forces were caught disposing sewage into waterways Haitians drank from. “‘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.

What would the UN have had to do in Haiti for Dorn to oppose it?

Dorn basically always supports UN missions and regularly calls on the international organization to play a bigger military role. His criticism of Canada’s military upholds ‘world needs more Canada’ ideology.

Unfortunately, Dorn’s views matter. He is Canada’s most cited authority on peacekeeping. With regard to Haiti specifically, the UN continues to influence that country’s politics. Canada recently pushed for a year-long extension of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), which is a fraction of the size of MINUSTAH. Through the Organization of American States Canadian officials are pushing to bolster the UN presence in Haiti. OAS head Luis Almagro, who follows Washington and Ottawa’s orders, recently called for the return of UN troops to Haiti. Many Haitians have objected to the possible redeployment of UN soldiers and criticized the extension of BINUH’s mandate.

Dorn’s position also matters for the Canadian left. He is a fellow and advisor with the Rideau Institute, contributing to the organization’s reports and public events. In 2010 Dorn launched the Rideau Institute’s “campaign to make Canada a UN peacekeeper again” and more recently published its report “Unprepared for Peace? The Decline of Canadian Peacekeeping Training (and What to Do About It)”.

Rideau Institute is viewed as a progressive foreign policy think tank. In fact, antiwar minded individuals largely sustain the organization financially.

But Dorn is a professor at Royal Military College and Canadian Forces College. He survives, even thrives, at the military-run colleges because elements of the Canadian Forces have long viewed “peacekeeping”, which demands a military force, as a way to maintain public support for its budget. From the military’s perspective it’s preferable for critics to advocates a shift in its policy rather than reducing its budget, weaponry and size.

If the only choice on offer for progressives regarding military matters were between the views of Dorn or Rick ‘kill the scumbags’ Hillier, we should rally behind Dorn. But accepting that dichotomy is a stark and unnecessary concession to power.

Instead, peace-minded individuals should be pushing to defang and defund Canada’s armed forces. We need to demilitarize Canada.

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