Canada will send up to 600 troops for United Nations peace operations and spend $450 million over three years on peace and stability programs, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday, alongside Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion and International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau. While deploying 600 troops would represent a dramatic increase from the 19 deployed on United Nations missions at the end of July, he said it's still not a sizable contingent.
"It is time for Canada to choose engagement over isolation", Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said.
The government did not say when a decision on a specific mission will be made, though one prime opportunity would come when Trudeau addresses the UN General Assembly in NY next month.
The ministers are also expected to announce that Canada will contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to a new peace operations fund that will put a heavy emphasis on protecting civilians. But they said the United Nations had learned from the past and that it was in Canada's own interest to return peacekeeping.
He also pointed out this aspect to the hastily called news conference: "The commitments are being announced in advance of a major conference in London". Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said there are some missions in Africa that have the potential to make a difference with a little support from a country like Canada. Canada did not attend last year's summit in Washington, which was organized by U.S. President Barack Obama.
It marks a return to a peacekeeping role historically played on the world stage by Canada but was cut back in more recent years. There have also been concerns that the military, which also has a large mission in Iraq and will be soon going to Latvia, is being stretched thin. As of the end of July, 19 Canadian troops were deployed on peacekeeping missions, The Canadian Press wire service reported, and the new 600 figure will bring Canada more in line with its peacekeeping commitment during the 1990s. Canada ranked 67th out of 121 contributing countries, between Paraguay and Romania.
"We will now have important decisions to take around where and how those Canadian forces and resources are deployed", Trudeau said. But all four represent complex and unsafe environments, with no easy solutions.
United Nations officials will quickly begin talks with Ottawa to nail down the specific details of the contribution, which could also include helicopters, desperately needed for the United Nations mission in Mali. Peacekeepers in the DRC and South Sudan, meanwhile, have been accused of not doing enough to protect civilians. The UN says a total of 75 Canadians were involved in such missions at the end of July.
In an op-ed published in the Daily Nation newspaper in Kenya on Thursday, Sajjan acknowledged that peacekeeping has changed over the years. "We need to look at the root cause of conflict, and think of innovative ways to move forward".
Sajjan has said the government won't task the military with anything that commanders believe they can't handle.
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