This type of UN peacekeeping was markedly different from that practised in the KOREAN WAR. There, because the USSR fortuitously was boycotting the Security Council when the crisis arose in late June 1950, the US was able to organize a "police action" to resist the north Korean invasion. Much more typical, even if not under the UN, was the Canadian role on the International Commissions for Supervision and Control in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. These commissions (usually called International Control Commissions, or ICCs) were set up by the Geneva Conference of 1954 on a "troika" model, with a communist state (Poland), a Western state (Canada) and a neutral (India).
The task was important, since the ICCs had responsibility for relocating populations, supervising elections and watching the new boundaries. The manpower commitment was relatively heavy, however, as almost 100 bilingual officers and a substantial number of External Affairs officials were required for what proved to be a notably thankless task. In Cambodia and Laos there was initially some success, but the Vietnam ICC bogged down in futility as the war there spread out of control in the 1960s.
But in 1956, when the Suez Crisis arose, Canadians eagerly seized on the opportunity for UN service. The United Nations had quickly become involved when Britain and France co-operated with Israel in an assault on Egypt. The Canadian interest was to minimize the harm done to the Western alliance by the Anglo-French aggression, and Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs Pearson, working with UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, produced the idea of a peacekeeping force to stabilize the situation and to permit the withdrawal of the attackers. To assist, Pearson offered a battalion of The Queen's Own Rifles. The United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) came into being quickly, with Canada's Gen E.L.M. Burns, commander of the UN Truce Supervision Organization in Palestine, named UNEF's commander.
The Egyptians, to Canada's surprise, objected to the presence of Canadians. The uniforms, the regimental name and the Canadian flags all seemed very similar to those of the British invaders and, the Egyptians argued, their people would not understand. In the end a compromise was struck: Canadian service and supply troops, vital to the success of the UN force, would replace the infantry. This experience played its part in convincing Pearson that Canada needed its own symbols; it also won him the Nobel Peace Prize.
After Suez, Canadians came to feel that peacekeeping was their métier. This was evident in July 1960 when a newly independent Congo erupted in violence. The Diefenbaker government was reluctant to participate when the UN asked for signallers and other troops, but public opinion forced the government's hand. Peacekeeping popularity had been established, and there was no hesitation in 1962 when Canada sent a small number of men to West New Guinea (Irian Jaya), or in the next year when servicemen went to Yemen for service with a UN observer mission. A much larger commitment followed in 1964 when the UN intervened to separate Greeks and Turks in Cyprus. Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs Paul MARTIN was instrumental in creating the Cyprus UN force.
But the heyday of peacekeeping was in decline. Some critics were already beginning to complain that peacekeeping merely rendered situations static and did nothing to resolve them. Others worried about costs and casualties, and fretted over often unclear mandates. A severe blow came in 1967 when President Nasser ordered the UNEF out of Egypt, and then ordered the Canadian force to withdraw. Another Arab-Israeli war followed. The expulsion of the Canadians amounted almost to a national humiliation, a reaction that was not eased by charges that Canadians in the ICC had been spying for the US. The idea of peacekeeping had helped to reinforce a mythos of Canada as an impartial and acceptable observer, but peacekeeping fell out of favour for a time in Canada.
By the 1980s, however, both the Trudeau and Mulroney governments seemed willing to consider new requests for troops more favourably; for Canadian service personnel, however, peacekeeping had become a chore rather than an opportunity, and the public attitude to UN service remains ill defined.
In the early 1990s, the end of the Cold War and the demise of Soviet influence in international affairs left power vacuums throughout the world. Without the cohesion of Soviet military authority, many of the former Soviet states, notably Yugoslavia, disintegrated into ethnic conflict. The UN responded with mixed results in order to bring some form of military peace as well as humanitarian aid to the stricken people. No fewer than 36 separate UN operations were begun from 1988, when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the UN for its peacekeeping operations, to 1998. Canada played a role in most of these operations, making up about 10% of the total peacekeeping forces. As of 1999, Canadian peacekeepers were active in Croatia, Bosnia, Haiti, Minurca and several other trouble spots.
Author J.L. GRANATSTEIN
Links to Other Sites
Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces
The official website of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces. See the menu on the left for additional information on each branch of the Canadian Forces.
Click on the names of Nobel Laureates for biographies, interviews, speeches, and more. From the Nobel Foundation, home of the Nobel Prizes.
Lester Bowles Pearson
This site is dedicated to Lester Pearson, winner of the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize. Includes biography and texts of speeches. The official website of the Nobel Foundation.
Top 10 Things Canadians Should Know About Canada
Click on the 101things.ca link to discover the top 10 things people should know about Canada, a list developed from a national survey of what Canadians felt were the 101 people, places, symbols, events and innovations that most define our nation. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
The Canadian Letters and Images Project
This extensive collection of letters and photographs brings to light personal stories about wartime life at home and on the battlefield. Produced by Malaspina University College in British Columbia.
The Pearson Peacekeeping Centre
The "Pearson Peacekeeping Centre" website offers information about the Centre’s internships, courses, and research programs. Also features the latest news about world hotspots.
Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire (Retired)
This website is devoted to the life and military career of LGen Roméo Dallaire (Retired.) Click on “Speaking Engagements” for a link to a video clip featuring LGen Dallaire. Also check out the notes about the General Roméo Dallaire Foundation and the revealing book and documentary film about his tenure as the former Force Commander of the UN mission to Rwanda.
Indepth: Romeo Dallaire
Romeo Dallaire reflects on the key themes featured in his book "Shake Hands With the Devil – The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda."
Canada's Fighting 'Van Doos'
This CBC Archives site features radio and TV clips that chronicle the history of the Royal 22e Régiment.
A quarterly Canadian magazine devoted to peacemaking, disarmament, conflict resolution, global stability, and related concerns. Offers online articles and letters from current and previous editions (from January 1983 to present). Also, the first Canadian magazine to be produced with desktop publishing software. From the Canadian Disarmament Information Service.
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