Mark Collins – The Great Canadian Traditional Peacekeeping Myth vs Nuclear Weapons

Further to this post,

“‘Peacekeeper’ role just a myth”

and with this post earlier today much in mind,

Canadian Election: Liberal Party’s Defence Platform: Some Tory Song, Just…

…a warmer and fuzzier approach.  More UN peacekeeping…

now consider some historical realities as outlined by Matt Gurney in the National Post:

Let’s get real — peacekeeping never has been the primary role of the Canadian Armed Forces

The peacekeeping myth of Canadian military history has been reasserting itself in the back half of this election campaign. If you ever went to let the air out of the tires of someone waxing poetic about Canada’s traditional role as a peacekeeping nation and the fine tradition of Lester B. Pearson, here’s a fun factoid: Pearson, the father of peacekeeping and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was also the man to arm the Canadian military with hundreds of nuclear weapons.

That’s right. Canadian nukes, courtesy of Pearson the peacekeeper. Bring that up and watch the peacekeeping disciples wilt – assuming they believe you at all. In my experience, sometimes they assume that I’m tragically misinformed, or outright lying to them, just to be a jerk.

If you’re in the disbelieving camp, a quick primer: Canada never developed nuclear weapons itself. But for a 21-year period, from 1963 to 1984, various units of the Canadian Armed Forces, and various Canadian bases both at home and in Europe, were home to American nuclear weapons. The actual warheads were always kept under the control of American personnel, but they were there to be dropped/fired/launched, in time of war, by Canadian troops, who were trained in their use [see Canadian Nuclear Weapons: The Untold Story of Canada’s Cold War Arsenal].

It’s illustrative, though, of the true reality of our military history: peacekeeping is something we’ve had occasion to do, and we’ve done it well when we have. But our traditional role? Our global calling? Puh-leeze. Any politician trying to sell you that is betting that you’re historically illiterate – which in Canada, sadly, is a pretty good bet.

Looking around at the world’s most active conflict zones right now, I can’t really see any of them as being ripe for an old-style blue-helmet deployment, as eager as Messrs. Trudeau and Mulcair might be to contribute to one. Nor are we about to strike off on our own: we simply don’t have the firepower or numbers to do that. We can contribute to larger missions, when they exist. Right now, it’s hard to make the case that there are any missions out there that would be solving the world’s ills if only the Canadians would chip in a battalion or two…


Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


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