UN Day 2011

Focus on: The Press, Peace and The Responsibility to Protect

There has been considerable negative press in recent weeks over alleged misuse of military resources by government personnel. As UN Day approaches and we turn our attention towards a celebration of the UN and of the Canadians who carry out its mandate, it is an appropriate moment to dispel some of these exaggerations and to reinforce the hard work and honest efforts put forward by both the government and our men and women in uniform on behalf of Canadians everywhere. Foremost in current media are claims of taxpayer money having been misspent on air travel provided by the military. Such claims serve to undermine the tremendous work that has been done in recent years by the Minister of National Defence and Chief of Defence Staff alike, who have worked tirelessly to ensure Canadian Forces mission success and whose offices are highly scrutinised and transparent.

The need to defend themselves against such claims serves only to detract attention from more pressing matters that must be given their full attention in order to guarantee the best chance of success. Such matters include, but are not limited to, current operations in Afghanistan and Libya. As the mission in Afghanistan has transitioned from combat oriented operations to a training and mentorship role under Operation Attention, the CF and its mandate in Afghanistan have undergone considerable flux. NATO is currently in its second year of the training mission which aims to bolster the Afghanistan National Army’s ability to provide security for its own people after NATO withdraws. The mission provides guidance on everything from basic soldiering to literacy and is the largest operation of its kind since the second world war. Meanwhile, the Royal Canadian Air Force Lieutenant-General in command of the NATO-led operation in Libya has ensured a higher degree of success and precision than any air campaign in history, due in no small part to the stringent protocols on target selection and choice of ordnance to minimise harm to the civilian populace.

The success of Canada’s military and political apparatus during the highest tempo operational period in decades is a testament to the professionalism and dedication of its members and should be a source of pride and not of condemnation. On the 24th of October, UNA-Canada branches across Canada will celebrate UN Day, with many branches involving Canadian Peacekeepers as a mark of gratitude for service to both the United Nations and its mandate and to Canada. This act, of itself, illuminates an interesting dichotomy between the commonly held notions of historic Canadian contributions to peacekeeping operations and the current Canadian contribution to conventional operations. Many Canadians still harbour views of the golden age of peacekeeping under Pearson’s Suez model as inherently being a part of our national identity and believe that combat-oriented roles move us away from a traditional role in soft diplomacy towards a foreign policy resembling that of our neighbour to the south. However, we are faced with a very different geo-political landscape today than that of the late 1940s and, while Canadian foreign policy has evolved, it has done so with an unshakeable respect for multiculturalism and international citizenship. In September 2000 the Canadian government established the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty which subsequently developed what is now known as the Responsibility to Protect.

The Responsibility to Protect, at its crux, was developed to prevent future scenarios that would mimic that of the Rwandan genocide. As stated in the World Summit Outcome by the General Assembly in 2005, if a state is “manifestly failing to protect its citizens from mass atrocities and peaceful measures are not working, the international community has the responsibility to intervene at first diplomatically, then more coercively, and as a last resort, with military force.” As also mentioned in the report, “no state can stand wholly alone” in the 21st Century and thus when the international community moves in unison, in accordance with international law and with the intent to aid those innocent peoples plighted by systemic violence and gross misuse of power, then force, as a last resort, may be justly employed.

The Responsibility to Protect is not merely rhetoric for Canadians as we have contributed massively to its principles under the UN sanctioned, NATO-led missions in Afghanistan and Libya and have done so with typical Canadian professionalism and respect for the cultures and identity of those whom we have been tasked to aid and to protect. The servicemen and servicewomen of Canada’s armed forces have conducted themselves with a resolve and patience representative of old world Canadian values in a new, perhaps more unstable, global political landscape. This UN Day, I would like to extend my gratitude for the tremendous sacrifices that have been made by the men and women of the Canadian Forces under the auspices of global citizenship, whether deployed on ‘traditional’ peacekeeping operations or on conventional operations, for in both cases they demonstrate true patronage of the values of the United Nations on behalf of a grateful international community.

Theon Te Koeti

President, Victoria Branch

United Nations Assoc. in Canada

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