Sunday, March 26, 2006

Canada’s Military in Afghanistan –Peacekeeping or Security & Combat?

Kim Richter, our contributing LFP columist has started a controversial discussion in her recent posting on March 23 in LFP. She says, “I have become increasingly uncomfortable with this government's move away from peace-keeping and into a more aggressive military presence” and cites a disconcerting Canadian Government-financed advertisement poster in a public Washington DC Metro Center Metrorail station as an example.

The March 25th front page of the Vancouver Sun says that while Prime Minister Harper’s approval rating is up by 21 points following his surprise trip to Afghanistan, the Canadian public’s support for our military mission there has dropped two percent nationally with significant drops of 8% support in both of each BC and Ontario. Nationally the drop shows only 52% in support of the mission with Quebecers 62% against the mission. Why is Councillor Richter concerned with our military mission and why the ever increasing drop of support nationally? More importantly why are Canadians clearly divided on our military role in Afghanistan?

Langley Free Press agrees with Richter’s concern and wades into this controversial argument. It seems to us that at least half of Canada also agrees with her concerns as well.

In 1957 Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson proposed an International peace force under the United Nations. That year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his vision. Since 1957, Canada has been involved in over 50 peacekeeping missions, more than any other country. We are the only Country that has a national monument dedicated to our Peacekeeping military and even our $10 bill has an image on it honouring our Peacekeeping soldiers. Peacekeeping is a long held half century old Canadian point of pride and helps further define us as Canadians maybe even more so than our universal health care.

The Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping on their website lists 121 Canadians who gave their lives in the cause of peace in our over 50 year history of peacekeeping while serving with United Nations and other peacekeeping missions. Since commencing our military action in Afghanistan there have already been 11 Canadian deaths and 40 casualities alone. Meanwhile our political and military leaders have clearly been preparing Canadians to expect more casualties in this conflict.

The issue we have here is not just Canada’s commitment to Peacekeeping but the sudden and not so subtle marketing evolution from the image of a respected UN blue beret bearing Canadian soldier to an image on a banner of a steel helmeted, battle garbed, gun toting soldier with the accompanying headline “boots on the ground…security is our business” that Richter showcased.

Are we straying away from, or worse still, sacrificing our traditional world wide strong reputation and respected role that Canada has earned as a Peacekeeper? Is it perhaps more the role of countries like the U.S. that have historically demonstrated themselves as forced Peacemakers, not Canada? Quite frankly the American track record on forced Peacemaking has not been a stellar one either. What other Country is prepared to replace Canada’s worldwide respected peacekeeping role when really needed for Peacekeeping if we lose respect and acceptance as a Peacekeeper?

Traditional Canadian Peacekeeping took place between states or sides in a political conflict in order to monitor a peace treaty upon which all parties had agreed. When and why has it suddenly become our role now to essentially force peace and our version of democracy on a foreign country? Why has it suddenly changed to the point that we have essentially become one of the two sides in a military conflict?

It seems to us that the banner poster in a public Washington DC Metro Center Metrorail station proudly heralds this change of Canada’s military and further should alert us, while it obviously assures our American neighbours, that we are no longer peacekeepers between two warring factions but that we are now joining the Americans as forced peacemakers and that we are now one of the two warring factions?

While there will be very valid arguments forwarded justifying Canada’s Peacemaking participation based on supporting democratic change especially for women’s rights and the like, it could also be validly argued that many other nations in the Mid-East, including wealthy and stable nations like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, are certainly also far from democratic and at best extremely restrictive on human rights for women and the like. Why do we not impose our version of democracy on them as well as countless other similar countries? Maybe that is exactly the reason that causes armed resistance and terrorism in the Middle East, because it is perceived that the western countries are supporting what they consider to be American Imperialism.

Most fundamental Middle-East conflicts are strongly based on resistance and rebellion as a result of this perception that American and western societies’ values are being forced on them. This is especially true in countries with strong fundamental religious majorities. We in the West are perplexed as to why increasingly countless men and now women are willing to sabotage, especially by suicide missions, our attempts to influence our western ways on them.

Lengthy continued western occupations especially military ones like Afghanistan are most certainly prone to be doomed in these countries and cultures. Let’s not forget that a significant Russian military occupation of Afghanistan prior to ours was also an abysmal failure that resulted in countless young Russian soldiers’ deaths for naught. Will this continued military action in Afghanistan negatively and irreversibly reinforce Canada’s role as an occupier and fervent supporter of America and end our respected world wide role as a Peacekeeper initially implemented by Lester B. Pearson?

The reality is that Canada is not on a peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. We are there in support of the American mission of “security and combat” that the poster in Washington confirms. We are assisting in now forcing our western values and our version of democracy on a country that one has to question whether they will ever truly accept especially if imposed militarily by the West. Should Canada perhaps stick to our knitting as a true Peacekeeper? Should Canada instead work diplomatically and economically to encourage, and positively assist these countries to willingly evolve their basic human rights and democracies in the mid and long term? Can short term 3rd party western military imposed democratic reform take hold and flourish in the Middle East countries? We think not.

Perhaps the American invasion of Afghanistan was well justified initially but is it right for Canada to trade-in our world wide respected image as a blue beret UN Peacekeeper for a helmeted security and combat image proclaiming "Boots on the Ground..... Security is our Business."? Again we think not. We encourage much more Canadian public debate, and soon, before it is too late.

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