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B. Bhaneja: What Is Canada's Future as a Global Peacekeeper?

Presentation to a conference on Peace, Order and Good Government:
The Quest for True Canadian Values
Ottawa, Canada - May 30, 2014

Global peacekeeper sounds rather ambitious, but an internationally recognized exemplary peacebuilder may be a more reasonable goal.

The civil society organization I represent, the Canadian Peace Initiative (CPI), is a non-profit, non-partisan group which campaigns for institutions and infrastructures for peacebuilding.

At the turn of the millennium, in 2000, the UN and UNESCO declared the next decade to be a "Decade of Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World." All UN member countries were to work towards that, inspiring their citizenry to get involved in peacebuilding work.

Midway through that decade, in 2005, some of us looked around to see if any such work was being done in Canada. We found mostly speeches of good intentions by politicians with no concrete actions.

Within the federal government, when we reviewed the mandates of such departments as CIDA, DFAIT, and DND, we found peace barely mentioned as a priority in their mission statements.

After the 9/11 attacks, in fact we saw a gradual policy shift in the opposite direction, with Canada abandoning its traditional peacekeeping role and becoming deeply involved in Afghanistan. Our government had chosen to put all its "peace and security" eggs in the NATO basket and wanted to project Canada  as a "warrior nation" than as a peacekeeper. Money was available for NATO wars, and the Peace and Security budget overnight shot from $16 to $20 billion.

In this changing environment, as a civil society organization after four years of ground work, meeting public and political party leaders, we in CPI were surprised when our paradigm of a Department of Peace got a positive resonance from some courageous Members of Parliament. Our concept was introduced as Private Members Bill in the House 40 (Sept, 30, 2009 as bill C-447) and re-introduced in the present House 41 (Nov, 30, 2011 as bill C-373).

In the House 40, it was tabled by a NDP MP and seconded by a Liberal MP. In the present House, by another NDP MP, co-seconded by Green Party Leader and a Liberal MP, 21 MPs supported the bill C-447 including NDP leader late Jack Layton. The number of seconders for the present bill is 17.

Bill C-373 is a 17-page document which describes in detail the mandate and structure of the proposed Department of Peace, headed by a Cabinet Peace Minister.

The mission of a Department of Peace is described as a department that will work towards developing a culture of peace and nonviolent resolution of conflicts.

The fve pillars of a Department of Peace are: Peace Education, Human and Economic Rights, Arms Control and Nuclear Disarmament, Violence Prevention in Canada, and the Establishment of a Civilian Peace Service. What we have done in this bill is to put violence at the center and find ways of preventing it from different capacities/capabilities.

The most unique feature of a Department of Peace is Civilian Peace Service. in this we are asking for a service comprising 600 to 1000 trained peace professionals specialized in prevention, mediation and reconciliation work.

Former NATO Supreme Commander Sir Rupert Smith in his book, Utility of Modern Wars writes that we have not won a single war since the great World War II in the last century. Wherever we have militarily intervened, we have often got stuck there for a decade and longer. Just think of Vietnam, Cyprus, Korea and more recently Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are 194 sovereign nations, but there are over 7000 cultures in the world. Most of today’s wars and conflicts arise at that micro, tribal/ethnic level within a country’s borders in distant lands, of which we have little knowledge culturally, linguistically and geographically.

Our present problem-solving capability in the peace and security field is mainly limited to two kinds of skill sets: diplomacy and soldiering. I call them "suits talking to suits" and “boots aiming at boots.” These skills have proven costly and ineffective in intervening in to inter-tribal/ethnic civil wars.

To bring in someone from a foreign country thousands of miles away to resolve conflicts through military power seems nonsensical, except showing our arrogance, considering that our troops do not know a word of the local language, know about the local religion or understand the local culture and not even trained in doing any peaceful conflict-resolution work.

I feel vindicated this morning by President Obama's foreign policy speech which he gave on Wednesday (May 28, 2014) at the West Point military academy. This is first time we have heard a US president recognize that in today's world military intervention to combat terrorism is "naive and unsustainable." His very appropriate analogy that “having a big hammer doesn't mean that every problem is a nail” should give policymakers pause to think about how we strategize for peace in the 21st Century.

When we are searching for Canada’s future role as a global peacekeeper, it has to be more deliberate, thoughtful and knowledge-based. For that, we need institutions and structures with capabilities that could develop and deploy instead of soldiers and diplomats, credible "honest brokers," mediators who have worked on preventing violence and unrest at that micro-cultural level – finding peace through peaceful means. Their work has to be well tested at home so that internationally Canada is sought for that unique expertise in place of carrying out military operations. This will be a giving a new meaning to Canada’s peacekeeping role in the 21st century.