Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 35 Issue 2 Summer 2014
Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan failed. The reasons will be debated for years to come. What is not debatable is that Canada’s combat escalation in Afghanistan corresponded to a major decline in Canadian commitment to UN peacekeeping operations.
The completion of Canadian troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 demands that we question the global war on terror and review the basics of Canadian defence policy. Fundamental decisions about how and when Canadian troops are deployed should be re-examined so that Canada effectively promotes international peace and security.
NATO’s record since the end of the Cold War also demands a close look at the relevance for Canada of military alliances and joining military coalitions of the willing. The war in Afghanistan has revealed the limitations and weaknesses of a powerful alliance in an asymmetrical war.
After more than a decade of decline, Canadian involvement in international peacekeeping operations has reached an all-time low. As Professor Walter Dorn of the Royal Military College has noted, the loss of Canadian peacekeeping experience abroad is compounded by the loss of training in Canada. The recent closure of the Pearson Centre is only one example of the erosion of Canadian peacekeeping capacity. In training exercises and simulations, Canadian military officers now plan operations of an alliance, sometimes explicitly identified as NATO. They no longer consider being part of a UN mission.
The end of Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan provides the opportunity to review the fundamentals of Canada’s military security doctrine, the efficacy of membership in NATO, and the prospects and potential for Canada to return to the peacekeeping activity that many Canadians continue to support.