Recently, George Somerwill was asked to provide the keynote presentation for the event entitled, Sudan and South Sudan: Contributing to Conflict Prevention and Post-conflict Stabilization. Both the Balsillie School of International Affairs and Laurier University, located in Waterloo, Ontario, in addition to the Academic Council on the United Nations System and the Department of National Defence, sponsored the two-day public event.
George offered a personal narrative of his work within both the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea and the United Nations Mission in Sudan, including moments from his time spent as BBC and CBC journalist and humanitarian worker. His analysis touched upon the involvement of Canada in the UN in addition to the insight he has developed over the years regarding Africa, Canada and the UN.
What follows is an excerpt of his keynote presentation called, An Innocent at Large. With the UN in the Horn of Africa. One Canadian’s Story.
KEYNOTE EXCERPT by George Somerwill
I would like to say a few words about Canada’s past and present role within the United Nations, and specifically within UN peacekeeping. As I mentioned earlier, Canada has a storied past in peacekeeping. Lester Pearson’s original concept during the1956 Suez crisis – when Britain, France and Israel attacked Egypt – of having a ‘thin blue line’ of UN blue helmeted troops standing between combatants has not changed, although operationally it has moved into the 21st century of course!
We all know that Pearson’s original concept called for Canadian troops to make up the thin blue line, but the Egyptians led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, rejected that, and thus the idea of a multinational peacekeeping force was born. Canadians subsequently participated in UNEF, UNDOF (Syria) UMOGIP (India and Pakistan), UNFICYP (Cyprus) and so on, right on through the decades up to and including UNMEE (Ethiopia and Eritrea)and more recently and in a limited way, in Sudan.
Many people ask me why Canadians are less involved now than ever before in peacekeeping. In spite of what the media will tell you about the political reasons, there is a very simple financial reason.
The main donors, called Troop Contributing Countries or Police Contributing Countries (TCC/PCC), to the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UN-DPKO) now are Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and increasingly, China. Each one of those countries is known to have a huge standing army and police force. The UN pays each TCC/PCC a flat rate per Force member or police officer who participates in a Peacekeeping (PK) Mission. This amount is in turn based on what the donor government pays its military or police officers. And in most cases, when troops or police go to the UN, each government makes a “profit”. In other words – sending troops to a UN PK Force helps to finance its standing army or police force. (more…)