Peacekeeping Contributor Profile: Canada

Martin Fischer and Maria Derks Normandin, Pearson Centre (
Last updated January 2013


Active Armed Forces[1]


Defense Budget

Uniformed UN Peacekeepers

UN Contribution Breakdown[2]

Other Significant Deployments

World Ranking
(size): 55
Army 34,800
Navy 11,000
Air Force 19,900
Civilian 4,500 (4,500 Coast Guard)
Attack: 28
Multirole: 78
Transport: 42 (6 heavy, 15 medium, 21 light) (N.B. 22 are Coast Guard, 1 Medium, 21 light)
2009: US$19.6bn
(1.46% of GDP)
2010: US$20.2bn
(1.28% of GDP)
2011: US$21.5bn

World Ranking (2016): 16

(18 female)
(31 Dec. 2012)
Ranking: 55th
(8th largest NATO contributor)
MINUSTAH 93 (88 police, 5 troops)
MONUSCO 11 (3 police, 8 experts)
UNFICYP 1 troop
UNTSO 7 experts
UNMISS 29 (19 police, 5 experts, 5 troops)
UNOCI 9 police
ISAF 508[3]
NATO training Mission – Afghanistan 529 (capped at 950)[4]
OSCE Bosnia & Herzegovina 2
MFO 28 (Egypt)
OSCE Serbia 2
OSCE Kosovo 9

Defense Spending/troop:[5] US$327,000 (compared to global average of approx. US$59,000)


Part 1: Recent Trends

For a long time, UN peacekeeping was seen as part of Canadian national identity. Former Canadian Prime Minister (1963-1968) Lester B. Pearson is seen in the peacekeeping community as the architect of the concept of peacekeeping, and Canada was long one of the main contributing countries. However, Canada’s contribution of uniformed personnel to UN-led peacekeeping has been in decline since the early 2000s (see figure 1). In this period, Canada has deployed relatively small numbers of personnel to a wide range of different missions, focusing particularly on Haiti (which represents the spike in June-July 2004) as well as missions in Africa (Darfur, South Sudan, DR Congo). Since 2006, Canada’s contributions to UN peacekeeping are now almost exclusively made up of police officers.



Canada has also been actively involved in ISAF in Afghanistan during this period. In 2011, Canada withdrew its combat forces and focused on a support role through the NATO training mission for the Afghan National Police, where it currently contributes approximately 529 personnel (of an authorized cap of 950). In addition, Canada contributes to several other peace operations, either UN-mandated, such as NATO’s KFOR in Kosovo, EU mandated, such as the EU Police Mission in Afghanistan, or mandated separately such as the Multinational Force of Observers in Egypt (see figure 2).[6]



Although Canada’s international troop contributions are in decline, especially after ending its combat mission in Afghanistan, Canada’s Department of Defence continues to claim a policy focus on contributing to the maintenance of international peace and security. In the 2009 Canada First. Defence Strategy, contributing to international peace and security was identified as one of the three roles for the Canadian Armed Forces. The strategy further refined this role into two core missions: lead and/or conduct major international operations for extended periods, and deploy forces in response to crises elsewhere in the world for shorter periods. While the defense strategy mentions the UN as one organization with which such missions can be undertaken, it mentions NATO in the same line, and as such, there is no indication that this commitment to global peace and security is understood as necessarily entailing UN peacekeeping.


As part of efforts by the Conservative Federal Government to reduce the budget deficit, Canadian Forces face a demand from the Federal Government to cut their budgets. An initial demand for a CA$2 billion cut by the fiscal year 2014-15 was increased to CA$2.5 billion in late 2012. Since the Forces are simultaneously asked to maintain a modern and capable force that is combat ready and capable of responding to natural disasters, the Forces have tried to achieve these cuts mainly by reducing the numbers of civilian staff and reservists.


Part 2: Decision-Making Process

In Canada, decisions about foreign affairs, including the deployment of troops overseas as part of peacekeeping missions, are a matter of “royal prerogative,” meaning that they are officially Crown decisions. In practice, and in accordance with the Constitution Act of 1867 (articles 9 and 15) this means that they are the responsibility of the Federal Government. Legally, there is no requirement to get Parliamentary approval or legislation for deployments to peacekeeping missions, although budgets do need to be approved by Parliament. Parliament is typically consulted about engagement in foreign conflicts, though this is up to the discretion of the cabinet. There have been efforts to reform these procedures and allow Parliament greater influence, but to date all bills to this effect have been voted down.


In practice, the decision-making process for the deployment of military personnel to a peacekeeping operation begins with the receipt of a UN DPKO request by the Canadian permanent mission in New York.[7] The military advisor of the mission provides initial background and forwards this request to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade’s division for Fragile States and Peace Operations Policy, which is part of the Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force (START) Secretariat. This division considers the military advisor’s initial recommendation and begins an inter-departmental consultation process, which is governed by an assessment tool. The tool assesses ten areas, which are peacekeeping-specific and cover topics such as the peacekeeping mission’s performance, the conditions on the ground for personnel, and bilateral relations with the host government. The consultation process will also include considerations (policies and tools) of engagement by other Government of Canada ministries and identify relevant funding envelopes. Following this consultation process, the final recommendation is submitted to the Directors-General of START and the relevant geographic division for a decision. The timeframe for this decision-making process is typically governed by the dates identified in the DPKO request.


In the case of a Canadian contribution to a new peacekeeping operation the final decision will be taken by one of two ministers. If the contribution is entirely new – to a peacekeeping operation without any Canadian personnel or staff (military, police or civilian) – the Minister of Foreign Affairs will take the final decision. If the contribution is only new militarily, that is to say a request for a military contribution to a UN peacekeeping operation without any Canadian military personnel, the Minister of National Defense will make the final decision.


Within the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, no formal process related to UN peacekeeping exists. An internal policy paper on engagement in fragile states provides guidance. The Department of National Defense does not have UN-specific internal procedures. Rather, contributions to UN peacekeeping are subject to the Department’s policies and procedures on international deployments in general.


The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) manages the deployment of Canadian police. The Canadian Police Arrangement (CPA) – a partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Canadian International Development Agency, Public Safety Canada and the RCMP is the governing framework for decisions regarding Canadian police deployments to UN peacekeeping operations. The funding for deployments from the CPA is allocated through the international humanitarian assistance envelope. The Canadian Police Arrangement has Memoranda of Understanding in place with 25 provincial and municipal police services. Upon receipt of a request for a non-professional posting of a non-commissioned officer from the UN Police Division, the CPA will draft a more specific job description and circulate it to these 25 partners, which will then put forward qualified candidates. For a posting staffed through a professional position which would require an officer, the request is forwarded to the RCMP’s executive officer development and resourcing division. A deployment of a senior officer to a professional position in a UN peacekeeping mission requires approval from the RCMP’s senior executive council.


Part 3: Rationales for Contributing


Political rationales and security rationales: Contributions to UN peacekeeping are viewed as being part of Canada’s global commitment to the maintenance of international peace and security. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Canada’s intensive engagement with UN peacekeeping was part of the Government of Canada’s human security-focused foreign policy agenda. With the exception of Canada’s strong police engagement it would be difficult to suggest that deployments to UN peacekeeping operations are driven by direct security rationales. For certain UN Peacekeeping operations it seems that Canada maintains a presence because of a historical connection to the area as in the token contribution of one soldier to the UN mission in Cyprus.


Public support for a strong Canadian role in peacekeeping remains high. Although the most current public opinion poll dates back to 2009, more than half of those polled favored a return of Canadian forces to a “peacekeeping only” role.


Economic rationales: Economic factors do not principally drive Canadian decisions to contribute to UN peacekeeping.


Institutional rationales: The RCMP does cite international experience for Canadian police officers as one benefit of deployment, since serving in a mission can improve leadership and problem solving skills, as well as enhance the ability to interact effectively with people from various cultures. For example, the Montreal Police Service deploys a substantial number of police officers to MINUSTAH, which allows the officers to develop a high degree of cultural sensitivity, which improves their effectiveness in dealing with the large Haitian diaspora in Montreal. As Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan continues to wind down, the Department of National Defence may look to UN peacekeeping as an opportunity for providing officers with operational experience.


Normative rationales: The contributions that Canada makes to UN peacekeeping are viewed as a contribution to Canada’s broader peace and security agenda, which seeks to promote security and stability abroad for both national security reasons and normative considerations. The current government frames its normative commitments in the context of democracy and the promotion of the rule of law and human rights writ large. UN peacekeeping is not specifically mentioned as a tool for the advancement of these norms.


Part 4: Barriers to Contributing

Alternative institutional preferences for crisis management: Given some of the operational challenges that UN peacekeeping has faced, Canada now seems to have a light preference for contributions to NATO peace and security missions. The Canadian military feels more comfortable working with other NATO contributing countries as it can benefit from a harmonized operational environment created through decades of collaboration, joint exercises and operations, integrated communications systems, and aligned technical capabilities. Based on the extensive experience of Canadian military (and police) in Afghanistan, the Department of National Defence has developed a preference to enter into deployments that have some form of U.S. involvement. The two militaries have developed a high degree of inter-operability while the Canadian Armed Forces has a degree of confidence in the command and control structure of these partnerships.


Alternative political or strategic priorities: A political barrier to contributions to UN peacekeeping is the current Canadian government’s prevailing definition of its “national interest,” which is expressed in largely economic terms. Many of Canada’s foreign policy tools are used to foster trade for Canadian businesses. This explicitly includes not only Canada’s foreign policy (which specifically focuses on trade negotiations, lowering tariffs etc.), but also Canada’s international development cooperation, which aims to “help countries and people become trade and investment ready.” Most recently, the Government of Canada has articulated a special focus on the extractives, and departments are realigning their policy to allow for cooperation with the private sector, in particular Canada’s extractive industries.


Absence of pressure to contribute: Although there is pressure on Canada to contribute more from the UN Secretariat, this pressure is not felt very much within Canada.


Difficult domestic politics: Compared to the 1990s, UN peacekeeping has largely disappeared from Canada’s domestic political debate. The current opposition parties, the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party, have historically been strong supporters of UN peacekeeping. While the current government’s position is generally supportive, UN peacekeeping is not viewed as a priority. Both the military and police are under considerable pressure to show results and how there are returns for Canada’s investments. In order to ensure that Canadian personnel contribute to peacekeeping missions’ success, considerable emphasis is placed on occupying key positions such as chief of staff, police commissioner, etc.


Damage to national reputation: The reductions of contributions to UN peacekeeping of the 1990s were preceded by three controversial missions, which led to events that substantially shook Canadians’ confidence and willingness to participate in UN peacekeeping missions. The failed protection mission in the Former Yugoslavia (Bosnia-Herzegovina), of which a Canadian (Lewis MacKenzie) had been the chief of staff; Canada’s participation in UNOSOM II, where in addition to several other incidents the torture and killing of a Somali boy by two Canadian soldiers caused a scandal; and the failure of the UNAMIR operation to prevent the genocide in Rwanda (under the command of Canadian General Roméo Dallaire), all reduced the willingness of Canada to contribute to UN peacekeeping. However, although contributions to peacekeeping through the UN channel were substantially reduced (with the exception of UNMIK), Canada’s contributions to global peace and security through other channels, such as NATO, increased as of the late 1990s, and substantially increased in Afghanistan after 2002.


Resistance in the military and the police: Overall, Canada’s military has largely lost its appetite for, and institutional knowledge about, contributing to UN peacekeeping. The experience of the 1990s – in particular those in Yugoslavia, Somalia and Rwanda – left a bad aftertaste with the military, and there is very low confidence in the effectiveness of the UN within the Canadian military establishment, leaving little room to discuss contributions to UN peace operations. In large part, however, today, this resistance has persisted because of a lack of awareness about the reforms that the UN is undertaking and how UN peacekeeping has changed on the ground.


With regard to police contributions from municipal and provincial police forces, it is important to emphasize the critical role that chiefs of police play. At the provincial and municipal level, decisions on the deployment of individual police officers get made by chiefs of police, who may not have international experience. International deployments take police officers out of active service and chiefs of police need to be made aware of the benefits of such deployments in order to participate in the Canadian Police Arrangement.


UN reimbursement rates do not cover salaries of Canadian military and police personnel. Given the context of budget cuts there may actually be an economic disincentive to contribute as the additional costs have to be covered by the relevant departments.


Legal obstacles: There are no legal constraints for contributions to UN Peacekeeping.


Part 5: Current Challenges and Issues

The restructuring of Canadian military forces post-Afghanistan is ongoing and is currently preventing their re-engagement in UN peacekeeping. Since withdrawing from ISAF in 2011, Canadian Forces have been going through a restructuring process which leaves little room for new or larger contributions to UN peacekeeping operations. Also, although the contribution to the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan is lower in numbers than the previous combat mission, the average rank of personnel deployed is higher. For this reason, the training mission still requires substantial efforts in terms of force generation, which limits opportunities for engagement elsewhere. In large part, the psychological resistance to returning to UN peacekeeping is rooted in a lack of knowledge about current UN peacekeeping operations. There is an urgent need for DPKO to re-engage the Canadian government and military through outreach efforts. Such efforts would need to focus on the Office of Military Affairs’ force generation process, which is viewed as being inadequate and not in sync with Canada’s own processes.


Within the Department of National Defence, issues surrounding force protection are a key concern when considering the potential deployment of military commanders to UN peacekeeping. Current military contributions are almost exclusively at the staff officer level with low safety risks. In contrast, the Department is unable to meet requests for commanders as force protection levels are perceived as inadequate in some of the UN’s more difficult theatres of operation.


Within the RCMP, an emphasis is placed on providing specialized rule of law functions to UN peacekeeping. In order to ensure that Canadian police officers occupy key positions in UN peacekeeping, the Canadian Police Arrangement is further developing its mechanisms to provide its partners with job descriptions that are as specific as possible. For example, Canadian police officers have considerable experience working in mentoring positions with Aboriginal community policing partners. Such mentoring is a skill in high demand by UN peacekeeping missions such as UNMISS, where a large number of UN police are co-located with the South Sudan Police Service.


Part 6: Key Champions and Opponents

Compared to the 1990s, UN peacekeeping has largely disappeared from the public debate in Canada. For a short period of time in 2011, the issue reemerged as part of the discussion about the post–Afghanistan role of the Canadian Forces. Several NGOs occasionally promote an increased role for Canada in UN peacekeeping. These include the United Nations Association of Canada and the World Federalist Movement-Canada. The University of Montreal-based Research Network on Peace Operations (ROP) is a known as a key resource for Francophone practitioners, researchers, and journalists. The Pearson Centre, established as the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre in 1994, has transformed itself from a Government-funded organization focused on peacekeeping training and capacity-building to a not-for-profit professional services organization providing peace and security strategies and solutions. It continues to advocate for an increased role for Canada in UN peacekeeping. The Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, a Calgary-based think tank, occasionally publishes on peacekeeping.


Key Canadian champions of UN peacekeeping include Lieutenant-General (retired) Roméo Dallaire, force commander of the UNAMIR mission for Rwanda (1993-94) and now a Canadian senator. Former UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette, now a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, continues to promote UN peacekeeping as part of her various roles.[8] Carolyn McAskie, formerly Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding, now a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, advocates the strengthening of the peacekeeping-peacebuilding nexus. The New Democratic Party’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Paul Dewar, is considered a strong supporter of UN peacekeeping and in parliamentary committees frequently advocates for Canada’s return to UN peacekeeping.


One opponent of greater Canadian contributions to UN peacekeeping is Major-General (retired) Lewis MacKenzie, former commander of Sector Sarajevo as part of the UN Protection Force in Yugoslavia, who occasionally emphasizes the importance of non-UN mechanisms for the management of today’s security challenges.


Part 7: Capabilities and Caveats

Given Canada’s bilingualism, it has strong capabilities for Francophone deployment, a need frequently articulated by UN DPKO. This capability is used for MINUSTAH, where the police contingent is made up primarily of Montréal Police and Québec Police officers. As evidenced by Canada’s contribution of a C-17 transport aircraft to France’s early 2013 efforts in Mali, the Canadian military has the ability to provide lift capabilities. The Government of Canada provides considerable capacity building and training support to other TCCs through DFAIT’s START and DND’s Directorate for Military Training and Cooperation. For example, in 2006 the Government of Canada provided 105 armored personnel carriers to AMIS, followed by training and equipment support to African contributors to UNAMID.


Part 8: Further Reading

Jocelyn Coulon and Michael Liégeois, Whatever Happened to Peacekeeping? The Future of a Tradition (Canadian Defense and Foreign Affairs Institute, 2010).

Walter Dorn, “Canadian Peacekeeping: Proud Tradition, Strong future?” Canadian Foreign Policy Journal, 12:1 (2005): 7-32.

John English, Canadian Peacekeeping is Not What it Used to Be (Canadian Defense and Foreign Affairs Institute, 2009).

Karsten Jung, Of Peace and Power: Promoting Canadian Interests Through Peacekeeping (Peter Lang, 2009).

Brian Stewart, Time for Canada to Get Back to Peacekeeping, CBC News, 3 December 2012.




[1] Unless otherwise stated, data is drawn from IISS, The Military Balance 2012 (London: IISS/ Routledge, 2012).

[2] Source: UN DPKO.

[3] Source: ISAF.

[4] Source: Department of National Defence.

[5] Armed Forces Spending is a country’s annual total defense budget (in US dollars) divided by the total number of active armed forces. Using figures from IISS, The Military Balance 2012.

[6] Data on non-UN missions is drawn from IISS, The Military Balance 2004-12 (London: IISS/ Routledge, 2004-12).

[7] The Government of Canada is not part of the UN Standby Arrangements System.

[8] In April 2012 she published a paper entitled UN Peacekeeping: 20 Years of Reform