July 16, 2011 – In his regular column for The Ottawa Citizen, MLI Managing Director Brian Lee Crowley discusses the "two great weaknesses in the peacekeeping ideology as the sole role for  Canada's military". According to Crowley, one of those weaknesses is moral, the other practical. An excerpt below:

For there to be a peace to keep, you have to be stronger, not weaker, than the  combatants you wish to pacify. If Canadians want to contribute to a safer world,  one where war is less rather than more likely, we have to have serious equipment  and trained soldiers and the will to use them in defence of what we believe in.  That costs money and risks lives. But then, who wills the end wills the means.

The column has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun.

 

Some things are worth dying for

By Brian Crowley, The Ottawa Citizen, July 16, 2011

My father, an only child who feared his father and worshipped his mother, seriously defied them only once in his youth. He signed up to fight in the Second World War. When he broke the news, all hell broke loose. His father ordered him, and his mother begged him, to back out.

He was having none of it. Why? Because he thought the fight a necessary and honourable one, and he wasn't prepared to let others go in his stead. He felt the call of this duty even more powerfully than the duty he owed his parents, although it cost him dearly to make the choice.

My dad thought of himself as a proud Canadian. In recent decades, though, a vocal minority have put a lot of energy into a campaign to make peacekeeping the only politically acceptable international military role for Canada, portraying combat as somehow unCanadian. My dad had the better part of that argument.

He would have said there are two great weaknesses of the fixation on peacekeeping as the sole role for Canada's military. One of those weaknesses is moral, the other practical.

Let's take the moral one first. The subtext of the peacekeeping mantra is that there is nothing worth dying for. My dad and his generation knew better. And our own generation does too. As we turn the page on our combat mission in Afghanistan, we can look back and see that we lost 157 military personnel (plus five civilians) and saw nearly 2,000 wounded. Relative to the size of our contingent our casualties were higher than anyone else's among the ISAF/NATO forces. In absolute terms they were the third highest.

According to my friend John Thompson of the Mackenzie Institute, the Taliban complained that Canadian troops were tougher than their American, British or Dutch colleagues - quicker to engage the enemy and more tenacious in pursuing the fight once started. Our thoroughly Canadian young men and women in uniform - volunteers all - are fierce and proud fighters who believe there are things worth dying for. They are the best of us.

But were our troops exposing themselves to danger for good reason? To listen to some politicians talk in the latter years of our 10-year combat mission you wouldn't think so. There was a lot of hand-wringing about nation-building, for example, but we weren't there to engage in nation-building. We went into Afghanistan for the good and sufficient reason that we were honouring a solemn promise to come to the defence of our friends if ever they were attacked.

How quickly people forget, even though the horrific events of 9-11 are barely a decade old, that al-Qaeda used Afghanistan as its base of operations for the cowardly attacks on New York and Washington. Osama bin Laden and his minions sheltered behind the fundamentalist fervour of the Taliban regime. Our mutual promise to our NATO allies was that we would regard an attack on one of us as an attack on us all. And we made that promise to each other because we knew that preserving our way of life, enjoying our freedoms, being safe from attack, was something worth dying for.

As long as there are people willing to kill to get what they want, only being willing to keep the peace but never to create it by confronting a real enemy is not a noble calling, but a cowardly prevarication.

Ponder for a moment the fate of the Balkan town of Srebrenica in 1995. Lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers were sent by the UN into this Muslim enclave and ordered to keep the peace between the Serbs and Muslims. The Serbs captured a number of the blue berets, holding them hostage, and finally showed up with tanks, ordering the hapless and outgunned Dutch troops to hand over the Muslims sheltering on their base. Some of those soldiers still have nightmares about being forced to surrender people under their protection to the Serbs, who promptly massacred about 8,000 of them.

The truth is that some people will only submit to the discipline of peace when they are taught they cannot get what they want by violence. You cannot create peace between people committed to war unless you make the price of war unacceptably high.

There lies the practical weakness of the peacekeeper ideology. For there to be a peace to keep, you have to be stronger, not weaker, than the combatants you wish to pacify. If Canadians want to contribute to a safer world, one where war is less rather than more likely, we have to have serious equipment and trained soldiers and the will to use them in defence of what we believe in. That costs money and risks lives. But then, who wills the end wills the means.

My dad taught me that.

 

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