Thanks very much, Mr. Chair and members. It's a pleasure to be here on a nice sunny day. You might not know, but I set a Guinness record. I only served about 13 months in what we call “military capital punishment” here in Ottawa.
I'm often introduced as the most experienced peacekeeper in the world. The thing is that the people who are kind enough to say that don't understand why. It's not because of the number of missions I've done—which is a lot, nine in total—but it's for a couple of other reasons. I've served at every rank from lieutenant to major general on peacekeeping duty, with the exception of full colonel. Having done that, I've see it at the very sharp end and I've seen it at the political end. I'm the only Canadian to have commanded a UN mission. Now you're all thinking, well, what about E.L.M. Burns, what about General Clive Milner in Cyprus—the father not the son—and what about Roméo Dallaire. They all had an SRSG, a special representative of the secretary-general, who was in charge of the mission. They were commanding the military component.
In my command in central America just before the wall came down, I had no SRSG or political adviser. I dealt directly with the five central American presidents on a face-to-face basis on a regular basis, implementing the Esquipulas II agreement. It was very easy in Nicaragua. Violeta Chamorro was a graduate of McGill University, and four of her cabinet members were graduates of McGill University. She said that if you turned back the collar in her cabinet—the youngest cabinet in the world—you'd see “Made in Canada”.
If I had a problem, I could go to the presidents, and if they couldn't sort it out as far as the ceasefire went, then we could go to New York because each of those countries had a delegation at New York and had a flag flying in front of the building. We could directly deal with them in that way and resolve the issue, which happened on a regular basis.
Now in actual fact, I commanded two UN missions without an SRSG, and when I say “sector Sarajevo” that won't make sense to you because we were working within UNPROFOR. However, within a couple of weeks of setting up sector Sarajevo in the summer of 1992, when all the shit was flying in Sarajevo as opposed to up on the Croatian border, the UN ordered me to deal directly with the UN. I would inform my commander at UNPROFOR, Satish Nambiar, one of the finest gentlemen I've ever worked with, the Indian three-star who was rated number one out of 96 three-stars in the Indian Army. I would send him info copies of what I was dealing with, with regard to the UN.
I should add, because I forgot to mention it, that in the case of Roméo Dallaire, his SRSG was much more of a hindrance than a help to him, an incompetent Colombian diplomat.
So I've seen it from both sides, and what was easy during pre-Cold War has now become virtually impossible, which was the situation in Sarajevo because all of a sudden I was dealing with a brand new country that thought anything to do with the UN should be on their side—the Bosnian Muslim government—and two factions.
I thought I had it hard dealing with the factions of the breakaway Croatians and Serbs. It was nowhere near as hard as some of the current missions, where you have factions that are not only fighting the UN or but in their own self-interest are occasionally also fighting each other or banding together.
So “post-Cold War peacekeeping” is bullshit. It's not peacekeeping. Will people please stop using the term? It's grammatically incorrect and it's incorrect in reality. There is no peace to keep.
If you go into a mission area, I would suggest the first thing you ask yourself if you're in the planning process is what the mission is, or in military terms, what the aim is. If I ask each one of you to respond to that question around the table, I know how many different answers I'll get. Is the mission worth dying for? That's the question, because if it's worth dying for, then go in and fulfill your mission with troops that are properly trained, equipped, and understand why they're there, and by the way—and I'll get into this—are properly paid by their home government.
Let me just read the countries I've served with in peacekeeping duty during the Cold War: Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Argentina, India, Brazil, Poland, Hungary, Colombia, Spain, Fiji, and Finland. These are pretty good countries, with pretty good equipment and pretty good leadership. As soon as we had the disasters of Srebrenica, Somalia and Rwanda, those countries backed off, including Canada. We now have Ethiopia, Rwanda, Bangladesh. Don't get me wrong. Some of those countries have worked with me and for me. They're fine soldiers. They're paid bloody little, and they don't have the right equipment. They are lacking in training, and you and I know why they're there: their countries receive $1,100 U.S. per month into the national coffers.
The only mutiny I've ever had to deal with in my military career was by my Russian in Sarajevo and the Balkans. Why? Because they thought the $1,100 U.S. was coming to them. When they found out it was going to their government, and their families at home in Russia weren't even getting paid and were being issued seeds, so they could plan to grow some potatoes or something to eat, they were highly pissed-off, and with good reason. They would back their vehicles up to the presidency in downtown Sarajevo, and flog the diesel from their vehicles to the presidency. The UN gave me a direct order to have them stop, and I refused. I said that I would stop them when they were paid the $1.50 per day per diem they were supposed to receive from the UN. They hadn't been paid in the last three months.
You have a problem with underpaid soldiers in areas where there is potential for human trafficking, prostitution rings, and black marketeering. I'm not saying they're all doing it, but boy the temptation is there for these poorly equipped, and in some case poorly trained, so-called contributions to UN peacekeeping.
Please consider the aim. I know it's going to come up, and it just aggravates me to the core this idiotic debate about combat. I know for some of you it's very important, because all of a sudden combat triggers a Parliamentary debate or whatever. That's out of my league. I'm just saying to talk about risk, not combat. If the mission is worth dying for, then fine, deploy. Don't run around the world as we have been doing, and saying that in Mali, for example, our guys and gals are going to be safe, because they're flying choppers. Don't say they're not going to be on the road, that they won't be ambushed, that there won't be any IEDs.
Just check the fatality rate in Mali, for example. Over 50% have been killed in their bases by indirect fire. Even the Germans, bless them, have counter bombardment mortars, a mortar radar. I don't know what good it's going to do them, because they don't have any ability to respond to the mortar fire coming from outside the base.
I would merely say, study the risk factor. By the way, if you say it's not combat, I suggest that if you visit our soldiers in the field in any of the missions, stand back when you tell them they're not in combat, when they've just been mortared the day before, for example. Get outside of their striking range.
Please, let's not talk about combat. Let's talk about risk. You can have acceptable risk within a mission that has no chance of success, and Mali is a good example. When somebody tells me, as they have done any number of times, that the aim there is support of the peace process, that's BS. The peace process, by any definition, has collapsed the Bamako agreement. There is no peace process that's working, and, not only that, there are a whole bunch of people who are the major players in what's going on in Mali, for example, who aren't part of the peace process. They're the fundamentalists, in the north in particular, the franchise of ISIS and al Qaeda.
So study the risk factor. That would be my recommendation to anybody doing planning for peace support operations in the future.
As an aside, you could go into a failed peace process mission and select a specific role. For example, if there is a village that is being threatened and regularly invaded and people are being killed, defend the village. You're not contributing to the peace process, but you are saving lives, if that's what you want to do.
Thank you very much.
I am retired Major-General Denis Thompson. I am delighted to be here to share my thoughts about peacekeeping.
Since I have only 10 minutes, I will speak in English.
That will probably save you from listening to my horrible accent.
I had the good fortune of serving 39 years in the Canadian Armed Forces, from 1978 to 2017, which makes me a little bit younger than you, General.
MGen (Ret'd) Lewis MacKenzie: Much younger.
MGen (Ret'd) Denis Thompson: Throughout that time, I was privileged to serve in the infantry with the Royal Canadian Regiment at home and abroad, a regiment that General Mitchell and I share. I was a platoon commander in Cyprus and Germany; a company commander in Bosnia; a battalion or battle group commander again in Bosnia under NATO, and not UN command; the brigade or task force commander in Kandahar, Afghanistan; and the commander of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command. Finally, I returned after three years in the Sinai of being the force commander of the Multinational Force and Observers, which, while a peacekeeping mission, is not a UN peacekeeping mission.
In short, I'm a practitioner, although what I'm about to tell you is vaguely academic.
Peacekeeping is imperfect. There are no rainbows, butterflies, or unicorns in the world that is inhabited by peacekeepers. It's ugly, it's violent, it's arbitrary, and at times, it's blatantly unfair. It certainly is not for the faint of heart. Sadly, when it is under-resourced, the consequences can be disastrous, and often they are counterproductive. And yet, that is the world in which peacekeepers must function.
It is but one form of military operation on the spectrum of conflict, which ranges from conflict prevention to all-out war. The Canadian Armed Forces is capable of participating in that full range of the spectrum of conflict. The costs of managing conflicts rises exponentially, driven by the level of activity that is necessary. Thus, if a conflict prevention mission costs you one dollar, a peacekeeping mission will cost you $10, and a peace enforcement mission will cost you $100. Each of them is an order of magnitude more expensive.
Clearly, it would be best to stifle or resolve a conflict before it commences. However, to quote the scene I enjoy at the end of my favourite movie, The Mission, “We must work in the world; the world is thus.” That world is one where a lack of political consensus rarely results in conflict prevention, compelling those in the international community to field military forces as a bandage to stabilize a conflict. That is meant only to allow time for a political solution to be developed.
Often these peacekeeping missions are deployed in apparently or allegedly benign environments. As the general explained, though, many of these benign environments are invaded by non-state actors, and they're not likely to follow any international norm. I lived this in the MFO in Egypt, where the Sinai Province affiliate of the Islamic State was present in my area of operations.
Thus, to be successful—and this, I guess, is the point I am trying to make today—a mission needs to have quality density from top to bottom. That means that at the top it needs to have competent, active-force commanders overseen by equally committed civilian leadership. General MacKenzie spoke to that. In the UN context, as you heard, those are special representatives of the secretary-general. In the MFO, it's the director general, who sits in Rome. They need to be supported by properly staffed headquarters that have access to and harness a variety of capable enablers—including intelligence feeds, proper logistics support, helicopters, and fixed-wing assets—and where the rubber meets the road, properly trained and disciplined boots on the ground. It's the full range from the leadership through to the staff and to the properly trained boots on the ground that creates an atmosphere of deterrence and reassurance in their area of operation. This is what is meant, in my mind, by quality density across the entire spectrum of conflict.
In fielding military forces, quality density matters because it contributes directly to the credibility of a mission. Canada has all those elements of quality density in its Canadian Armed Forces and, I would also hazard to say, within its civilian agencies too. In my experience, credibility is bestowed upon those who put boots on the ground. As I have already indicated, we're not talking about just any boots. It serves little purpose to deploy expensive enablers that feed actionable intelligence to front-line troops who cannot or will not act.
As I mentioned, driving such forces requires committed mission leadership. Canada possesses that both in and out of uniform. We proved our mettle in Kandahar with the employment of a joined-up comprehensive approach that went some way to resolving the difficulties in that province. That mission, while certainly not a peacekeeping mission, benefited enormously from the presence—again—of Canadian boots on the ground, and they were boots on the ground that in turn gave Canada a seat at the table and a say in what was going on in that country.
Is there risk? The general spoke about risks earlier. Can soldiers be wounded and die? Hell yes. That’s not new. It's reality. Since the dawn of civilization, the currency of nations has been measured in its blood and treasure. I have a personal aversion to referencing Canadian Armed Forces soldiers as “Canada's sons and daughters”. That metaphor creates the impression that they are too precious to put in harm's way. What nonsense. They may well be someone's son or daughter—and I have a son who serves in the military—but they are also professional soldiers who joined the Canadian Armed Forces precisely because they want to take up that challenge and they want to be in harm's way.
If you want to play a leadership role in the world, you need to accept the risk, in blood and treasure, by contributing boots on the ground to round out the quality of a fully enabled peacekeeping mission from top to bottom. By so doing, Canada would build credibility, garner the leadership positions that it hasn't held for many years, and over time re-emerge as a leader on the world stage.
Now that I've got that off my chest, I'm going to hit three tangential points.
First, the government's Elsie initiative is important, as having more women in peacekeeping acts as a form of enabler, thus adding to the quality density of any peacekeeping mission. It will succeed if, and only if, it actually manages to field women in the field in positions that would be considered boots on the ground. It is but one small value-added element in an overall strategy that should also include leadership, military and civilian; enablers, and I acknowledge the recent commitment of helicopters to Mali as one such enabler; and a formed combat unit to provide quality boots on the ground.
Second, I am a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and the Canadian defence associations institute. These two institutes, which count among the few in Canada, are populated with an impressive array of former diplomats, government officials, police, and armed forces members. Their members, in my opinion, possess much unplumbed and non-partisan expertise that committees of this nature should call upon.
Third and finally, I'd like to close my statement by adding a personal biographical note. I grew up in the small village of New Lowell, Ontario, which is in Simcoe County, just north of Toronto. It is the small village that gave Canada Miss Vickie's potato chips. I know that you all secretly love Miss Vickie's potato chips, and that should be reason enough for you to weigh my comments heavily.
Voices: Oh, oh!
MGen (Ret'd) Denis Thompson: Thank you.
Good morning, honourable members of the committee.
It is indeed a pleasure and a privilege to be asked to testify before you today. I thank you for the opportunity to offer some observations and proposals on behalf of the organization I represent, the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association.
May I also say it is a privilege for me to be included among the other witnesses here today, all of whom are experienced and expert practitioners of peacekeeping. I admire and respect each of them and count them as friends and esteemed colleagues.
Today, I will concentrate on what I consider to be a key issue—Canadian leadership within UN peace support operations—and I will offer two practical, national-level proposals to enhance our leadership capabilities.
Even at its lowest ebb, Canada continued to contribute civilians, troops, and police to United Nations peace support operations, or PSOs. Now, however, the government's ambitions involve larger contributions and a greater role in PSOs, preferably in smarter, more targeted ways, in order to maximize the effects on the ground. Presumably, it foresees that smarter and more effective contributions will assist Canada in regaining our position as a respected world leader in PSO.
Canada most recently announced some of these new, smarter contributions to the UN mission in Mali. No doubt Global Affairs Canada and National Defence explained to you last week how they are planning to meet the Canadian national interest for this mission, which should translate into very simple national objectives: making a significant contribution toward mission success, and then returning our people and equipment home safely.
Although the objectives may be simple, implementation is not. Apart from currently being the most dangerous mission in the world for peacekeepers, the United Nations' multi-dimensional integrated stabilization mission in Mali is a good example of how modern PSOs have evolved to become ever more complex, multi-dimensional, and integrated. Conducted within austere and hostile environments, in countries with minimal host nation infrastructure or support, and meddling neighbours, the modern PSO is more akin to counter-insurgency operations with added responsibilities for nation building and humanitarian and disaster relief efforts.
As such, modern PSOs require expertise in such major crosscutting issues as security sector reform, defence sector reform, justice and rule of law, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, sexual and gender-based violence, protection of civilians, and peace-building tasks.
To be successful, missions also require advanced equipment and support, which Canada is now offering, but they also require, from troop- and police-contributing countries, expert leadership from well-qualified military, police, and civilian personnel, not only on the ground or tactical level, but also at the mission or operational level, and, I would propose, at the UN headquarters or strategic levels as well.
PSOs also require commanders and multinational staffs who are not only experts in these evolving and complex areas of endeavour, but who can also be available at very short notice and have the ability and training to work effectively as coherent staff teams within the Byzantine UN systems. They must be able, effectively and efficiently, to provide integrated police, military and civilian capabilities in such areas as intelligence, mobility, logistics, engineering, and medical support. Since most UN missions now operate under security council resolutions that include elements of chapter 7, or the use of force, those same mission leaders and their staffs must also be warriors with clear-eyed understanding, capability, and determination to undertake robust operations as required, but within sensitive political and diplomatic environments.
One way to assist the UN in meeting these complex and evolving challenges is by providing better leaders at all three levels—strategic, operational, and tactical—and from all three elements—military, police, and civilian. Canada obviously has excellent leaders in all three, but over the past dozen or so years, it has lost much of its broad-based capabilities in peace support operations. With that loss, it has forfeited its claim to be an international leader in that field.
To turn that situation around, Canada will need to commit suitable time and resources to the development of the required expertise, and its contributions must be readily available and rapidly deployable, so that timely establishment of new or expanded peacekeeping operations can be achieved. To be blunt, Canada must re-learn all aspects of peacekeeping support operations, including how to train, prepare, deploy, and support its troops, police, and government-provided civilians within the UN context.
If it so chooses, Canada can be fully capable of meeting these new challenges and of providing the necessary military police and civilian expertise and leadership within those evolving, multi-dimensional, complex, and integrated missions. However, this will not happen without strong direction and support from Parliament before, during, and after deployments.
The conclusion I personally have come to, which has the endorsement of the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association, focuses on two areas that I have had some experience with. I foresee both of them offering the means to regain our leadership position within missions and on the international stage.
Specifically, I would make these two proposals: one, the establishment of a Canadian international peace support training centre to enable development of PSO research, education, training, and capacity building; and two, contributing a rapidly deployable, pre-trained multinational headquarters to support UN mission leadership, something that the UN desperately needs but cannot provide itself.
First of all, on a Canadian international peace support training centre, we had something very much like this in the past, the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre. Before its dissolution due to the withdrawal of financial and personnel support from DND, the RCMP, and Foreign Affairs, it was the world's first civilian-managed peacekeeping training centre, one of only a handful conducting training, capacity building, public education, and research that reflected the multidisciplinary realities of contemporary peace support operations. The PPC was historically an effective instrument of Canadian foreign and defence policy. It enjoyed a solid reputation in the international community as a leading authority on peace support operations, and served as a model for other countries. Unfortunately, the withdrawal of long-term financial security and personnel support sounded the death knell for the PPC.
I therefore propose that a new institution be established, a Canadian international peace support training centre, with capabilities similar in nature to the former PPC, but without the financial vulnerability it suffered from. The long-term commitment of government support would be a necessity so that the new institution could concentrate on accomplishing its work rather than expending effort on remaining financially solvent.
My second proposal envisages Canada contributing towards a rapidly deployable, multinational headquarters to support mission leadership. Like my first proposal, this is not a new one for Canada. For 12 years, we partnered with 15 like-minded nations to create a multinational, standby high-readiness brigade for United Nations operations, or SHIRBRIG. This was a multinational brigade that could be made available to the UN as a rapidly deployable peacekeeping force. It did not belong to the UN, but rather was made available to the UN as required and at the discretion of the individual SHIRBRIG members.
This brigade was first declared available for deployment in 2000 and in that same year deployed to the United Nations Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia. That successful mission was followed by deployments and planning assistance in Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Sudan—including work in the Darfur Planning Team—Chad and Somalia.
Canada was a recognized leader within SHIRBRIG. Although a full multinational brigade may never be resurrected for political and economic reasons, Canada could still undertake the leadership role by focusing on providing the framework of one vital contribution that SHIRBRIG provided—the jewel in the crown, if you will—and that is a multinational UN military headquarters. Such a headquarters could be fully trained and equipped with UN-compatible vehicles, equipment, and communications, able to integrate fully within a UN mission headquarters, and deployable within a very short period of time in order to rapidly establish new military command-and-control capacity within an integrated UN mission headquarters. It should not be a full-time, fully manned headquarters, but rather would have a small, permanent planning and training staff that would be augmented from across the country for training events and operations. By recreating that headquarters capability, Canada would be offering a unique yet vital capability to the UN, something it cannot provide itself or readily obtain from anywhere else, except with the possibility of NATO and the European Union.
To achieve the headquarters multinational character, Canada could provide the basic building blocks, and then arrange to partner with like-minded nations to provide elements to augment the headquarters staff, equipment, and resources. Once established and trained, it could be offered as a formed headquarters on standby, and readily deployable within the framework of the UN peacekeeping capability readiness system.
Honourable members of the committee, my two proposals to you today have both focused on PSO leadership, one on PSO leadership development, and the second on the practical application of those PSO leadership skills. Both are proven concepts to which Canada has ascribed in the not-too-distant past. The requisite knowledge and expertise to plan and implement both proposals are still readily available in Canada today. With a relatively modest infusion of resources, both could be accomplished in a comprehensive whole-of-government fashion. The resulting Canadian impact on PSOs could be greatly enhanced, in turn positioning Canada in an even greater overall leadership role on the international UN stage.
Yes, they're very, very different. I would go back to the point that you're dealing with people who are in the midst of the conflict and have no delegation at UN headquarters in New York. There's no flag flying in front of the building. There are factions. Their headquarters are in many cases mobile. You sit down with those folks, as I did 14 times, and you broker a ceasefire.
Then somebody breaks the ceasefire. In many cases, it was the government representative on the Bosnian Muslim side, and for good reason. They were under attack.
You want to meet with the people you signed the deal with, but you can't find them. They're not at the other end. What I did when I got to Sarajevo, for example, as a naive old peacekeeper, was to give telephones, radio sets, to each of the two factions and the government on the same frequency. My thinking was that, as it normally was in previous peace operations, they would sort things out themselves. It didn't work worth a damn. Therefore, it was difficult to follow up on any breaches of the ceasefire, right through me and up to and including Lord Carrington, who was the head of negotiations in the Balkans for a ceasefire.
They're so different that they shouldn't even be compared. They are totally and absolutely different. The UN during the pre-Cold War era always sent the absolute minimum to try to get the job done. They never anticipated the worst-case scenario. They always anticipated the best-case scenario, which was normally accurate.
Let me give you a humorous example. In Cypress in 1965, the Irish Parliament withdrew its forces with 30 days' notice. They were beside the Canadian contingent in northern Cypress. I, as the recce platoon commander of 35 soldiers, was ordered by my commanding officer, General Kirby, a lieutenant-colonel at the time, to go over and replace the Irish contingent with 30-some soldiers. I did that on a Wednesday.
On a Friday—the day is important—the leaders of the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots came to me and asked me why I hadn't called them for a meeting on the Friday. I said, “What, you were getting together and meeting?” I was told, “Yes, but it was also happy hour. We always came here and drank for a couple of hours. Then we went back to our positions. We haven't been fighting each other in the last three months.” That doesn't happen anymore. You can't imagine calling in ISIS and al Qaeda and sitting down and having a party.
So it is unbelievably different. That's why you need well-trained, well-led, and well-equipped soldiers with some time for them to work together to become a team.
That's an interesting one. Thank you.
If I may, I will answer in English.
On Canadian values, first of all, I believe that's well above our pay grade. We are not politicians or diplomats by any means. We're only observing from a certain level within missions sometimes.
Simply through our participation, our presence in the areas of influence, and so forth, there is a certain morphing or influence on the others around us that is going to transmit Canadian values. It's not us going out preaching and saying we have U.S. exceptionalism or anything else. We are there because we are interested in creating a peaceful environment, or whatever it is we wish to do. We're not there because we're interested in the oil. We're not interested in the resources, we're not interested in this, and we're not interested in that. We are there to help create peace. The way we do business quietly, professionally, and so forth influences others, whether it be other developing nations or even other alliance nations of ours now. We have to look at things from a different perspective, in my opinion, and help change things.
For example, when I was co-chairing a military joint committee between north and south Sudan, and we were dealing with things like prisoner exchanges, stopping child soldiers, reopening routes, and everything else, you could tell the difference in values by the different responses to the questions we'd ask. We'd say that after 20 years of war, “Hundreds of thousands have been killed. We now need to talk about prisoner exchanges. How many prisoners do you have, and how many prisoners do you have?” They would say, “We have 14.” We'd then ask the others, “How many do you have?” They would respond, “We have none.” What does that tell me? All the prisoners were killed. Those are different values. We need to spread our values around the world.
The initial one was a brigade. It was made up of contributions of troops on standby, not full-time standby. For example, if Canada said it was going to contribute a helicopter squadron, it would do its normal duties and everything else. Once or twice a year, its leadership would go on some training organized by the brigade headquarters, the planning folks. They would train on UN procedures, policies, and so forth.
We might take a particular mission. We might visit it, and that sort of thing. We would send people back, and they would do their own helicopter business for the rest of the year. If it were deployed and Canada agreed to deploy, that helicopter squadron would pick up and go.
What I'm suggesting is, forget the brigade. I don't think that will ever come up again with these countries. They're not interested.
The jewel in the crown of that brigade was its multinational headquarters. That headquarters deployed on numerous occasions within seven days to set up a new mission or to expand a current mission. It had all of the branches of a military mission headquarters. It even had police in it. They would go and set it up and have communications set up within the same day, regardless of the location.
They knew the UN policies. They knew the UN procedures. They knew how to do all the reports and returns. They knew that after three months, when some country actually provided the senior operations officer—that person would come from India, Bangladesh, or wherever—our operations officer would step back and be the number two and help them out, and that sort of thing.
What I'm suggesting is that this core of a brigade headquarters might involve 10 or a dozen people, full time in Canada, doing planning, preparing training, reaching out to the other nations, visiting missions, staying in touch with New York, and setting it up. That would be the involvement, with very little cost. It's more of a planning and capability potential. That's what I'm proposing.