The old world of UN “blue-beret” peacekeeping is over, giving way to a global situation where intervention and protection is key, said Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, speaking at a conference in Whitehorse last Friday.
“The Canadian Army hasn’t been doing peacekeeping since 1991,” said Dallaire.
Peacekeeping may have worked in a Cold War bipolar world of warring states, but it cannot function in a global situation where internal collapse and factional conflict is the norm, he said.
A Canadian senator, Dallaire was commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda in 1994. When the Rwandan Genocide broke out, the tiny and ill-equipped force could not contain the ensuing massacres that killed more than 800,000 Rwandans in 100 days.
Critically short on ammunition, supplies and manpower — the mission was further hindered by a vague United Nations mandate that legally prevented the use of force to intervene in the slaughter.
“The mandate I got for Rwanda said, ‘Establish an atmosphere of security,’” said Dallaire.
“What does ‘establish’ mean?” he said.
Historically, United Nations peacekeeping forces have played a role as an observer and “referee” between two former belligerents as they negotiated the terms and conditions of peace.
As Dallaire learned, in situations where conflicts reignited, peacekeepers were often powerless to intervene.
As conflict flared up in Africa and the Middle East, peacekeepers were often the first to leave.
“Peacekeepers cannot simply stand there and watch people slaughter each other by the hundreds of thousands, day in and day out — limited by mandates that nobody wanted to give them to be able to maybe provide some security or use some force to protect,” said Dallaire.
“The use of force to protect moderates has got to be expected … and that’s why it’s no longer peacekeeping, but conflict resolution,” he said.
“We need … to wrest the initiative from the extremists and prevent catastrophic failures.”
“We have got to go on the offensive and assist in resolving the frictions and attenuating the rage in those countries in which people are treated inhumanely,” said Dallaire.
A bit of foresight into root causes could have prevented the extremism that now characterizes the Middle East, he said.
“There’s nothing that prevents the African world from doing exactly the same thing.”
While conflict resolution should be the priority, many countries still seem to be stuck in a Cold War-era mindset of nuclear proliferation, said Dallaire.
“There are still over 27,000 nuclear weapons out there, and there are nearly 3,000 that are within 30 minutes notice of being launched … not at military targets, but civilian targets,” said Dallaire.
“The world powers have spent nearly a trillion dollars modernizing nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War — why do we still need them?” he said.
Even though Canada itself has never developed nuclear weapons, Dallaire noted that Canada is a prominent member of NATO, which has “nuclear weapons as its basis.”
The real risk in the post-Cold War world is not a World War III-style nuclear war between the USSR and the USA — but a nuclear attack launched by a terrorist extremist group, said Dallaire.
“If we think that the Americans went paranoid with the two towers coming down, you wait for the first extremist to launch one of those very small tactical nuclear weapons that wipe out half a city like Toronto,” he said.
Conflict resolution requires a more intellectually based soldier.
“You’ve got to be able to do more than stand there with a rifle — you’ve got to be able to assist them in solving the problems — in comprehending the problems.”
In pure human cost, conflict resolution is much harder than peacekeeping ever was, said Dallaire.
Blue-berets might have gotten away simply with standing guard in a demilitarized zone, but international forces posted to today’s conflict zones will need to fight — and take casualties.
Fear of military casualties among Western nations had led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians worldwide, said Dallaire.
In Rwanda, after the deaths of 10 Belgian peacekeepers in the opening days of the genocide, the Belgian government removed all their troops from the Rwandan peacekeeping mission, significantly reducing the strength of Dallaire’s force — and his ability to protect Rwandan civilians.
“Somalia in 1993 … 18 rangers are killed and Bill Clinton pulls out the American military, abandoning the UN, Canada and the hundreds of thousands of Somalians who died, and continue to die,” said Dallaire.
Dallaire noted the injustice of global political doctrines that seem to value the life of one group of people more than another, be they soldiers or civilians.
“Why did we pull out nearly everybody (out of Rwanda), while at the same time, in ex-Yugoslavia we were deploying 67,000 troops?” said Dallaire.
“I had more people killed, injured, internally displaced, refugeed and raped in 100 days in Rwanda than the six years of war in Yugoslavia,” he said.
“(Yugoslavians) were ‘more important than a bunch of black Africans wiping each other out.’”
The casualties of conflict resolution are not simply death and dismemberment, said Dallaire.
In 2000, the results of Dallaire’s own depression and post-traumatic stress disorder following the Rwandan Genocide were made painfully clear when he was found under a park bench in Ottawa, suffering from the effects of alcohol and anti-depressants.
“It’s much easier to talk about casualties that are physical and obvious than casualties that have more complex, not-so-evident injuries and that would require more work to explain,” said Dallaire.
A hero or a dead body, but not someone who’s been emotionally shattered, he said.
“Sometimes I think the media doesn’t necessarily want to see that angle,” he said.
Public awareness and acceptance of military post-traumatic stress disorder has grown significantly in the wake of Dallaire’s own illness, and garrison cities have responded “magnificently,” but “there is no doubt, that in Canadian society, mental illness still has stigmas,” said Dallaire.
Afghanistan is the first real test of Canada’s ability to be “conflict resolvers” in the new global environment.
”Are we ready to spend 40 years in Afghanistan? — ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been in Cyprus for over 40 years,” said Dallaire.
“The Turks and the Greeks … they’re talking, negotiating, their economies are going, they haven’t killed each other in a long time and maybe in 20 years from now they won’t need us,” said Dallaire.
“What’s 60 years in building a democracy?”
Building security can be a long and arduous process, he said.
In Afghanistan, a school was blown up by the Taliban, but quickly rebuilt by Canadian engineers. The Taliban returned to blow it up again, only to have it rebuilt once again by the Canadians. They returned, beheaded the teacher, and then blew up the school for a third time.
“How many times do you rebuild the school?” said Dallaire.
“You rebuild the school as often as you have to until the Afghanis themselves can provide that protection — because they want their children to be educated,” he said.
“We may not have to fight for 40 years, but we’ll be there for 40 years.”