International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers

Today, May 29th, is International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. It is a day of commemoration and an occasion to salute peacekeepers, past and present, who have served the most vulnerable persons around the globe during their time of greatest need.

dallaireToday, May 29th, is International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. It is a day of commemoration and an occasion to salute peacekeepers, past and present, who have served the most vulnerable persons around the globe during their time of greatest need.

As Canadians, there is a great deal to remember and celebrate, as we reflect on this most venerable institution of international peace and security. Peacekeeping has a deep connection to Canadian values and leadership. The first UN peacekeeping mission—an Emergency Force created to address the Suez Crisis of 1956—came about in large part due to the efforts of then Canadian Minister of External Affairs Lester B. Pearson and the leadership of UN Forces Commander General E.L.M. “Tommy” Burns. Beyond birthing UN peacekeeping, Canada carried the idea of peacekeeping into practice by leading troop contribution well into the 1990s. Since then, we have maintained engagement by remaining one of the top financial contributors to UN peacekeeping.

But peacekeeping is not for the faint of heart. A peacekeeper must share in the bravery, strength and ability of a battle-hardened soldier, as well as the impartiality, compassion and amity of a devoted humanitarian. That is not an easy task. We have stumbled and, indeed, we have fallen; but when the objective is great—and there can be no greater objective than to secure peace for this and future generations—we must pick ourselves back up and continue forward.

That means casting out the cynicism that has for far too long infected the narrative on peacekeeping. We are no longer in the early decades of peacekeeping, when the only option when things became difficult was to withdraw or sit by passively while bureaucrats and politicians devised means to mask their impotence or complicity. Today’s Blue Berets are acting under mandates that are increasingly responsive to the complex needs of contemporary missions, and they are doing so with the support of a leadership that is increasingly informed by principles such as the “responsibility to protect” and the protection of civilians.

Therefore, it is fitting that the theme for this year’s International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers is “Peacekeeping: Adapting to New Challenges”.

UN peacekeeping is changing to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, but what is not changing is the need for Canadian leadership, beyond our purse, both in terms of values and expertise. Today, let us honor peacekeepers and peacekeeping by re-committing with earnest to this worthy endeavor.

Lieutenant-General
The Honourable Roméo A. Dallaire,
O.C., C.M.M., G.O.C, M.S.C., C.D.,
(Retired), Senator