Peacekeeping Contributor Profile: Canada

Evan Cinq-Mars[1]Center for Civilians in Conflict

Last Updated October 2017

Active armed forces[2] Helicopters & fixed-wing transport Defense Budget UN Peacekeepers UN Contribution Breakdown Other Significant Deployments


World Ranking (size): 57th

Army: 34,800

Navy: 8,300

Air: 19,900

+ 4,500 Paramilitary

68 (Bell 412)

Attack / Multi-role helicopters


(15 CH-47F Chinook; 14 AW 101 Merlin)

Transport helicopters


(5 C-17A Globemaster; 35 C-130 Hercules; 6 DHC-5 Buffalo; 4 DHC-6 Twin Otter; 6 Cl-600; 3 A310 Polaris)

Fixed-Wing Transport

2016: $13.16bn (0.86% of GDP)

2015: $13.82bn

(0.89% of GDP)

2014: $15.75bn

(0.88% of GDP)

2013: $16.17bn

(0.88% of GDP)

World Ranking (size): 17th



(10 female)

1 September 2017

Ranking: 71

(10th largest NATO contributor)

MINUJUSTH 40 (40 police, 5 troops)

MONUSCO 8 troops

UNFICYP 1 troop

UNMISS 10 (5 experts, 5 troops)

UNTSO 4 experts

Middle East (anti-Daesh) 830

Egypt/Sinai MFO 70

Iraq (Op. Impact) 207

Serbia 11 (5 KFOR, 6 OSCE)

Ukraine 221 (200 Op. Unifier, 21 OSCE)

Defense Spending / Troop: US$208,921 (compared to global average of approx. US$77,070)[3]

Part 1: Recent Trends

In the past 25 years Canada has moved from 1st to 71st in the rankings of contributors of uniformed personnel to UN peacekeeping operations. In March 1992, Canada’s 1,043 personnel were more than any other country. By September 2017, Canada ranked 71st on the list of peace operations contributors, providing 68 personnel – the lowest number since 1990.[4] Since 2000, Canada’s peace operations deployments have mostly been in relatively small numbers to a wide range of UN missions. Since 2005, Canada’s contributions to UN peace operations have mainly been individual police officers.


The announcement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in August 2016 to provide up to 600 military personnel and 150 police to UN peace operations marked a first step in reversing the 25-year trend of decline in contributions. The government also announced a new Peace and Stabilization Operations Program (PSOP) and $450 million (CAD) in funding over three years in support of program objectives. The government will host the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial Summit in Vancouver in November 2017, following annual summits hosted by the United States in 2014 and 2015 and the United Kingdom in 2016.

The UN operation in Mali, MINUSMA, is regularly cited as the front-runner for a potential deployment of Canadian military and police personnel.[5] The UN missions in South Sudan (UNMISS) and Haiti (MINUJUSTH) have also recently been suggested as potential options. The Government is also reportedly considering the establishment of a specialized military unit to focus on the demilitarization of child soldiers. Canada has also responded positively to the proposal to establish a UN peacekeeping operation in Ukraine, though it is unclear whether the Government would contribute military or police personnel if such an operation is authorized by the UN Security Council. A final decision on Canada’s contribution to the UN has not been announced (as of 1 November 2017), though the Government is reportedly aiming to make a decision before the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial.

In terms of current deployments to UN peace operations, the majority of Canada’s personnel – 68 in total, of which 40 are individual police officers – are deployed to the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti, MINUJUSTH, which was established following the termination of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH.[6] Canada also maintains contributions to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) through Operation SOPRANO and the UN Mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO) through Operation CROCODILE, among others. Canada announced in January 2017 that it would contribute 10 police to Colombia, including an unspecified number assigned to the UN political mission there, though it is unclear whether this deployment is part of the Liberal government’s peace operations proposal.

Despite waning personnel contributions, Canada has, since 2000, provided approximately 2.8% of the UN peacekeeping assessed contributions in accordance with the UN scale of apportionment, ranking it among the top 10 financial contributors to UN peace operations. Canada has also played an important political role at the UN in New York, serving as a Vice-Chair of the UN General Assembly’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations.

Canada has also participated in a number of large multinational military operations since 2001, and has enabled partner nations and regional organizations. Canada was a major contributor to the NATO-led and UN-mandated International Security and Assistance Force in Afghanistan, rotating a total of 40,000 troops during its twelve years of operations in the country between 2001 and 2014. Canada also participated in the UN Security Council-mandated and NATO-led Operation Unified Protector in Libya in 2011.

Since 2014, Canada has participated in the Global Coalition Against Daesh under Operation IMPACT, which included conducting airstrike operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria until February 2016. Approximately 850 Canadian Forces (CF) personnel are currently deployed in Kuwait, Iraq, Qatar, Jordan and Lebanon, including Special Forces engaged in a train, advise and assist mission.

Canada has also prioritized responding to Russian aggression in Central and Eastern Europe by reassuring North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partner nations through Operation REASSURANCE. 450 soldiers are currently deployed in Latvia to lead a NATO Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup alongside Albania, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Slovenia and Spain. Canada also recently extended a military training mission in Ukraine, where 200 CAF members will be deployed under Operation UNIFIER until March 2019.

Canada released a new Defence Policy in June 2017, which stated that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) will be “prepared to make concrete contributions to Canada’s role as a responsible international actor, particularly through participation in United Nations peace operations.” Leading and/or contributing to international peace operations and stabilization missions with the UN, was also cited as a core mission of the CAF.[7] The government’s forthcoming peacekeeping contribution comes as Canadian military and personnel have been deployed in greater numbers than at any point since the mission in Afghanistan. The Department of National Defence (DND) has faced consecutive years of requests to reduce operating costs, raising important challenges for the CAF amid increasing national, continental and global demands.

Part 2: Decision-Making Process

The decision to deploy Canadian personnel to UN peace operations rests with the executive branch of the government, namely the Prime Minister and her or his cabinet of Ministers. There is no formal or legal requirement for the executive branch to seek parliamentary approval for deployments of Canadian personnel to UN peace operations. However, governments typically undertake to inform parliament, including through “take note” debates in the House of Commons.

The former government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper notably sought Parliamentary approval for the extension of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan as well as its contribution to the NATO-led, UN-mandated mission in Libya.[8] These decisions have possibly set a precedent for the forthcoming UN deployment. The Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence recommended in a November 2016 report that the government issue “Statements of Justification” for any UN deployment to the House of Commons and Senate, as well as to put the deployment to a debate and vote in both chambers.[9] The Conservative Party and New Democratic Party have encouraged the Liberal government to bring its forthcoming UN deployments to vote in Parliament. The Liberals have promised a debate in the House of Commons, but have indicated a vote is unlikely. Some Parliamentary experts have cautioned against a vote in the House.[10]

As for the government’s internal decision-making process, the Prime Minister’s mandate letters to the Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs have placed these individuals and their respective Ministries in a leadership role in increasing Canada’s support for UN peace operations. The Minister of Defence conducted a fact-finding mission in August 2016 to five African countries to inform Canada’s engagement in support of UN peace operations along with Lieutenant-General (Ret’d) Roméo Dallaire, Louise Arbour, and the Ambassador of Canada to the UN, Marc-André Blanchard. The current government has emphasized a “whole of government” approach for support to UN peace operations, though it remains to be seen what this will mean in practice with respect to the final decision for deployments.

The Permanent Mission of Canada to the UN typically receives requests for the deployment of Canadian personnel from DPKO. The Military and Police Advisors at the Permanent Mission review the specifics and offer initial recommendations on the request. The request and recommendations are then typically forwarded to Global Affairs Canada (i.e., the foreign ministry), triggering an inter-departmental and inter-Ministerial consultation process, with a view to finalizing a decision on the request by DPKO within the timeline it has elaborated.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police manages the Canadian Police Arrangement in partnership with Global Affairs Canada, which governs the decision to deploy municipal, provincial or federal police to UN peace operations.

Part 3: Rationales for Contributions

Political Rationales: Canadian contributions to UN peace operations are cited as part of a commitment to maintaining global peace and security. Burden-sharing with allies and partners is often emphasized in this regard. Prime Minister Trudeau and Cabinet Ministers have frequently employed the “Canada is back” mantra in publicly discussing its UN peacekeeping plan. This mantra is used to harken back to Canada’s role as a peacekeeping nation (see below), but also to juxtapose the Liberal approach to foreign policy from the Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.[11] Public opinion tends to support Canadian contributions to UN peace operations. An October 2016 poll found that approximately 80% of Canadians support contributions to UN peace operations, with 70% supporting deployments to active conflict zones.

Security Rationales: Canada’s national security has typically not been invoked in the context of contributions to UN peace operations. However, combatting transnational terrorism has been cited in the context of a potential Canadian deployment to MINUSMA in Mali. The current Liberal government has framed Canadian contributions to UN peace operations as part of an effort to respond to complex and inter-connected violent conflict and to contribute to regional and international security and stability.

Normative Rationales: The normative rationale is perhaps the strongest and most often employed in political arguments to justify contributions to UN peace operations. This rationale is tied to Canada’s long-standing history with UN peace operations and an ensuing establishment of a national identity of “Canada as peacekeeper” in the world. Canada’s peacekeeping legacy is frequently cited in this regard, particularly in terms of former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s role in establishing the first-ever UN peace operation in response to the Suez Crisis in 1950. A public consultation process held by DND for the 2016 Defence Policy Review yielded mixed views, finding in its report that, “While many perceived Canada’s international role to be that of peacekeeper…some questioned the historical accuracy of the perception of Canada as solely peacekeepers.”

Economic Rationales: There is no significant economic rationale for Canada’s contribution to UN peace operations.

Institutional Rationales: There is no significant institutional rationale specific to the CAF that accounts for Canada’s contribution to UN peace operations.

Part 4: Barriers to Contributions

Alternative institutional preferences for crisis management: While the Liberal government has indicated its intention to strengthen UN peace operations, NATO and other multinational coalitions remain the primary vehicle for Canadian contributions to global peace and security. Coherence of strategic objectives and military interoperability with NATO partner nations (and the US in particular), including familiar command and control structures and aligned capabilities, enhance this preference among Canadian policymakers and the CAF.[12]

Alternative political or strategic priorities: Canada typically prioritizes continental security commitments, as well as strategic defense and security priorities through NATO, over UN peace operations. Defining and articulating the “national interest” with respect to the UN deployment will be a crucial test for the Liberal government amid competing foreign policy priorities. The election of US President Donald Trump has added an additional strategic policy challenge for the Canadian government (discussed further in Part 5).

Absence of pressure to contribute: While public opinion supports Canadian participation in UN peace operations, there is not a sizeable domestic constituency pressuring the Canadian government to prioritize contributions. Pressure mostly comes from external sources of influence, including from the UN and allies (though certain Canadian advocacy groups do engage on this engage, discussed further in Part 6).

Difficult domestic politics and procedure: Opposition parties have called for a vote on the UN deployment. The Liberals currently hold a Parliamentary majority, thereby ensuring the success of any vote tabled in the House of Commons on the matter. Disagreements over parliamentary procedure or the government’s justification could further politicize the issue and erode multi-partisan support for contributions to UN peace operations in the future.

Resistance in the military and police: Force protection and the risks to Canadian personnel, particularly in the context of asymmetric threat environments like Mali, are of paramount concern in contributions to UN peace operations. Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance further stated he would not relinquish operational control over CAF personnel deployed to UN missions.[13]

Part 5: Current Challenges and Issues

Canada has recently extended military operations in Ukraine and expanded military presence in Latvia, while also continuing to provide personnel and logistical support to the Global Coalition Against Daesh. Multiple missions in diverse theatres of operation raise important questions about CAF force generation and sustainment. Financial concerns have also been raised, particularly in relation to the budget for DND amid expanding operations abroad.

The Trudeau government has further struggled in defining and publicly articulating where Canadian personnel will be deployed since announcing its peacekeeping plan in August 2016. The government has yet to issue justifications for any specific UN mission despite widespread speculation within Canadian and international media. The lengthy deliberation process over Canada’s contribution is further contrasted by the mandate letter from Prime Minister Trudeau to Defence Minister Sajjan, which called on the Defence Minister “to help the United Nations respond more quickly to emerging and escalating conflicts.” The delay has led to private and public appeals from allies like France and Germany as to the status of Canada’s forthcoming contribution.

The forthcoming UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial will focus on “smart pledges” to fill critical gaps facing UN peacekeeping operations. Participation in the annual Ministerial meeting is typically reserved for countries that make specific pledges, particularly to fill critical capability gaps identified by DPKO. It is unclear whether Canada will make a new pledge during the 2017 Ministerial, or if the government considers delivering on the August 2016 pledge of up to 600 military and 150 police personnel as sufficient in this regard.

The election of US President Donald Trump is challenging for Canadian foreign policy priorities, particularly with respect to its contributions to UN peace operations. The Canadian government sought to coordinate with the US administration following President Trump’s inauguration, including on its peace operations plan. The decision to consult the Trump administration reportedly led to Canada missing an opportunity to command MINUSMA, which likely contributed delays in the government’s peace operations plan.

Training and preparedness is also a current challenge, as highlighted in a February 2016 report, Unprepared for Peace? The Decline of Canadian Peacekeeping Training (and What to Do About It). The report states that Canada is “currently far behind other nations in its readiness to support the United Nations and train for modern peacekeeping.” The closing of the Pearson Peacekeeping Training Centre in December 2013 is cited as a significant factor in this regard. There have subsequently been calls to revive the Centre or a similar Peace Support Operations Training Centre.[14]

Canada has endorsed the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians, a set of 18 pledges to improve the implementation of the protection of civilian in peacekeeping operations that has been endorsed by 39 other countries. Canada was also the first country in the world to develop military doctrine for its armed forces for responding to child soldiers in armed conflict. These steps are important, but will have to be backed up by sufficient and integrated training for CAF and police personnel on the protection of civilians, child protection and conflict-related sexual violence in advance of any UN peace operations deployment.

Part 6: Key Champions and Opponents

Public debate regarding Canada’s contribution to UN peace operations has increased since the Liberal government’s announcement of its plan to deploy additional personnel. Major Canadian media outlets, such as the National Post and The Globe and Mail, have weighed in on the deployment through their Editorial Boards, which have all largely urged caution, particularly in Mali.

The Conservative Party has raised concerns over plans for Canada’s contribution to UN peace operations. Interim party leader Rona Ambrose has questioned whether a peace operations deployment is in Canada’s national interest and whether the Canadian military is being used by the Liberal government to advance its bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2021.

Former Canadian soldiers have been particularly vocal in the debate. Lieutenant-General (Ret’d) Roméo Dallaire, a former Canadian Senator and Force Commander of UNAMIR during the 1994 Rwanda genocide, has been a staunch supporter of Canada’s participation in UN peace operations. Major-General (Ret’d) Lewis Mackenzie, the former Sarajevo Sector Commander of the UN Protection Force in Yugoslavia, wrote skeptically in August 2016 of the UN deployment plan. Major-General (Ret’d) Terry Liston has called for Canada to station an immediately available battle group on the African continent to act as an emergency first responder for the UN.

Walter Dorn, President of the World Federalist Movement-Canada and Professor of Defence Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada and the Canadian Forces College, has been a proponent of Canada’s participation in UN peace operations. Roland Paris, University Research Chair in International Security and Governance at the University of Ottawa, who also served as Trudeau’s Senior Foreign Policy Advisor, urged the Liberal government to return to UN peace operations prior to the 2015 election. Peggy Mason, President of the Rideau Institute and a former disarmament Ambassador, has written about why Canada’s contribution to UN peace operations is worth the perceived risk.

Think tanks and non-governmental organizations have also sought engage on Canada’s participation in UN peace operations. The Rideau Institute and 10 other non-governmental organizations called for making UN peacekeeping a Canadian defence priority in July 2016. The World Federalist Movement-Canada (WFM-C) advocates for a larger Canadian role in UN peace operations, including the establishment of a UN Emergency Peace Service. WFM-C publishes an annual factsheet on Canada and UN peacekeeping.

The Centre for Security Governance published a four-part series exploring the security sector reform dimensions of Canada’s engagement with peace operations in Africa. The Canadian Global Affairs Institute occasionally publishes on Canada’s participation in UN peace operations, including a July 2016 policy brief on “Realistic Peacekeeping Options for Canada”.

Réseau de recherche sur les opérations de paix, based at Université de Montréal, is a leading resource on peace operations, particularly for Francophone practitioners. Centre sur la sécurité internationale, based at Université Laval, has also organized conferences on Canada’s participation in peace operations, as has the Centre d’études sur la paix et la sécurité internationale at the Université de Montréal and McGill University.


Part 7: Capabilities and Caveats

Canada can provide strategic and tactical airlift to multilateral operations or partner nations through its fleet of CC-117 Globemaster III and CC-130J Hercules aircraft. Canada also has 18 CP-140 long-range patrol aircraft, which have been used most recently in CAF operations in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq and Syria. These aircraft could be employed in more complex UN peace operations to assist in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

In terms of enabling and specialized assets, the CAF has a number of engineering units at its disposal, which can be valuable to UN peace operations in terms of constructing bases and building or repairing infrastructure. Canada also has a fleet of tactical helicopters, including CH-147F Chinook medium to heavy-lift helicopters, which can transport personnel and will likely be required in any UN peace operation contribution. Medium utility helicopter units have been identified by DPKO/DFS as a capability gap for which pledges have been sought at the upcoming UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial.

Canada’s ability to deploy bilingual or Francophone military and police personnel is highly sought-after by the UN and partner nations, particularly given that roughly 60% of all UN peacekeepers are deployed in Francophone environments. Canadian police, through the RCMP International Police Peacekeeping and Peace Operations Program, provide specialized police and rule of law functions, particularly training and capacity building to host-state police services. Specialized police teams are an additional capability gap for which pledges are being sought at the 2017 UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial. The government has also placed an emphasis on training for military and civilian personnel deployed to UN and regional peace operations through PSOP.

In terms of enabling partner nations, Canada has contributed strategic airlift support to France’s Operation Barkhane in the Sahel region of Africa since November 2016, and also supported the French-led intervention in Mali in early 2013 in the same manner. The CAF have been involved in training military and security forces of Niger since 2013, which was recently transitioned from Canadian Special Operations Forces to regular CF personnel under the mantle of Operation NABERIUS. Canada has also provided financial support to African Union (AU)-led operations in recent years, including to AU missions in Somalia and the Central African Republic respectively.

Canada has not publicized any specific caveats or restrictions in relation to its personnel contributions to UN peace operations. As mentioned above, Canada has endorsed the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians, which includes a pledge not to stipulate any caveats that may prevent its personnel from robustly protecting civilians in peacekeeping operations. The Minister of Defence has reaffirmed that protecting civilians, including by force if necessary, will be central to any Canadian contribution to UN peace operations.

Part 8: Further Reading

Derek Burney and Fen Osler Hampson, “Put Canada’s interests first when it comes to peacekeeping,” The Globe & Mail, August 12, 2016.

James Cohen, “Peacekeeping of the future: Thinking through Canada’s options in Africa,” Open Canada, August 12, 2016.

Peter Langille, “Re-engaging Canada in United Nations peace operations,” Policy Options, Institute for Research on Public Policy, August 10, 2016.

Walter Dorn and Fergus Watt, “Canada dithers on its peacekeeping commitment – and loses credibility for it,” Ottawa Citizen, March 21, 2017.

Marijan, Branka, “The cost of Canada’s indecisiveness on peacekeeping,” Project Ploughshares, September 19, 2017.



[1] The views expressed in this profile are solely those of the author. He would like to thank Dr. Simon Collard-Wexler and Dr. Walter Dorn for reviewing the profile prior to its initial publication in April 2017, as well as to Alexis Fessatidis for research assistance. A previous profile for Canada written by Martin Fischer and Maria Derks Normandin (January 2013) was consulted in drafting this update.

[2] Unless otherwise stated, data is drawn from IISS, The Military Balance 2017 (London: IISS/ Routledge, 2017).

[3] 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 2017.

[4] At its peak, in March 1995, Canadian contributions to UN operations around the world reached a total of 3,098 personnel.

[5] Canada was specifically requested to replace the Netherlands’ military contingent in MINUSMA.

[6] Canada has been involved in peace and stabilization operations in Haiti since 1990, including 500 personnel deployed to the UN Security Council-mandated Multinational Interim Force in 2004 in response to the deteriorating political and humanitarian situation. These personnel were transitioned into MINUSTAH until July 2004. The transition from MINUSTAH from MINUJUSTH has resulted in the decline of overall contributions since the initial publication of this profile in April 2017.

[7] The new defence policy followed a review in 2016 to reflect on the CF’s role.

[8] Stephen M. Saideman and Fen Osler Hampson, Elusive Pursuits: Lessons from Canada’s Interventions Abroad, Canada Among Nations 2015, Centre for International Governance Innovation and Carleton University, Waterloo, ON, 2015, p.5.

[9]UN Deployment: Prioritizing Commitments at Home and Abroad,” Report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, Senate of Canada, November 2016.

[10] See, for example, Philippe Lagassé, “Parliament should scrutinize, not have a say, on military deployments,” In Defence of Westminster, 7 October 2016.

[11] The Conservative government notably disengaged from the United Nations following its failed bid to win a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2010.

[12] MINUSMA has a relatively large number of Western contributors compared to other UN operations. This could be a contributing factor behind Canada’s desire to participate in MINUSMA.

[13] Dual lines of command and control have been cited as critical impediments to effective peacekeeping, particularly in terms of the protection of civilians.

[14] Report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence (November 2016).