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Peacekeeping, and the World Order
Canada and peacekeeping
A history of Canada’s participation
Over 125,000 Canadian personnel have served in peacekeeping operations for the United
Nations; this is more than any other country.
Although the UN began deploying peacekeepers as early as 1948, the term “peacekeeping”
itself was not broadly used until 1956 when it was popularized by former Canadian Prime
Minister Lester B. Pearson.
In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed a plan that would separate Palestine,
creating the state of Israel and leaving the rest for the Palestinian Arabs. The Palestinian
Arabs and Arab States did not accept this plan. The now infamous conflict over this
territory began in May of 1948. The UN sent its first observers to the region in order
to calm the situation. The operation, entitled UNTSO (the United Nations Truce Supervision
Organization), was designed to monitor the situation and supervise the truce between
the two groups.
UNTSO has become the longest-running UN peacekeeping mission, but its mandate has changed
over the years. After supervising the General Armistice Agreements of 1949, UNTSO activities
spread over Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syrian Arab Republic territories. In
1967, in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli war, the organization monitored the ceasefire
in the Suez Canal area and the Golan Heights. Currently, UNTSO works alongside several
different UN forces to keep peace in the Middle East.
Lester B. Pearson has become an icon for Canada’s international peacekeeping reputation.
His innovation of a peacekeeping force for the 1956 Suez Canal crisis was a landmark
move. France, Israel and the United Kingdom had been trying to stop Egypt from taking
control of the Suez Canal. Pearson, Canada’s Secretary of State for External Affairs,
proposed an international force under the UN flag be deployed to ease the conflict.
The first UN peacekeeping force, UNEF I, supervised the withdrawal of armed forces
from Egyptian territory and served as a buffer between Egypt and Israel after the withdrawal.
The operation was led by Canadian General E. L. M. Burns (also the commander of the
UNTSO operation) and lasted until May 1967 when Egypt managed to convince UN forces
to leave. However, in 1973 they returned to the Suez Canal under the second mission
(UNEF II), which lasted for six years.
Pearson’s efforts won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957, while the Peace Prize went
to the United Nations in 1988, for 40 years of promoting peace.
After the end of the Cold War, there was increasing demand for UN peace missions. Thirty-five
peace missions have been initiated since 1990. Fourteen of these are ongoing.
In total, more than 750,000 military troops and police – more than 125,000 of whom
are Canadian – and thousands of civilians from around the world have served as peacekeepers.
Despite often dangerous mandates, as of September 2006 only 2,302 UN
peacekeepers have been killed while performing their duties. This
includes 114 Canadians (United Nations, 09 2006).
For the latest figures on UN peacekeeping fatalities (by year, mission,
In 1994, the Canadian government established the Lester B. Pearson Canadian International
Peacekeeping Training Centre on the site of a former military base in Clementsport,
Nova Scotia. The centre provides research, education and training for peacekeepers from
Canada and around the world.
At the 50th annual general assembly of the United Nations in 1995, Canada presented
a study on the UN’s rapid reaction capability. The study, Towards a Rapid Reaction Capability
for the United Nations, focused how to improve the UN’s ability to react quickly in
times of crisis. So far, 19 of the report’s 26 recommendations have been adopted.
The Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal (CPSM) was created to honour the country’s
long history of participation in international peace efforts. In addition, the Canadian
government commissioned the National Peacekeeping Monument in Ottawa, which is inscribed
with the words of Lester B. Pearson:
“We need action not only to end the fighting but to make the peace… My own government
would be glad to recommend Canadian participation in such a United Nations force,
a truly international peace and police force.”
Lester B. Pearson (November 2, 1956.)
See the CBC’s backgrounder
on Canada’s peacekeeping medals for more information.