CHRIS WOOD August 29 1988


CHRIS WOOD August 29 1988



Dawn brought the order to move in. The target: Nicosia’s derelict Ayios Kassianios Church, a landmark of the demilitarized zone separating the Turkish and Greek populations on divided Cyprus. The day before, a dozen Turkish-Cypriot soldiers had occupied the building and raised a Turkish flag over it, violating the fragile ceasefire. But Cypriots sleep late on summer mornings: the Turks were still dozing as the first Canadian burst through the church door. It took the blue-helmeted troops of the Royal Canadian Regiment, members of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, less than two minutes to take possession of the building. When the Turks finally rubbed the sleep from their eyes, their first sight was of levelled rifles. The second was of the practised grins of 10 Canadian soldiers. Recalled Brig.-Gen. John MacInnis, the Canadian commander who ordered the action in August, 1986: “They put on their UN smiles and started to dialogue.” For four decades, smiles and dialogue—backed by bravery and only rarely by arms— have been the stock-in-trade of Canada’s peacekeeping troops.

Distinction: No other country shares Canada’s distinction of having served in every peacekeeping force assembled by the United Nations. Since 1949, when Canadians were part of an observer group sent to stand between the armies of India and Pakistan in disputed Kashmir, Canada has participated in 15 other UN missions in trouble spots from New Guinea to the Dominican Republic. Canada also has contributed its troops—and its middle-power acceptability—to four additional international peacekeeping ventures outside UN auspices in Africa, Vietnam and the Middle East.

Officials refuse to estimate the cost of those missions in dollars. The cost in lives, however, is not in dispute—in 38 years, 78 Canadians have died on peacekeeping duty, from Kashmir to the Belgian Congo, now Zaïre. In many trouble spots, peace has proved elusive, leading critics to question the risk to Canadian lives in distant battlefields where Canadian interests seem tenuous. But among

diplomats and the military, there is widespread agreement that peacekeeping enhances Canada’s international reputation—and its military readiness. In the next few years, there could be new requests for Canadian help in propping up shaky ceasefires.

Casualties: Canadians were first asked to oversee a truce after Britain’s 1947 withdrawal from India and Pakistan. Almost immediately, the two new nations began fighting over Kashmir, a remote and rugged region straddling the western peaks of the Himalayas.

After a UN-sponsored ceasefire took effect in January, 1949, 35 observers came to monitor it, including four Canadians. One, Brig. Henry Angle, was named chief military observer of the group in January, 1950. Six months later, Angle became the first Canadian fatality of peacekeeping when he died in a plane crash.

Kashmir set the tone for Canada’s peacekeeping in another way—it lasted

far longer than its designers anticipated. The UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan still exists, although Canada’s contribution has become a lone Hercules transport plane and its crew for the group’s twiceyearly shuttle of its headquarters between bases in India and Pakistan.

New commitments and casualties followed quickly—most notably when the UN dispatched a massive multinational force to combat North Korea’s invasion of South Korea in 1950.

That ultimately involved a total of 21,940 Canadian troops—at its peak in January, 1952,

Canadian army strength totalled 8,123—as well as sailors and airmen during a three-year war in which 312 Canadians died in action. Then, in 1954, Canada sent four officers to the sixyear-old United Nations Truce Supervisory Organization policing the ceasefire between Israel and four Arab neighbors, a role that by 1988 had grown to 22 officers.

UNTSO also has taken Canadian lives. One victim was Lt.-Col. George Flint, who died—reportedly from an Arab bullet—on a hillside overlooking Jerusalem while holding a white flag and trying to stop shooting between Arabs and an Israeli police patrol.

Crises: Further conflict broadened Canada’s role in the Middle East. In 1956, Ottawa assigned troops to the UN Emergency Force in Egypt. The unit was assembled in November after a joint British,

French and Israeli force had become bogged down in an attempt to wrest the Suez Canal from Egyptian control.

Since then, Canada has played a role in 12 UN peacekeeping operations. Canadian troops were called in to help forestall Syrian intervention in Lebanon in 1958 and returned for six months in 1978 to set up communications for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon. When civil war erupted in the newly independent Congo after Belgium withdrew in 1960, more than 400 Canadians helped restore peace in a mission that lasted four years. Briefer crises took Canadians to New Guinea in 1962 to help administer the South Pacific

island during its transition from Dutch colony to independence, and to Yemen the following year to oversee the withdrawal of invading Saudi and Egyptian troops.

No area of the globe has seen more Canadian peacekeepers, more often, than the Middle East. Canadian troops

were back in Egypt in 1973, overseeing the ceasefire that ended the Yom Kippur war between that nation and Israel. More were dispatched the following year to help separate Israeli and Syrian units on the Golan Heights. And when the 1978 Camp David accord led to a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, Canada was again asked to help supervise it, a non-UN commitment that began in March, 1986, and which continues to keep 140 men and eight Canadian helicopters in the Sinai.

Expense: How much those expeditions have cost Canadians is impossible to measure. Soldiers draw salaries no matter what they are doing. The additional costs of some peacekeepers have been paid by the countries requesting help and others have been paid by the UN. Still, the involvement of Canadians in Cyprus alone is estimated to have cost Ottawa a total of $85 million since 1964. In addition, troops and equipment assigned to peacekeeping are unavailable at home: eight of Canada’s 32 CH-135 military transport helicopters, for example, are on duty along the Camp David accord lines in the Sinai. And then there are the lives—on average, one Canadian soldier dies every six months on peacekeeping duty.

Some observers say that the expense in lives and money has been too high, but many Canadian soldiers and diplomats disagree. Said Maj. Robert Butt of Winnipeg, a veteran of keeping hostile armies apart in Cyprus and the Golan Heights: “If people are not dying on either side, then I think that is worthwhile.” And while the commitment of troops and equipment to peacekeeping may sometimes tax Canada’s 80,000-member Armed Forces, it also provides useful testing for men and machinery.

Gratifying: There may be more testing for Canadian soldiers in the next two years. According to the New York City-based International Peace Academy, an independent institute that trains officers and diplomats in peacemaking, as many as 1,000 Canadian troops may be requested next year to oversee a ceasefire in Namibia. Others may be asked to serve in Nicaragua, as well as observe political settlements in Kampuchea and the western Sahara. Those are roles that many Canadians evidently welcome. “Our mission is to maintain peace,” said Cyprus commander Maclnnis. “We have been extremely successful for a very long time.” For a nation committed to peace in a warlike world, there can be few more gratifying statements of military purpose and achievement.