CANADA

Back to Bosnia

Canada joins NATO allies in enforcing the peace

LUKE FISHER December 18 1995
CANADA

Back to Bosnia

Canada joins NATO allies in enforcing the peace

LUKE FISHER December 18 1995

Back to Bosnia

Canada joins NATO allies in enforcing the peace

CANADA

The first small vanguard of a 60,000member, NATO-led force that is supposed to keep the peace in the war-ravaged former republic of Yugoslavia had already landed in Bosnia and Croatia last week before the Canadian government officially announced whether or not it would join the effort. And by the time Defence Minister David Collenette finally confirmed that Canada would participate—making it the last of nearly 30 countries to do so— the size and nature of the

Canadian commitment suggested a certain caution, if not downright reluctance, on the part of a nation renowned for its peacekeeping record. In the end, Canada agreed to dispatch 1,000 troops, far fewer than such NATO allies as Britain (14,000), France (10,000) and

Germany (4,000) and fewer even than such

non-NATO nations as Bangladesh (1,200). In an interview with Maclean’s, Collenette conceded that Canada could have done more, but insisted that the country had nothing to apologize for. Noting that Canadian soldiers had already served for four gruelling years as part of a UN mission in the Balkans, he

stated bluntly that, “Now, it’s time for other nations to pick up some of the slack.”

Chief among those nations will be the United States, which brokered the peace pact initialled in Dayton, Ohio, on Nov. 21 by the embattled leaders of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia—and which is backing up its commitment to enforcing the peace with the deployment of 25,000 combat-ready soldiers.

Under the terms of the peace initiative, the disputed region has been divided into three sectors. In each, a ceasefire line divides the new Bosnian Serb republic from the new Muslim-Croat federation. The sectors will be manned primarily by French troops in the south, American in the centre and British in the northwest, supplemented by soldiers from the other participating nations. By early February, 500 Canadians will be responsible for running one of three headquarters in the British sector, along with 400 infantrymen and about 100 communications

and logistics troops. (Half of the soldiers are expected to come from CFB Petawawa, 120 km northwest of Ottawa, and the rest from bases in Western Canada.) But with the infantry likely to be used for defensive purposes, few Canadians are expected to patrol the potentially dangerous demilitarized zone di-

viding Bosnian Croats and Serbs in that sector. The federal cabinet gave its final approval to the deployment just two days after a debate on the issue in the House of Commons—an exercise that opposition parties labelled a sham, contending that the government had already made up its mind about what it planned to do. Certainly when he spoke during that debate, Collenette made his views clear. “Ifs fine for us Canadians to pound our chests and yell from the hilltops about world peace, world stability, world security,” he said. “But unless we’re prepared to do something about it, to commit our own resources, to commit our own people, then I think our words ring hollow.” Collenette added that without the UN intervention four years ago, hundreds more civilians might have died and that Europe from “the Aegean Sea to the Alps would have been aflame.”

Those arguments failed to impress Reform party foreign affairs critic Bob Mills, who maintained that Canadian soldiers are exhausted after years of peacekeeping duty in the former Yugoslavia, Somalia and Haiti. In Bosnia alone, 10 Canadians died, more than 100 others were wounded and many others returned suffering from psychological stress. The nation’s troops, said Mills, are poorly equipped, have low morale and should not be asked to join any operation until an inquiry into the way that some Canadian soldiers beat and tortured civilians during a mission to Somalia in 1992-1993 is completed.

But while the Reform party contended that the Liberals had gone too far in committing troops, other critics said that Canada was not doing nearly enough. Describing the Canadian effort as “tokenism,” retired Maj.-Gen. Lewis Mackenzie, who commanded UN forces in Sarajevo in 1992, said that “our allies would have wanted much more and you don’t get much credit unless you put combat troops on the ground.” At the same time, Canada’s apparent reluctance to join the Bosnia effort in the first place only added to the irritation abroad. “Alliance pressures being what they are, there was never much doubt about us being involved,” said one Canadian diplomat in Europe. “But by being the last guys to come to the party, we’ve annoyed everyone and kissed off the goodwill we deserve.”

The Liberals know, of course, that the harshest criticisms may be yet to come—if and when Canadian soldiers die in the service of a cause that many see as remote from Canada’s national interest. Similar concerns, in fact, dogged U.S. President Bill Clinton last week as he tried to drum up public and congressional support for his bold peace initiative. Clinton won backing from former presidents George Bush and Gerald Ford. But he faced a stern warning of the perils ahead from retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the respected commander of the allied forces during the Gulf War—a warning that resonated on both sides of the border. Schwarzkopf said that vengeance among ethnic groups, along with the difficult Bosnian terrain, means that Americans may be drawn into a bloody and protracted conflict. “It could,” he added, “be very, very difficult if things don’t go our way.”

BRUCE WALLACE

LUKE FISHER in Ottawa with BRUCE WALLACE in Ij>ndon