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Defence

Liberals give themselves more time to meet five-year-old peacekeeping pledge

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By Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa

The federal Liberal government has quietly given itself more time to provide a 200-soldier force for peacekeeping, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first pledged to the United Nations nearly five years ago.

The commitment of a “quick-reaction force” was one of three signature promises that Trudeau made during a major peacekeeping summit in Vancouver in November 2017, with the government promising its deployment within five years.

But while internal documents obtained from Global Affairs Canada by The Canadian Press show the commitment was set to expire this past March, the Department of National Defence says cabinet recently added another year.

“The cabinet authority covering the QRF and other contributions to UN peace support operations was renewed in March 2022 for a period of one year,” Defence Department spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande said in an email.

Canada did make good on the other two promises by deploying a helicopter unit to Mali in 2018-19 to help with medical evacuations, and through the provision of a transport plane to ferry troops and supplies to different UN missions in Africa.

The government’s failure to make good on the promised quick-reaction force comes despite the UN having said it needs several such forces now, and the United States having asked Canada late last year to fulfill its commitment.

Washington’s request came ahead of a peacekeeping summit in South Korea in December, where countries were asked to provide new commitments to fill gaps in both funding and peacekeeping missions in the field in Africa and elsewhere.

Asked whether Canada still intends to fulfill its commitment, Lamirande said: “Canada regularly engages with UN officials to assess when and where a QRF may be required.

“Any deployment of a QRF would be following a decision by the Government of Canada to do so in support of a specific UN mission within clearly defined parameters,” she added.

Defence Minister Anita Anand did not mention the quick-reaction force during the South Korea summit, but told The Canadian Press several weeks later that the force is “not off the table.”

The heavily redacted Global Affairs Canada report suggests Canadian officials have been looking at options for deploying such a force, which would be designed to respond to emergencies and threats to UN personnel and facilities as well as civilians.

Such units have been deployed in recent years to the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, where they have clashed with different armed groups as the UN has sought to provide security and stability.

The undated Global Affairs report notes that while the UN needs such units, there is an increased risk given “deteriorating security, increasing violent extremist organization capabilities, transitions, reduced resources (and) COVID-19.”

Trudeau’s commitment in 2017 came as the Liberal government promised a renewed Canadian engagement with UN peacekeeping that most observers and experts say has not actually come to pass.

Canada had 60 police and military personnel deployed as peacekeepers at the end of March, according to the UN. While that was up from the record low of 34 in August 2020, it was still less than half the number when the Liberals took power in 2015.

Canadian Forces College professor Walter Dorn said the government’s decision to keep the commitment on the table for another year offers a glimmer of hope that the force could materialize at some point.

Nonetheless, “given that the QRF pledge has not been fulfilled in a half decade, it now appears like an empty promise made by Trudeau in 2017,” Dorn said.

“Canada should have completed that promise long ago and made many more progressive contributions afterwards to support the United Nations, which is at the centre of the rules-based international order.”

Royal Military College professor Jane Boulden was also skeptical the quick-reaction force will appear, particularly as the federal government is focused on bolstering Canada’s commitments to the NATO military alliance in light of the war in Ukraine.

To that end, she questioned whether the decision to keep the commitment alive is more about optics than any real intention of fulfilling it.

“It’s a safer thing to say the commitment is still open,” she said. “It’s going to generate less criticism.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 31, 2022.

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conflict

Canada donating four Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine

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Ottawa – Defence Minister Anita Anand says Canada will send four of its German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine “in the coming weeks.”

Anand announced the move this afternoon, making Canada the latest country to promise the heavy weapons to Ukraine.

Canada is also providing trainers, spare parts and ammunition, while Anand left open the possibility of sending more Leopards in the future.

Ukraine has implored Western allies to send such weapons for weeks as its forces struggle to make gains against Russia.

But Canada was unable to respond until Germany agreed on Wednesday that countries could re-export their Leopards.

The Leopards that Canada is donating are among the 112 currently owned by the Canadian Army, which includes 82 designed specifically for combat.

Retired military officers had warned that any donation would have an impact on the Army and will need to be replaced, given that the fleet is already stretched thin.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.

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Pressure builds for Canada to send tanks to Ukraine after Germany gives OK

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By Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa

Pressure is building for Canada to send some of its Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine after Germany decided to provide the heavy weapons and allow other countries to do the same.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced his government’s decision on Wednesday following weeks of hesitation that created impatience among his country’s allies, saying Berlin will send 14 of its Leopard 2A6 tanks.

Scholz’s announcement came shortly before U.S. President Joe Biden revealed plans to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, opening a potential floodgate following weeks of pleas by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The goal is for Germany and its allies to provide Ukraine with 88 of the German-made Leopards, which would make up two battalions, and work alongside the U.S.-made Abrams in launching counteroffensives against Russian forces.

Yet while Poland has already promised to send Leopards if Germany agreed, and other European nations such as Finland and Spain have indicated a willingness to do the same, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was more circumspect on Wednesday.

“Canada has stepped up significantly and without hesitation to support the Ukrainian people, and Ukraine itself,” he said at a news conference marking the end of a three-day cabinet retreat in Hamilton.

“We will continue to be there to give whatever support we can to Ukraine. I won’t be making an announcement today. But I can tell you we are looking very, very closely at what more we can do to support Ukraine.”

The Canadian Armed Forces has 112 Leopard 2s in its inventory in a number of different variations. Those include 82 designed for combat and 30 that are used for engineering purposes and recovering disabled vehicles.

Retired lieutenant-general and former Canadian Army commander Jean-Marc Lanthier said in an interview that any donation will almost certainly need to balance the needs and benefits to Ukraine against the potential impact on Canada’s military.

“Getting rid of any tanks — because we have so few, and so few that are actively working — would have an immediate impact on the level of readiness of the Army,” said Lanthier, who served as an armoured officer.

“Is that something that should stop us from sending tanks? I think we have a moral responsibility in terms of the immediacy of the requirements of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Ukrainian people. They are fighting a war. We are not.”

Canada bought its Leopards from Germany during the war in Afghanistan. They are notionally divided into squadrons of 19 tanks each, with two squadrons in Edmonton and a third at CFB Gagetown, N.B. Most of the rest are at the armoured training school in Gagetown.

“And normally you keep a bunch of them at a depot ready to be deployed, but that’s not something we’re doing necessarily because we don’t have the numbers,” said Lanthier.

Adding to the pressure is the fact only about half of Canada’s Leopards are operational on any given day due to maintenance and repair requirements for the surprisingly complex vehicles, he added.

Department of National Defence spokesman Andrew McKelvey would not comment Wednesday on what percentage of the military’s Leopard 2s are currently operational, and how many are out of service for maintenance and other reasons.

“Tank maintenance is similar to aircraft maintenance, and the status of the fleet at any given moment depends on a comprehensive maintenance, repair, and overhaul schedule, which is tied to specific requirements for training or operational employment,” he said.

“For operational security reasons we cannot specify how many Leopard 2s are being maintained at any given time or give indication of their maintenance schedule.”

The question facing the government will ultimately be whether the benefit of sending tanks to Ukraine outweighs the impact on the military, Lanthier said. If it does, another question will be whether those tanks would be replaced — and if so, how quickly.

“If we deem that we want to retain that capability that tanks give us in terms of a modern, battle-capable army, we need tanks,” he said. “If we accept that, then anything we give has to be replaced.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2023.

⁠ — With files from The Associated Press.

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