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Are the Blue Berets a thing of the past for Canada?

by Archives November 15, 2006

“The war in Afghanistan is not just about killing the Talibans, it’s about killing UN Peacekeeping.”

Steve Staples’ conclusion is bound to be heard across Canada as he tours to promote both his book and his organization’s report on the state of Canada’s military. Staples is the director of the Polaris Institute, an organization that assists citizen movements. He believes that Canada’s armed forces are revisiting their priorities, moving away from being an army of peace to a war-oriented military.

Staples spoke last Tuesday at a conference organized by the Council of Canadians, Canada’s largest citizens’ organization. He had some harsh criticism for the Canadian government and its decision to give the UN the cold shoulder, despite the fact that the number of peacekeepers today is at an all-time high; today, the number of those taking part in operations worldwide is greater than during the Cold War.

Staples said the media coverage of Peacekeeping’s 50th anniversary has been minimal. “Canada doesn’t support world peacekeeping anymore. The number of military personnel contributing to peacekeeping could fit in a school bus.”

However, since Canada’s government started posting financial surpluses, the army’s budget has increased and is now higher than during the Second World War.

“If we were spending this much facing thousands of nuclear weapons and long-range bombers from the Soviet Union, then what is this for?” asked Staples. “How many long-range bombers and nuclear submarines does al Qaeda have?” he added.

Referring to the front page of the Ottawa Citizen, Staples said that Canadians are not in Afghanistan “to help the poor, send little girls to school and save the kitten.”

Staples also said that the political context for Canada’s decision to go to Afghanistan was based on U.S. President George Bush’s speech following the events of Sept. 11. That speech, he believes, was a challenge to U.S. allies to fight alongside America in its “War on Terror.”

“If we’re helping to build school, if we’re helping to dig wells, that is good, it’s positive work,” he said, “but it is a by-product of the original intentions.”

To drive his point home, Staples brought up a Canadian website (www.canadianally.com) that was designed to promote Canada’s role in Global Security to Americans. Affiliated to the website were posters showing the involvement of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, which were placed in Washington subway stations. The poster pictures Canada as an active participant in the War on Terror.

Staples said that Canadians are undergoing a psychological metamorphosis at the hands of Defense lobbyists and military contractors, who he believes want a tighter integration with the United States’ military system. “They use the media, they use speeches from the government, they use reports from the Department of National Defense. Because they are trying to convince Canadians to give up the idea that we don’t have to go along with the war on terrorism.”

He believes the government is using the war in Afghanistan as a crutch to show that Canada is at war.

But Staples doesn’t think the government is making the right move by leaving the country’s peacekeeping tradition to foster ties with its Southern neighbor.

“Peacekeeping is emblematic of a different kind of worldview, a different kind of approach to conflict,” he said. “It recognizes that you can’t always win by fighting and that actually diplomacy is a better way.”

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