Saturday, June 30, 2007

Canada in Afghanistan

Much is being said and written lately about Canada's military role in Afghanistan. Some people oppose the current role because they feel that Canada is acting as a proxy of the Americans. Others oppose the military nature of Canadian involvement. They feel that Canada should avoid military confrontation and focus on more peaceful ways of helping Afghanistan. Probably others feel that the rising casualty rate among Canadian soldiers is too high a price for Canada to pay in this instance.

First of all, war is hardly ever a good idea. It is possible to construct an argument from the Gospels that Christians ought to be pacifists. The tradition of the Catholic Church however, recognizes the concept of a "just war." Generally, a "just" war would be one fought in response to a threat to national peace and security using force which is proportional to the threat. On the surface I think that military action in Afghanistan is justified. (My opinion about American involvement in Iraq is quite different). Basically Afghanistan was (and still is to an extent) a failed state (no central government was able to exercise effective sovereignty over the territory). As a result of this power fell into the hands of terrorist groups. Now it is true that during the 1980's many of these groups were armed and financed by the Americans as a means of opposing the Soviets who had invaded Afghanistan. But still, the attacks in New York on September 11 showed that some of these groups headquartered in Afghanistan were willing to attack other countries. The attacks in Spain, Britain and other countries showed that these groups were not limiting their attacks to American interests. It seems to me then, that even though Canada was not directly attacked by terrorists Canada does have a national security interest in responding to the threat of terrorism arising from the Taliban presence in Afghanistan.

But Canada has made a name as a leader in peacekeeping under the auspices of the United Nations people say. Peacekeeping as it developed with Canadian leadership was designed to provide a way for two sovereign groups to end a conflict without excessive bloodshed. This model however, requires that there be two groups who exercise control over their people and that both of these groups agree that they wish to end the conflict. The peacekeeping model worked to solve the problem in Suez in 1956 (temporarily at least) as well as in other places like Cyprus. The problem that arose during the 1990's is that some circumstances arose where the peacekeeping model did not work. In the former Yugoslavia for example, during the 1990's peacekeeping failed because at least one of the combatants was unwilling to end the conflict. In Somalia also, the warring groups were unwilling to submit to any kind of central authority and so peacekeeping could not work. What seems to be at work here is the idea of a failed state. A state where there is no effective control over the country. Here peacekeeping does not work. What is needed instead is an armed force that can use proportional force to restore order and central authority in the country. This is what ideally is happening in Afghanistan. Canadian (and other NATO forces) are present in the country as an armed force to aid the central government in restoring central control over the country (if such control ever did exist) One of the problems here is that it might be impossible to ever create a peaceful democratic Afghanistan or that doing so would take decades. This again raises the question of how much Canada is willing to pay in blood and dollars to help create and peaceful Afghanistan.

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