Canada is often credited with “inventing” peacekeeping in 1956 largely because of the role played by former Prime Minister and then-Secretary of State for External Affairs, Lester B. Pearson, backed by the United States, in defusing the Suez Crisis. Today’s post will take a closer look into what is widely known as Canada and the world’s first peacekeeping mission.
Following the withdrawal of British and American funding for a Dam project on the Nile River in May 1956, Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal and imposed transit fees to finance the Aswan project. Britain and France viewed Egypt’s actions as a threat to their national security interests and condemned its actions, and joined Israel in retaliations against Egypt.
By October 31, Britain, France and Israel had all begun full-fledged aggressions. While the US and the Soviet Union tried to stop hostilities in the Security Council, no consensus could be reached because of France and the United Kingdom’s veto power.
Eventually, the matter was referred to the General Assembly, and resulted in a resolution called “Uniting for peace” that created a temporary ceasefire. However, Lester Pearson was concerned that the peace would not last and called for the creation of a UN force to keep the two sides apart while each side stood down and withdrew.
With the signing of UN Resolution 1000, Pearson’s proposed UN force was made into a full UN mission called the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) and started serving at the Suez Canal. The mission proved to be a resounding success, managing to keep the peace despite regional tensions, and Canada’s forces were able to leave with the rest of UNEF in 1967.
Canada’s contribution to this first mission is why it is often regarded as the “inventor” of peacekeeping. Between Pearson’s contributions to the creation of Resolution 1000 and the strategic work of Canadian General E.L.M. Burns who acted as UNEF’s force commander, Canada was undoubtedly the strategic brains of this mission.
The next entry in this series will examine the UN’s mission in Cyprus, in which Canada was welcomed and was able to make a difference, despite the fact that many of our NATO allies were not able to join.