This past week, the House of Commons voted 198-77 in favour of continuing Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan beyond the initial Feb. 2009 commitment, extending the mission until Dec. 2011. The vote, coinciding with the 81st military casualty in Afghanistan, was followed by protests against the mission and has called into question Canada's military role in the world.
Almost from its infancy, Canada was joined at the hip to the United Kingdom and until the Second World War, the bulk of its military endeavours were in name of Queen and country. Following that war, prime minister Lester B. Pearson pioneered the concept of peacekeeping and Canada was transformed from an imperial power's sidekick into the world's peacekeeping leader.
Canada's involvement in the war in Afghanistan has diminished its capacity to lead peacekeeping missions. Instead, Canada has placed 15,000 troops into Afghanistan over the past six years and toppled from a peacekeeping leader into a country whose involvement is rivaled by military powerhouses like Fiji. Strangely enough, the Afghanistan mission initially wasn't wholly unsimilar to a traditional peacekeeping mission--beyond the mandate of overthrowing a foreign government.
The mission took a more dire turn Feb. 28, 2006 when the American military handed off command of Afghanistan's tumultuous Kandahar province to Canadian troops, citing commitments in Iraq. Almost immediately, deaths of Canadian soldiers skyrocketed. In the four years of the mission prior to moving to Kandahar, Canada suffered 10 military casualties. In the two years following, there have been 72.
In light of the report of the Manley Commission Jan. 28 and the Conservative government's seeming obsession with making every act of Parliament a confidence motion, the strings attached to the renewal of the motion by the Liberal Party make sense. As a result of the vote, prime minister Stephen Harper heads to next month's NATO summit with an ultimatum: provide an additional 1,000 troops and equipment for the mission or else Canadian troops are leaving in a year.
The ultimatum may put Canada on thin ice with some of its European allies, but the agreement between the countries' antagonistic two major parties signifies something rather interesting. Despite their disagreements, the compromise reached between the Conservatives and Liberals indicates a general dissatisfaction with logistics of the Afghanistan mission as it stands. It also reflects a truth of Canadian military involvement: the country doesn't have the resources to be a powerhouse, but that doesn't mean Canada will go back to kowtowing to those who do.