- 'Here Is Hell': Canada's Engagement in Somalia
Canada's experience in the 1992–93 United Nations deployment to Somalia deserves close inspection not only as a military operation, but also as an event that signalled significant, maybe even radical, changes in the conduct of military operations at the end of the Cold War, in UN management of conflicts, and government and civil–military relations in Canada. Grant Dawson provides valuable insights into these and other aspects of the operation and he brings the complex parts together in a well-written readable style.
Dawson traces the chronology of the mission from Prime Minister Mulroney's decision to join the UN mission to its end 'in recrimination and scandal.' But the story he presents is not simply another account of the scandal; rather he challenges the 'interpretation of pre-deployment decision-making and of the Canadian operations in Somalia,' a failure in command and in government.
The book is heavily weighed to the period leading to the deployment of Canadian Forces units to Somalia and provides well-researched assessments of Prime Minister Mulroney's decision to deploy the force. Dawson emphasizes Muloney's belief that participation in the mission was a necessary step towards improving Canada–US relations and respect for Canada in the UN more generally. Success in this 'peacekeeping' mission was for Mulroney the means to serve the national interest and not the end in itself. As Dawson demonstrates, however, this Pearsonian foreign policy framework was soon upset by the emergence in Somalia of what others now describe as 'a continuous war among the people' which neither Canada nor the UN was prepared to fight or manage.
Dawson's purpose is to concentrate the reader's attention on the difficulties and confusion in the UN and in the Canadian government and bureaucracy during the pre-deployment decision-making period and [End Page 412] in the early management of the operation. He does this very well, with new sources and with evidence taken from interviews with the political, military, and public service participants who made the decisions and managed the operation.
In trying to get beyond the 'recriminations and the scandal' Dawson at times seems too ready to accept some interviewees' views that the process was in all cases rational and that errors, if there were any, were understandable in the circumstances. The indispensable Report of the Commission into the Deployment of the Canadian Forces to Somalia – which Dawson uses well – points to a decision making tainted by the institutional and personal interests of the many players in the affair. When those interests eventually led to failures and crimes in the field, many of the reasonable people Dawson quotes, according to the inquiry, participated in 'actions and decisions [that were] scandalously deficient.'
Grant Dawson's study is important and should be read by anyone interested in the politics of defence and foreign policy decision making in Canada and in the UN in this period. It should be read carefully with a copy of the commission's report close at hand.