H-Diplo Roundtable XVIII, 28 on From Kinshasa to Kandahar–Canada and Fragile States in Historical Perspective

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Roundtable Review
Volume XVIII, No. 28
5 June 2017

Roundtable Editors:  Thomas Maddux and Diane Labrosse
Roundtable and Web Production Editor:  George Fujii

Introduction by David Black

Michael K. Carroll and Greg Donaghy.  From Kinshasa to Kandahar–Canada and Fragile States in Historical Perspective.  Calgary:  University of Calgary Press, 2016.  ISBN:  978-1-55238-844-0 (paperback, US$34.95/CDN$34.95).

URL: http://www.tiny.cc/Roundtable-XVIII-28


© 2017 The Authors.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

'Canada is back’ in complex multilateral peace operations–or is it? The contributors to this review forum, and the collection they are responding to (ably edited by Michael Carroll and Greg Donaghy) help us understand why the answer is a matter of deep ambivalence to many Canadians and successive governments.

The contributors to this collection–a welcome blend of historians and political scientists–collectively survey an array of Canadian engagements with ‘fragile states’ spanning more than 50 years, and three regions (Africa, Asia, and the Americas). The reviewers were asked to consider the question: ‘Given the contributions on Canada’s past experience in this collection, do you think Canada should intervene in fragile states in the future?’ Tellingly, none of the four provides a direct answer. However, we can infer from their reflections both why the question has been, and will continue to be, difficult to answer; and why despite this, they expect Canada will continue to intervene, in a range of ways and places.

“…too complex to ‘fix’, yet too volatile to be left alone”

This is the core dilemma, or indeed paradox (as Jill Campbell-Miller suggests) facing prospective interveners. Andrew Thompson coins the phrase in his chapter on Haiti, but several reviewers highlight its applicability to the broader problematique of responding to state fragility. As a relatively secure country that has, for the most part, prospered within the post-World War II and now post-Cold War orders, Canada has a clear (if often remote) stake in ameliorating situations of fragility and their disordering repercussions. Yet Canada is also unwilling, or unable, to invest the time, resources, and intellectual capacity required to get to grips with the roots of these recurring situations, or even determine the degree to which they are ‘fixable.’

Damned if you do

Both Chris Kilford and Chris Roberts stress that there are no cost- or risk-free options in responding to fragility. Their focus is on military training assistance, but the same point could be made in relation to each of the various modes of intervention that the country has deployed. Specifically, they respond to Kevin Spooner’s argument that Canada’s failure to provide military training assistance to the Armée nationale congolaise helped sow the seeds for Joseph Mobutu’s coup and subsequent kleptocracy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by noting that Canada’s provision of military training assistance to the Ghanaian armed forces at roughly the same time did not prevent the latter from launching a coup against President Kwame Nkrumah in 1966. Yet in other cases, such as Tanzania, the results were more positive. In this as in other forms of intervention, therefore, the results are uncertain and often hard to discern.

“Incomplete” and unsustained

If Canadian governments have been repeatedly, and perhaps inevitably, drawn into various forms of intervention, they have not shown much capacity to ‘stay the course’ in these complex and protracted situations. This is at least partly because, as several reviewers highlight, while Canada may have a diffuse, general interest in ameliorating situations of fragility, it lacks sufficiently strong interests and incentives in most particular situations to maintain consistent priorities and build deep understanding. In such cases, it becomes all the more difficult to tell whether the lack of clear operational ‘success’ is because success was genuinely unattainable, or because Canadians (both governments and citizens) were simply unwilling to bear the necessary costs.

A diverse range of instruments and actors

The reviewers all highlight, directly or indirectly, the degree to which Canadian ‘interventions’ have always taken a variety of forms. Beyond military deployments, whether for stabilization or training, reviewers underscore the relevance of aid (see, particularly, Campbell-Miller’s review), humanitarian assistance (Roberts), corporate social responsibility (Roberts), and private sector and non-governmental as well as government actors. They also flag the thorny issue of how this range of interventions connects with, and inflects, the priorities and capacities of governmental authorities in ‘intervened-upon’ countries. While historically, these various instruments of intervention have been relatively uncoordinated, recent interventions (particularly in Haiti and above all Afghanistan) have pursued a more deliberately ‘joined-up’ or ‘whole of government’ approach–with decidedly mixed results (see Roberts’s review, and Stephen Saideman’s and Andrew Thompson’s chapters in the collection itself). It seems that the ‘holy grail’ of policy coherence has become an inevitable, yet chronically elusive, objective of policy makers.

Should we or shouldn’t we?

To return to the question of “whether, where, and how Canada can contribute to cultivating a less fragile world order” (Roberts), while reviewers do not provide a direct answer, they offer a range of insights and emphases that constitute at least partial responses. Campbell-Miller, for example, emphasizes the salience of aid, arguing that “ensuring that Canadian aid projects remain in place until they have completed their work and that aid funding is consistent beyond the terms of individual governments would at least ensure that Canadian aid measures in fragile and failed states are consistent.” Perhaps channeling the hard experiences of a long military career, Kilford seems most skeptical about the utility of intervention, arguing that, “it is certainly safe to say that direct military intrusions are best avoided,” and that “Intervening, anywhere, always comes at a price in blood and treasure.” Stéfanie von Hlatky and Chris Roberts both stress the salience of domestic political incentives and priorities, for good and ill. Von Hlatky, for instance, notes that “As a medium-sized country, (Canada’s) involvement never proves decisive, but it can nevertheless send a powerful message at home and internationally.” In short, the proximate purpose of the intervention will often be as much or more about responding to domestic and/or allied demands, than about sustainably ameliorating conditions of fragility ‘in country.’

A Canadian vocation?

Finally, the reviewers reflect on the degree to which the collection highlights distinctive Canadian capacities and characteristics that lead to both elevated opportunities and heightened expectations for interventions in situations of state fragility. Roberts notes Canada’s relative acceptability to post-colonial African leaders, particularly as compared with the colonial powers that had directly exploited their countries. Similarly, von Hlatky notes Canada’s comparative “aura of legitimacy” and the opportunities and demands arising from its bilingual capacities. Assumptions of Canadian ‘exceptionalism’ are, of course, potentially delusional. They do help to explain, however, why demands for Canadian intervention(s) will continue to be made, and why they will continue to resonate among Canadian political and policy elites.


Michael K Carroll received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Toronto and is an Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Canada. He is author of Pearson’s Peacekeepers: Canada and the United Nations Emergency Force, 1956-1967 (UBC Press, 2009) and is currently working on a study of Canada’s involvement in the International Control Commissions in Indochina.

Greg Donaghy is Head of the Historical Section, Global Affairs Canada. He is general editor of its series, Documents on Canadian External Relations, and author of the monograph, Tolerant Allies: Canada and the United States, 1963-1968 (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003, 2008). Most recently, he is the author of the biography, Grit: The Life and Politics of Paul Martin Sr. (UBC Press, 2015), a finalist for the 2015 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. The views expressed here are his alone and do not reflect the views of his Department or the Government of Canada.

David Black is Lester B. Pearson Professor of International Development Studies, and Professor and Chair of Political Science at Dalhousie University in Halifax. His research has focused primarily on Canada’s involvement in Sub-Saharan Africa (including diplomacy, human security, development assistance and the extractive sector), human rights and identity in South African foreign policy, Sport in World Politics and Development, and Disability and Global Development. His recent publications include: Canada and Africa in the New Millennium: the Politics of Consistent Inconsistency (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2015); Rethinking Canadian Aid, 2nd edition (University of Ottawa Press, 2016, co-edited with Stephen Brown and Molly den Heyer); and a Special Issue of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics 54:2 (2016) on “South African Foreign Policy: Identity and Directions through Bilateral Attachments”, co-edited with David Hornsby).

Jill Campbell-Miller completed her Ph.D. in history at the University of Waterloo in 2014. Her dissertation focused on the history of the Canadian aid program in India between 1950 and 1960. In 2017, she will begin an AMS Postdoctoral Fellowship at Saint Mary’s University and the Gorsebrook Institute, researching the history of health-related Canadian technical assistance projects in South and Southeast Asia during the 1950s and 1960s.

Stéfanie von Hlatky is an assistant professor of political studies at Queen’s University and the Director of the Queen’s Centre for International and Defence Policy (CIDP). She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Université de Montréal in 2010, where she was also Executive Director for the Centre for International Peace and Security Studies. She’s held positions at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Dartmouth College’s Dickey Center for International Understanding, the Centre for Security Studies at ETH Zurich and was a Fulbright Visiting Research Chair at the University of Southern California’s Centre for Public Diplomacy. She has published in the Canadian Journal of Political Science, the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal, International Journal, European Security, Asian Security, as well as the Journal of Transatlantic Studies and has a book with Oxford University Press entitled American Allies in Times of War: The Great Asymmetry (2013). She has also published two edited volumes: The Future of US Extended Deterrence (co-edited with Andreas Wenger) with Georgetown University Press (2015) and Going to War? Trends in Military Interventions (co-edited with H. Christian Breede) with McGill-Queen’s University Press (2016). Stéfanie von Hlatky is the founder of Women in International Security-Canada and current Chair of the Board. She has received grants and awards from NATO, the Canadian Department of National Defence, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Government of Ontario’s Ministry of Research and Innovation and Fulbright Canada. 

During his 36-year military career, Christopher Kilford worked throughout Canada, in England, Germany, Afghanistan and Turkey in various command, training, instructional and staff roles. In July 2009, he served in Kabul, Afghanistan as the Deputy Military Attaché (Lieutenant Colonel) until July 2010. Following Turkish language training he was subsequently posted to Ankara, Turkey as the Canadian Defence Attaché (Colonel) from July 2011 until July 2014. He retired from the Canadian Armed Forces in September 2014. In addition to his military service, Dr. Kilford completed his Ph.D. in history (civil-military relations and development theory) at Queen’s University, Kingston in 2009. Today, he is a Fellow at the Queen’s Centre for International and Defence Policy and also teaches on-line international relations and Canadian foreign policy courses for the Canadian Forces College.

Chris W. J. Roberts is an instructor in political science at the University of Calgary and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Alberta. His dissertation is a detailed examination of the forms and implications of Canadian intervention in Africa, broadly defined to cover security, development, and governance domains. For over twenty years he has also been president of African Access Consulting, working with Canadian government agencies, NGOs, Canadian and African companies, and international organizations. He was a founding director of the Canadian Council on Africa in 2002 and served as its Western Canada vice-president until 2009. His most recent scholarly publication is a book chapter, “The Other Resource Curse: Extractives as development panacea,” chapter three in Hany Besada, ed., Governing Natural Resources for Africa’s Development (Routledge, 2016), and he also contributes to foreign policy debates, for example see “Peace Operations in Africa: Is Canada making decisions before knowing its strategy?”, OpenCanada.org (26 August 2016), https://www.opencanada.org/features/peace-operations-africa-canada-making-decisions-knowing-its-strategy.


Review by Jill Campbell-Miller, St. Mary’s University

In the conclusion to From Kinshasa to Kandahar: Canada and Fragile States in Historical Perspective, Darren Brunk writes that, in general, Canadian interventions in fragile and failed states have been “incomplete.”[1] Perhaps no word better summarizes the Canadian experience in such states. As this useful, historically informed collection demonstrates, since the end of World War II the Canadian government and civil-society organizations have justified participating in such interventions for a range of reasons, from existential threat to global security issues such as communism or terrorism, to purely humanitarian motives. In most cases described in this volume, there have theoretically been compelling ethical reasons to defend Canadian participation in these actions–poverty, conflict, and the protection of minorities being some of the most commonly cited. Yet taking the Canadian experience in fragile states as a whole exemplifies the difference between theory and reality. Canada’s role as a middle power, geographically distant from hot conflict zones or impoverished populations on the move, has imposed limits on what its government and population have been willing to support.

The justifications for intervention have been premised on the idea that they are directly related to the well-being of the affected country, and directly or indirectly related to the international community and countries supporting the effort. For a country located geographically near a fragile or failing state, intervention can be directly self-interested; for others, there is the indirect goal of maintaining order in the global community. Naturally there are the security and humanitarian needs in the affected state. Even before the attacks of 9/11 in 2001 provided an impetus for a NATO-led action in Afghanistan, conditions for women in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime were abhorrent enough to provide an ethical rationale for intervention.

Yet what strikes one while reading this collection is how rarely Canada’s interventions have had anything to do either with the country affected or with Canada itself. As Jean Daudelin writes of our experience in the Americas, “[a] sustained and sizeable investment in the fragile states of the Caribbean rests on a weak interest foundation.”[2] In general, Canada’s participation in interventions have actually been founded on Ottawa’s need to be a good diplomatic and multilateral partner, particularly with the United States and NATO, and have had little to do with concerns for the country’s own security or for the humanitarian or security needs of the affected place. While it is perhaps politically and diplomatically necessary for Canada to be such a partner, there is little wonder that interventions that take as a starting point rather distant and vague motivations fail to hold the enduring interest–or more importantly, funding and military support–of the Canadian government or population. Even in the case of Afghanistan, where Canadian efforts were extensive and came at the cost of Canadian lives, the effects of a “weak interest foundation” prevented Canada from engaging in the type of long-lasting commitment necessary to sustain the positive impacts that Canada had made (202). As Stephen M. Saideman shows, despite a key decision by the 2007 Manley Commission–a panel tasked with giving direction to Canadian efforts in the war in Afghanistan–to not specify a date for Canadian withdrawal, Prime Minister Stephen Harper created such a date for domestic political reasons. This left key aid projects incomplete and allowed state-building efforts to languish.[3]

This is not to say that Canadian efforts have been insincere. Stephanie Bangarth chronicles the very real humanitarian concerns of Canadian politicians and civil society during the civil conflict in Biafra in the late 1960s. This drove an attempt to work outside of the Canadian state system to aid suffering civilians.[4] According to Duane Bratt, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was willing to overturn traditional Canadian foreign policy regarding interventions in ethnically divided states to support the dismantling of Yugoslavia, even against the potentially explosive background of separatist turmoil at home.[5] Andrew Thompson and Daudelin demonstrate that Canadian support in Haiti from both a governmental and civil society perspective has been very durable, if not as intentionally disruptive as the cases of Afghanistan or Bosnia.[6]

In speaking of Haiti, Thompson writes that the country is “representative of a central dilemma that fragile states pose to developed countries in an age of globalization and interconnectedness: they are too complex to ‘fix,’ yet too volatile to be left alone.”[7] According to the chapters in this volume, a similar, and related dilemma, or perhaps even paradox, plagues aid efforts in such states. Aid is needed in order to ameliorate conditions and build institutions in fragile states, but often fails to achieve substantial results in the context of state fragility. And while a newsworthy event such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti can capture the attention span of the greater Canadian public for a while, distance and time inevitably erode interest, and, more importantly, funding.

Should Canada intervene in fragile and failed states? If one accepts that the crucial international social contract respecting state sovereignty is undermined when conditions within a state become intolerable to its citizens due to state fragility, then the answer is yes, with caveats. Are the architects of the intervention well-informed about the particular history and complexities of the state and its population? Is the objective well-defined? Will it be extensive and aggressive enough to achieve results, and long-lasting enough to complete its objective? This collection points to some achievements in Canadian state-building abroad. Saideman references Canada’s “considerable success” in training the Afghan National Army. More substantially, Bratt shows that Canadian contributions to both the United Nations Protection Force and NATO in Bosnia played a role in turning a “failed state…into a functioning state.”[8] In general, through, no example within this collection measures up to the rigorous standard outlined above. Until Canada finds something to build its ‘interest foundation’ in a fragile or failed state, it is unlikely future interventions will meet such a standard either.

There is a relatively easy measure that Canada can take to ensure one aspect of such interventions is complete. Observers of Canadian aid programs have long lamented that the changing winds of politics in Ottawa have been detrimental to Canadian humanitarian and development projects overseas. Ensuring that Canadian aid projects remain in place until they have completed their work and that aid funding is consistent beyond the terms of individual governments would at least ensure that Canadian aid measures in fragile and failed states are consistent. This could perhaps be achieved through the use of legislation, which Canada was willing to use to implement aid effectiveness measures through the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act in 2008, and which has seen success in the UK context.[9] While Canada will likely never be in the position to drive the decisions regarding major multilateral military interventions, it can at least ensure that its funding for humanitarian and development work is dependable, consistent, complete, and free from political interference. From Kinshasa to Kandahar should be read as an important and timely call to do better an increasingly uncertain international security environment.

Canada’s decisions on the use of force tend to be heavily scrutinized while its aid programs tend to go unnoticed in comparison. The period from the 1990s until today provides fruitful empirical ground for examining the conditions under which Canada defines its international commitments in fragile states. Though it is difficult to point to clear cases of success from international engagements, Canadian objectives are often about achieving discrete interests, rather than lasting political outcomes abroad. In other words, Canada picks fragile states in which to intervene based on alliances, to support international organizations, or for other purposes that feature on the government of the day’s list of priorities. In From Kinshasa to Kandahar, co-editors Michael K. Carroll and Greg Donaghy have solicited the contributions of eleven authors to study Canada’s involvement in fragile states from Africa to Latin America. In reading the volume, one cannot help but wonder: can Canada make a difference? As a medium-sized country, its involvement never proves decisive, but it can nevertheless send a powerful message at home and internationally. Making sense of how Canada deploys its foreign-policy instruments in fragile states, from the military to development aid, is the core objective of this volume.

While most of the chapters are empirical in focus, a number of contributors also offer some theoretical and conceptual clarifications on fragile and failed states and international interventions. For example, in Chapter 1, Tom Keating remarks that the concept of ‘failed states’ was not always present in the Canadian foreign and defence policy lexicon, and provides a historical account of how definitions of sovereignty and conditions of statehood evolved from World War II to the present[10]. He argues that the idea of the failed state emerged with the discourse of human security and responsibility-to-protect, whereby the protection of civilians became a primary motive for intervention. This contrasts with the more negative interpretation of failed states of the post-9/11 era, during which time failing nations were seen as a potential source of threat. For his part, Jean Daudelin, in Chapter 9, offers a much-needed analytical framework which outlines the key indicators linked with state fragility[11]. Though the chapter focuses on Canada’s aid policy in Latin America, understanding which factors correlate with state fragility, such as criminality and political instability, is instructive and could have been further examined in the introduction and conclusion.

In terms of its empirical contributions, the book presents a wide range of case studies. It is not immediately clear to the reader how the cases were chosen. Moreover, a couple of chapters stand out as odd fits. Julian Schofield’s chapter[12] on Pakistan is such an example, as he acknowledges that Pakistan “is neither a failed, fragile or weak state” (Schofield, 122). Nevertheless, Schofield provides interesting insights on how relations with Pakistan have ebbed and flowed over time and then became especially important in the context of Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan. Chapter 10 is also unique in many respects as it is focuses on corporate social responsibility as a mechanism through which extractive companies can provide services, comparing the cases of South Sudan and Ghana[13]. Hevina S. Dashwood provides an overview of international frameworks which provide guidance for such activities, but the role of Canada does not feature prominently, nor does the literature on fragile or failed states. Nevertheless, the individual analyses offered throughout the book are sound and, without exception, interesting, providing context and concrete examples to the observations on Canadian foreign policy provided in the introductory chapter.

Indeed, this edited collection offers a number of important takeaways. First, there are few examples of successful international interventions in fragile states. This is highlighted by Darren Brunk as one of the main themes of the book in his concluding chapter. This lesson is perhaps most obvious in Andrew S. Thompson’s discussion of Haiti[14]. Thompson tracks the evolution of Canadian involvement in Haiti between 1969 and 2010, showing the government’s sustained commitment despite chronic political instability. Between 1994 and 2014, the Canadian International Development Agency (now part of Global Affairs Canada) spent $600 million with little to show by way of results. The devastating 2010 earthquake has only added to the complexity of rebuilding the Haitian state. Daudelin’s own discussion of Haiti argues that, while conditions are unlikely to improve, Canada will continue to contribute to its ‘aid curse.’ By contrast, one of the rare successful cases discussed in the book is Timor Leste. As David Webster demonstrates, the struggle to achieve Timorese independence dragged on because Western states perceived it as a ‘lost cause,’ damaging rhetoric which became a self-fulfilling prophecy until the end of President Suharto’s regime after the 1998 Asian financial crisis. Canada reversed course and ultimately supported the Timorese cause, along with its closest Western allies. The political fate of the newly independent state has been rather encouraging, defying the earlier predictions of Canada and many of its influential international partners.

Second, Canada has proven remarkably resilient to pressures from both the United Nations and U.S. when pressed to make commitments that appear contrary to its domestic political interests. This is the case in Chapter 2, in which Kevin A. Spooner details the diplomatic pressures that were applied to Ottawa in soliciting a contribution, which would have provided military training to the Congolese National Army (ANC)[15]. The governments of both John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson decided not to press their military leaders, who were not keen on providing military trainers bilaterally to support the ANC. However, the author suggests that in refusing to lend support beyond ONUC (Opération des Nations Unies au Congo), Canada missed an opportunity that could have prevented Joseph Mobutu’s second military coup and the establishment of his brutal dictatorship.

Another domestic political consideration that is rather salient in the volume is linked to Québec, as noted in Chapters 2, 3 and 7[16]. For example, Stephanie Bangarth supports the claim that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau wanted no part in supporting the secessionist plight of Biafra in the late 1960s because of his concerns over Québec separatism[17]. Though there is scant evidence to make the connection between Québec separatism and Canada’s decision not to get involved in the Nigerian-Biafran civil war, the ‘Québec factor’ is an argument that is often mentioned to explain Canada’s refusal to participate in a number of wars. In this respect, Canada’s participation in the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia set a new precedent, as noted by Duane Bratt in Chapter 7[18]. This chapter is appropriately detailed and clearly sets out the various phases of Canada’s involvement in the Bosnian conflict, making a strong case for why this war represents a pivotal moment in Canadian foreign policy when it comes to recognizing self-proclaimed independent states.

Third, Canada has some comparative advantages when it comes to providing assistance in fragile states. Canada benefits from an aura of legitimacy given that its past is not seen as tainted by colonialism. Moreover, as a bilingual nation, Canada has language skills that are clear assets in the context of interventions in African states and Haiti. Nevertheless, many chapters show that Canadian involvement in fragile states, whether through development assistance or military intervention, is an expression of the national interest. Perhaps, as Daudelin suggests, this is an important ingredient for sustainable Canadian involvement. Unfortunately, the timeline for many of Canada’s commitments abroad are defined by shorter-term considerations. As Stephen M. Saideman rightly notes in Chapter 8, this can be counterproductive and damaging to the achievement of successful outcomes[19]. For example, he criticizes the Stephen Harper government for imposing an artificial deadline for the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan, a deadline set by political calculations rather than an assessment of what was needed to achieve mission success.

Overall, the book is a pleasant and easy read. The chapters are short, to the point, and devoid of jargon. It is a book that would be well suited for a policy audience or upper-year undergraduate seminars specializing in Canadian foreign and defence policy. Its lessons are not uplifting but they are convincingly argued and compelling. After taking office in November 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced at the Paris Climate Change Summit that “Canada is back,” signaling to the international community that he would take a more active role abroad.[20] One can only hope that Canada’s new international commitments will take account of the hard learned lessons outlined in From Kinshasa to Kandahar when it comes to the challenging task of making a difference in fragile states.


"During the last few years misery had been rampant, anarchy has reigned supreme,” wrote Italian author Tullio Irace, describing conditions in what we now know as Libya.[21] He was writing in 1912 and justifying why Italy had intervened in the Ottoman-Turkish provinces of Tripoli and Cyrenaica in 1911. It was, he said, to bring civilization. And while officially the Italian-Turkish War lasted for just one year, Italy soon found itself bogged down in a low-level insurgency that decimated Libya’s people.

A century after its first intervention in Libya, Italy was back and this time with Canada and the rest of NATO in tow. Presumably, no one in Rome, Ottawa or NATO’s headquarters in Brussels had bothered to ask what might happen if the Libyan government collapsed. No wonder then, that more than one historian has asked why we appear incapable of learning from history.

Fortunately, from time to time collections of essays like From Kinshasa to Kandahar: Canada and Fragile States in Historical Perspective come along to remind us of the importance of knowing your past. In this regard, the collection meticulously chronicles how past Canadian governments managed, muddled, or artfully dodged their way through numerous calls by the international community to intervene in one crisis or another. The book could not have come at a better time, as Canada’s latest policy makers ponder their place in the world,

The analysis begins in the Congo some sixty years ago and then engagingly progresses to other examples of Canada’s past interventions, or lack thereof, in Nigeria/Biafra, East Timor, Haiti, Pakistan, Bosnia, Afghanistan, specific cases in the Americas, South Sudan and Ghana. For the most part, these countries still occupy the bottom rungs of most fragile-state indexes.

In his chapter, Tom Keating provides an extensive review of Canada’s evolving policy with regards to fragile states from the end of the Second World War until the present and raises several important questions.[22] For example, why should Canada care at all about failed or fragile states? If Canada decides it is important to intervene somewhere in the world, can it really make a difference? Moreover, where and when should Canada intervene?

In answering these questions, Andrew S. Thompson reminds us that the key dilemma failed and fragile states pose in an age of globalization is that while they are often too complex to fix, they are also far too unpredictable to be left alone.[23] . Thompson’s example of Haiti is a case in point. Despite significant Canadian and international engagement over some 40 years, it remains a basket-case (115). Haiti, it is clear, cannot be fixed, for a myriad of reasons including a lack of institutional capacity. Yet revealingly, Thompson also mentions the fact that Haiti has actually become an “important source of talented Francophone immigrants” for Canada (114). In fact, Canada has been gathering up foreign skilled workers, often from the developing world, for some time now. Between 280,000 and 305,000 new permanent residents alone will arrive in Canada in 2016 with approximately 160,000 of them fitting into the economic category, comprised of highly skilled workers, caregivers and business people.[24] Perhaps, then, Thompson is unintentionally warning failed and fragile states to think twice before accepting Canada’s help?

As for Canada’s earlier interventions, it appears that the Canadian government was damned if it did and damned if it did not. Kevin A. Spooner laments the fact that Ottawa refused in 1960 to provide military training assistance to the Congolese government.[25] As a result, the Armée nationale congolaise (ANC) failed to professionalize and became a tool that the ANC commander, Lieutenant-General Joseph Mobutu could easily employ to overthrow the government for a second time in 1965. Canada, Spooner concludes, had “some responsibility for the outcome of events in the Congo” (48). But is this true? Could the dispatch of a Canadian military-training mission have made a difference? We will, of course, never know, but we do know that in March 1961, Colonel P.S. Cooper travelled to Ghana to assess the feasibility of providing military assistance to Kwame Nkrumah’s government.

On his return, Cooper wrote that building well-disciplined forces under competent and reliable leadership would be one of the best contributions Canada could make toward ensuring the continued peace and good order of Ghana. Based on his recommendation a team of some thirty Canadian officers was permanently stationed in Ghana in late 1961. However, in February 1966, the Canadian-trained Ghanaian military, much like the non-Canadian trained ANC did the year before, staged a military coup and deposed the government.[26] It’s one reason why Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau decided in July 1969 to step away from increasing foreign entanglements by putting an end to Canada’s international military assistance programs.[27]

Carroll and Donaghy remind us that during the Cold War, in places such as Congo and Ghana, many failing states were kept “afloat atop a vast pool of dollars and rubles.”[28] . But little has really changed in the post-Cold War period, with Canada recently committing $550 million in development assistance to help keep the Afghan government afloat for another year.[29] Back in 2001, few would have predicted that a limited military operation to remove the Taliban from power would lead to a seemingly open-ended state-building exercise.

But perhaps Canada’s efforts at state-building in Afghanistan continue today because of an overarching inclination on the part of many Canadians not to give up on what was, and still is, an ultimately a just cause. To help us understand the Afghanistan that Canadians first encountered over a decade ago, Stephen M. Saideman provides a succinct and insightful overview of Canada’s Whole-of-Government operations in Kandahar from 2005-2011.[30]

In Afghanistan, and particularly in the southern province of Kandahar, Saideman notes that “Canada faced its most severe challenge with a contemporary failed state—trying to develop order and good governance in an extremely hostile and impoverished environment” (165). A major obstacle for Canadians on the ground was that President Hamid Karzai’s Afghan government was also terribly corrupt and had little interest in reform.

Although the Canadian military and Canada’s Provincial Reconstruction Team worked hard to improve governance and human security in and around Kandahar, the results were often mixed and definitely short-lived. As Saideman remarks, state failure is essentially a political problem that takes considerable time to reverse. Certainly building schools, vaccinating children and supplying clean drinking water is important, but in the end, he adds, Canada was not willing to tackle corrupt Afghan politicians. That, he continues, “would have required a much greater commitment of resources and willingness to bear significant costs than Canada was prepared to make (174).

Are there lessons to be learned from Canada’s Afghan experience? Saideman thinks so but foremost it is about expectations. Canada, he explains, did have some success in Kandahar, demonstrating that when necessary the Canadian government does have the capabilities on hand to play a positive state-building role in failed and failing states (167). On the other hand, Saideman sensibly warns that “Canadians, policymakers, and voters alike must recognize that in the future the focus must be on modestly ameliorating, not radically transforming fragile states” (181).

Looking to the future, Carroll and Donaghy note that, based on their collective past experiences, Canada, the United Nations (UN), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have learned to better address state fragility, have developed better tools to reinforce weak states and have learned better techniques for intervening (6). Perhaps, but for the Libyan people the arrival of NATO fighter jets overhead in 2011 turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. Few in the international community took the time to consider what might transpire once Muammar Gaddafi was gone. When the Syrian uprising began in early 2011, the Canadian government, among others, also moved quickly to isolate and weaken the Assad government. There was little thought in Ottawa or elsewhere about what this might mean for the Syrian people and the region. Indeed, Canada’s meddling in Syria would easily fit into the category of doing more harm than good.

Given past experiences then, should Canada intervene in fragile states in the future? Successive Canadian governments have recognized that national interests are best served in a safe and secure world. But, given its hard and soft power limitations Canada’s policy options and overall influence is often limited. From Kinshasa to Kandahar tells Canadians, therefore, to reflect on the history of past interventions before considering new ones, to recognize their limitations in places they know little of, and to temper their expectations when time is not on their side. Essentially, From Kinshasa to Kandahar reminds us to tread carefully. Intervening, anywhere, always comes at a price in blood and treasure.


Review by Chris W. J. Roberts, University of Calgary

In late August 2016, the Canadian government announced with much fanfare, but few hard details, its Peace and Stabilization Operations Program (with the official acronym PSOPS).[31] As the policy framework for Canada’s return to United Nations (UN) peacekeeping, broadly defined, PSOPS is just the latest incarnation of Canadian attempts to engage with fragile and conflict-affected states. Given the recent, rising trend of intra-state conflict and mass human displacement, the international community faces another period of hand-wringing about the problems of failed and fragile states. Historians Michael Carroll and Greg Donaghy’s edited collection of historical case studies centred on Canadian engagement and intervention in fragile states in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America is thus an impeccably timed analysis that captures some of the evolution in thinking and practice by Canadian policy-makers and practitioners since the Second World War.

It is important for scholars to constrain their tendency to overreach. This is especially important for reviewers. In that vein, acknowledging the wealth of material in this collection and the roundtable format, the central focus here will be those chapters and case studies within the remit of an Africanist who also followed closely Canada’s ‘long war in Central Asia.’ Case studies rooted in post-independence Congo (chapter 2 by Kevin Spooner), the Nigerian Civil War (chapter 3 by Stephanie Bangarth), Kandahar province (chapter 8 by Stephen Saideman), and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in South Sudan and Ghana (chapter 10 by Hevina Dashwood) derive from the crucible of the 1960s and the latest decade since 2005, bookending over fifty years of Canadian intervention in what is now called the Global South.[32]

These case studies cover a range of policy instruments applied or at least considered to be part of the response to state fragility, from military training (Congo) and humanitarian assistance (Biafra) to private sector CSR (Ghana and South Sudan) and, well, everything at once (Kandahar). Canadians and non-Canadians alike may be surprised at the array of interventionary policy initiatives and breadth of countries and regions Canada has engaged in since the 1950s, and this collection can only scratch the surface.[33] This project is part of a recent and constructive trend, a post-Afghanistan reassessment of Canadian military and development interventions in the Global South via a number of edited collections and initiatives.[34] Given Canada’s pending re-engagement in UN peace operations and increased financial resources for humanitarian and development assistance as well as refugees (initiatives all directly related to either fixing or responding to fragile states), rigorous reassessment activity is welcome. This H-Diplo roundtable thus presents an opportunity to move beyond a strict scholarly review into wider scholarly and policy debates about whether, where, and how Canada can contribute to cultivating a less fragile world order.

So how did the post-colonial, developing state of the 1950s and 1960s become the weak, failed (1990s), or fragile (2000s) state of the contemporary era? In their introduction, Carroll and Donaghy allude to the shifting definitions and discourses that emerged in the West in the immediate Post-Cold War period that not only seemed to describe a ‘new’ phenomenon but also undermined core tenets of international society, namely national sovereignty and non-intervention, as failed or fragile labels preceded ‘fixing’ interventions. They suggest that the “end of the Cold War began to reveal the extent of the rot” (1) lurking below the surface of a bipolar international system (I’ll return to that conceptionalization below).

Tom Keating’s important overview chapter provides a broad historical outline of the evolution of Canadian policy towards failed and fragile states, long before those terms first entered the lexicon in the early 1990s (10).[35] He makes the point that while the terminology is recent, the underlying lack of empirical stateness and capacity of many post-colonial states–invoking the quasi-state framework of Robert Jackson[36]–is not. In fact, after the Second World War, the whole notion of declaratory self-determination and recognition as a sufficient basis for legal statehood, detached from any threshold of empirical state capacity, introduced a new facet of international politics (11-12). Ian Quick, in his book Follies of Fragile States, makes a similar point about the more recent trend of complex, stabilization missions in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): we are still at the rudimentary stages of diagnosing and understanding the root problems and what outsiders can or should do, and existing international organizations and approaches are not proving to be very good at learning about and adapting to local contexts.[37]

The relatively recent discursive shift reflects less qualitative changes in failed or fragile states (or what might be called ‘brittle’ states) but instead how the West perceived its own interests or values in relation to the Global South or post-Communist transitions after the systemic pressures of the Cold War washed away. If Africa today is the most ‘fragile’ continent, as ranking metrics suggest,[38] this recognition of rhetorical versus material shifts opens the door to a deeper examination of underlying processes since the independence era. But, as Darren Brunk stresses in the book’s conclusion, the obstacles to addressing root and proximate causes remain, due to lack of consistent Canadian attention, domestic political dynamics, and resource limitations.[39] He might have also stressed the lack of Canadian and international consensus over what the root causes of fragility, or, put in older terminology, what the roots of underdevelopment might be.

From Canadian involvement in the Colombo Plan–Canada’s first foray into international development in 1950[40] in newly independent, Commonwealth countries in Asia–and the late 1955 ‘package deal’ with the Soviets that established the basis for near-automatic UN membership for new states (15), to the Canadian vote for UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples) in 1960 (15-17), Keating shows how Canada was “present at the creation” (to recycle Spooner’s use of the term, 33) during key moments that shaped international society institutions most important for post-colonial or developing states. Occasionally, as the ‘package deal’ and Resolution 1514 vote illustrated, Canada sometimes moved slightly ahead of other Western states to appeal to the emerging, non-aligned Afro-Asian bloc. Canada’s involvement in the expansion of peacekeeping in 1956, though not directly covered in the book, was another important contribution of Canada to expanding the toolkit of the international community to address post-imperial transitions and state breakdown. The precedent of the UN Emergency Force in Suez opened the door for requests by Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba for UN forces shortly after Congo’s independence in July 1960. (Fifty years later, complex, long-term, multi-dimensional stabilization missions are the UN norm for Africa, including in the DRC, which further reinforces recognition of the steep learning curve and challenges exporting development or otherwise cultivating state resilience.) 

During that critical early period, as Keating shows, Canada was neither driven by simple idealist impulses or blind faith that self-determination alone could create fully functional states. However, identifying room to manoeuvre in foreign policy has always been a Canadian trait, even if commercial and security concerns set the parameters of manoeuvre. Keating’s chapter provides a useful introduction to the paradoxes and limitations inherent in Canadian foreign policy, and the different phases that characterized Canada’s approach to developing (or failed and fragile) states that produced a shift from non-intervention to selective support for intervention. One key lesson, applicable not only to Canada, is that the domestic political context of Western democracies makes it extremely difficult to undertake long-term thinking or planning around engaging fragile states. The international context, more than the specific crisis of state and society, will influence the degree of interest and engagement. Domestic politics and bureaucratic routine will then shape engagements over time. The securitization of fragility (or development), under different terminology and contexts since the Cold War, is one way to generate attention and resources. But it is not in any way a guarantee of sustainable or even helpful solutions.[41]

Spooner’s case study–derived from his broader research about Canada’s involvement with the UN’s first multi-dimensional, UN Chapter 7 peacekeeping mission in Congo[42]–addresses an interesting conundrum from the early days of post-colonial state-building: is training the army, and instilling a professional and democratic credo in the central coercive state institution, a critical component of building new or conflict-affected states, and, if so, why did Canada reject calls to help do this in Congo? In 1961, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker finally relented to a growing number of requests from other developing countries and agreed to send a modest Canadian Armed Forces Training Team to Ghana. In 1962 Nigeria was offered some ad hoc military training assistance, and in 1964 the Pearson government agreed to a substantial military training team for Tanzania, which then ran for five years. So why not Congo?

As Spooner explains, a combination of fluid circumstances in Congo, changing priorities of UN officials, plus varying perspectives in Ottawa–including tensions between External Affairs and the Department of National Defence–ended up preventing Canada from committing to train the Armée national congolaise (ANC) during the UN mission there. Despite different appeals from Joseph Mobutu (the ANC Chief of Staff and, after a 1965 coup, the long-term kleptocratic leader of the country), Prime Minister Cyrille Adoula, and American urging, Canadian politicians faced military capacity constraints and international legal complications which helped to delay any firm decisions. But why Canada? Despite some perspectives that paint Canada as just a lesser Western imperial power in Africa[43], African leaders then and now often see Canada as not just another Western power. As Spooner quotes Adoula, “Canada was considered ‘a non-colonial country politically acceptable to most African opinion’” (45). Spooner’s conclusion is that Canada missed an opportunity to assist a fragile state create a professional and politically aloof military that may have helped change the trajectory of Congo’s political future.

That said, we cannot assume that Canadian investments in training the ANC would have forestalled Mobutu’s military takeover and his three decades of hollowing out what state institutions there were. Canada’s first ever non-NATO training assistance mission, from 1961 with the Ghana Army, did not prevent an army and police coup that overthrew President Nkrumah in 1966 (keeping in mind that, by 1966, for many Ghanaians this was not an unpopular move). Nor did the much more limited military assistance to Nigeria forestall military coups and civil war there, or training of the Mali Army before the coup in 2012. That Botswana and Mauritius, the two most politically stable and economically successful African states, made a decision not to establish an army at independence also provides some alternative examples. While the Botswana Defence Force was eventually established in 1977 to counter Apartheid South African incursions, Mauritius still only has a small Special Mobile Force element of its national police, plus a National Coast Guard. In Tanzania, however, there was no coup after Canadian assistance, and the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force later went on to defeat Uganda’s Idi Amin and force him from power. There is no easy, linear relationship between assisting with the professionalization of the armed forces of a fragile state and strengthening the state overall. Afghanistan is a contemporary case in point. It may be appropriate in some circumstances, but the typical social science position remains: ‘it depends.’

An entire generation of Canadians, Americans, and Europeans retain a mental image of starving Biafrans as their reference point for African crisis. Bangarth’s study of political, though ultimately non-governmental, mobilization to address Africa’s first heavily publicized humanitarian crisis presses home the point that domestic political considerations in Ottawa will be the primary lens through which to assess state breakdown abroad. In the absence of a direct impact, domestic implications (political and economic) and international pressures will shape governmental responses. But outside government, mobilization can and will still take place. The Biafra example proved “a foundation on which to build future humanitarian relief operations in Africa and as an example of the importance of public mobilization” (55). Afterwards, both NGOs and UN agencies grew exponentially to meet the demand of humanitarian emergencies generally related to weak or fragile states.

On Biafra, politicians from the Canadian left and right–Andrew Brewin and David MacDonald respectively–pilloried the centrist Liberal government of Pierre Elliot Trudeau for inaction.[44] Bangarth rightly suggests that Trudeau, concerned himself about separatist impulses in Québec, “misread the issue” (55) as solely a nationalist-separatist problem in a fellow Commonwealth member without examining the context. Trudeau was also following the hands-off example of his predecessor, Lester Pearson, who left office before Biafra hit the print and broadcast media in earnest in mid-1968. As Bangarth’s research shows, Trudeau also worried about French and Portuguese support for Biafra–with the French under President Charles De Gaulle also meddling in Québec–that seemed aimed to “‘break up the territorial integrity of Nigeria’” (61).[45] She does not focus much on the influence of British or American policy on Canada. Canadians did participate on the International Military Observer Team–a handful of unarmed senior military officers from various countries–but their reports came under criticism from Brewin and MacDonald, the churches, and others concerned about the conduct of the war.

That Ibo (or Igbo) people had been increasingly discriminated against, persecuted, and violently attacked beginning a few months after the January 1966 coup but particularly after the July counter-coup,[46] causing a mass migration of Ibo people to the eastern region even if their families had left decades prior, did not seem to leave much of an imprint on official Ottawa, nor did the other political machinations which led to the Biafran declaration of independence in May 1967. Neither human security nor prevention were yet on the agenda of Canadian policy-makers or international organizations, though those themes emerged out of the reports Brewin and MacDonald published after their return from Biafra. Non-intervention, as Keating pointed out for that period, remained the over-riding official inclination, even as terms such as “slaughter of civilians” and “genocide” became part of the debates (65).

Transnational churches in effect mobilized their own air force to bring in food and supplies to Biafra, which some suggest extended the war and subsequent suffering. The same concerns continue today: does humanitarian intervention prevent or delay political or even military solutions in conflict-affected regions? Is territorial integrity the ultimate value within international society, overriding political accountability and human security? When might secession be preferred to the maintenance of territorial integrity? Again, there are no easy answers to those questions. Nigeria’s post-Civil War era was characterized by increasingly authoritarian military governments and an increasingly dysfunctional economy. Congo could be described similarly after 1964. Yet, South Sudan, which received considerable Canadian support before and after independence in 2011, was born a failed state. For Canada, the strength of support for the maintenance of territorial integrity abroad seems to be related to Canadian calculations (domestic and allied) rather than to the facts on the ground (see also David Webster’s chapter on Canada and East Timor[47]). This is not unique to Canada, but again has to be considered as part of international institutional culpability in the development and persistence of fragility.

The Canadian effort in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province between 2005-2011 marked the most concerted, comprehensive effort that Canada has ever undertaken to deal with a fragile state. Here was the first full-scale attempt by Canada to implement a ‘whole of government’ or ‘3D’ (defence, diplomacy, and development) approach within a defined political jurisdiction. Saideman, in this capsule summary of his book[48], concludes with two important observations: “State failure is fundamentally a political problem....Our focus must be on modestly ameliorating, not radically transforming, fragile states” (181). Kandahar exemplified both the difficulties of 3D coordination (the bureaucratic politics problem) as well as the overriding political economy problem: ‘fixing’ fragile states is never just a technical undertaking.

As Saideman makes clear, the Canadians in Kandahar faced considerable Afghan local and national political obstacles, in addition to the coordination and limited resource problems within the Canadian effort. Despite its 32 provinces and provincial councils, Afghanistan under the new 2004 constitution was not designed as a federal, decentralized political system. A unitary, centralized presidential system was adopted, and proposals for at least a prime minister and for greater provincial autonomy were resisted during the constitutional drafting process and subsequent loya jirga constitutional council in late 2003.[49] Any quick look back at the history of the country illustrated the folly of centralizing power in Kabul, a process which in the late 1970s led to the ‘invitation’ by the then communist Afghan government for the Soviets to intervene. While considerable efforts were expended by the Canadians and others to understand informal traditional networks and authority structures, the entire international effort was fighting an uphill battle against a formal constitutional structure which worked against both Afghan history and the hope of building accountable politics over time. Canada, of course, could not undo that structural deficit when it deployed to Kandahar, but one lesson learned should be that formal constitutional frameworks matter. Development, security, and governance are only ever ‘locked-in’ as sustainable processes if the formal political institutions ultimately support them. But the immediate foreign policy pressures are usually stabilization and containment (and contributing) versus cultivating resilience.

For some, Dashwood’s extensive contribution to the volume may seem out of place, but it captures an important aspect of the whole fragile states debate: what is the role of the international private sector? She picks two African states that represent opposite ends of the fragile state spectrum in Africa (Ghana and South Sudan) to see how CSR might play out in different contexts. However, it may have been more useful to have selected DRC as the second case, given the extensive Canadian extractive industry presence there compared to South Sudan, which Dashwood admits has limited Canadian company presence. That said, she refuses to take the road of least resistance and see international private sector actors as always part of the problem of fragility, as always behind resource-related conflict and human rights abuses (or as always part of any ‘resource curse’ dynamic). This is consistent with her impressive body of work on CSR.[50] She instead provides a nuanced approach which tries to identify what role foreign companies can play, and how transnational and international initiatives, frameworks, and guidelines have evolved to deal with the rise of multi-national corporations and their presence in states with weaker abilities to regulate, monitor, and enforce their activities. Her overview of those historical developments is quite extensive, ranging from developments in Canada (a big player across Africa’s extractive sectors) to international NGO and UN initiatives, including the ‘Ruggie Principles,’ formally known as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.[51]

Dashwood tackles the core paradox facing (mostly extractive) companies, transnational regulatory initiatives, and fragile states: as firms are expected to do more CSR and ‘social license’ activities, and as international organizations and NGOs are doing more to influence and even regulate firm behaviour, what is left for the host state to do? Does the expansion of firm- and international-level CSR and regulatory functions actually get in the way of or absolve states from their local governance and regulatory functions? And when might companies exacerbate local and regional conflict, pushing a fragile political economy into conflict and crisis? Ultimately, her position is clear if hardly surprising: “The extent to which companies can enhance social and economic value … depends on the enabling or disabling dynamics resulting from a range of interactions which actors outside the boundaries of the company” (219).

Thus, one critical theme running throughout her chapter is the relative neglect of rural areas by many African governments since independence, including Ghana and South Sudan.[52] And of course, extractive industries locate in rural areas. So even in stronger states such as Ghana, extractive projects may operate in areas of weak governance oversight where local communities can face significant disruption, and often they demand of the companies that which isn’t being provided by the state. But, as Dashwood points out, the relative institutional foundations do affect what kinds of CSR strategies are likely and effective. In Ghana, CSR has evolved into supporting livelihood and local procurement directions, attempting to build long-term, sustainable relationships beyond the immediate vicinity of the project. In South Sudan and other fragile or conflict-affected states, CSR tends towards security-oriented objectives within a much more restricted area, which does little for long term development of the communities themselves. Companies and CSR should never be seen as a replacement for government (219), and the onus really is on the companies themselves–if they decide to operate in fragile areas–to understand the full local and national context of that decision. Compared to twenty years ago the extent of international and transnational normative frameworks and CSR expertise provides much more guidance about how to make those kinds of decisions (227-229). The jury is still out, however, on whether extensive CSR and transnational oversight overwhelms, or absolves, host states from developing their own oversight and governance responsibilities. 

In conclusion, then, how might this book and its case studies inform the current Canadian conundrum of re-engaging with complex, multi-dimensional UN peace operations in Africa? By definition, a multi-dimensional or stabilization mission resides in a fragile state. Traditional, or first generation, peacekeeping missions deployed military observers and ‘interposition’ forces between state belligerents, as in Kashmir, Suez, and Cyprus. But the first Congo mission (1960-64) belied that traditional notion of peacekeeping early on. It also forced outsiders, as Spooner shows with Canada, to think about how best to convert a de jure state into an empirical one. Shortly thereafter, the international humanitarian, investigatory, and (even if remote) possibility of a full-fledged peacekeeping mission to Biafra signalled that state breakdown and civil war–state fragility by any other name–as hardly an uncommon characteristic of newly independent states.

Under Cold-War imperatives, fragility became buried behind a troika of pillars: first, international law and de jure sovereignty (international society institutions); second, Cold-War calculations that propped up regimes but cared little for accountable, responsible states or the peoples within them (international system imperatives); and third, a rapidly expanding, transnational development regime (including discursive and material resources, comprising both state-based and transnational society organizations) that filled gaps ranging from humanitarian emergencies to long-term development support. ‘Failed’ and ‘fragile’ captured the aftermath of brittle states losing one or more of these three supporting pillars. The “rot” Carroll and Donaghy refer to in their introduction captures this paradox of sovereignty comprised of the three pillars which reinforces the external legitimacy of states at the expense of citizens and efficacious statehood. While the Cold War is over, other forms of external, systemic support for regimes over states have emerged.[53]

What this collection does is challenge Canadian scholarship (and foreign policy analysis) in a helpful way, to move beyond the tiresome peacekeeper-versus-warfighter debates over the role of the Canadian Armed Forces abroad, or the unreservedly critical accounts of Canadian involvement in the Global South.[54] As chapter after chapter points out, there are no easy decisions, no consensus, no limitless resources, and no unconstrained foreign policy options when Canadian politicians and policy-makers contemplate engagement in fragile states. More comparative, international work bringing together historians, political scientists, and practioners is required. 

If this collection at least challenges Canadians and others to re-examine the core questions of how states are made, how and why outsiders including non-great powers can assist or interfere in that process, and what states are expected to do, it will have accomplished its task. Those looking for answers to all those questions will not find them here, but, more importantly, they will be confronted with the complicated questions that policy-makers and practitioners have faced since the 1950s. Keating, referencing Jackson again, suggests “there are many ways to responsibly address the problems of ‘failed states’ without suspending their sovereignty and patronizing their people’” (24). Surely ‘patronizing’ is not necessary, but there is something dysfunctional about how sovereignty has evolved since the Second World War that is embedded in Jackson’s quasi-state problematique. That is, the multiple layers of legal protection locking-in borders and territorial integrity has largely been detached from responsibility, accountability, and performance mechanisms for political elites.

The pressing, discursive, and empirical reality of developing, weak, fragile, failed, or conflict-affected states reveals not just institutional deficiencies within states, but tensions among the primary institutions of international society itself. And, again paraphrasing Spooner, Canada was “present at the creation” (33) of these paradoxes within international society. Awareness of that paradox, which Jackson opened the door to without pursuing all its implications, does not make policy-making or analysis easier, but it does provide a more complete picture of a phenomenon that requires more than just technical or military resources to ameliorate.


Over the past decade, many in the West have come to reject the most recent economic, political, and cultural manifestations of globalization. This is certainly true of the United States, where the Great Recession and the endless wars on global terror have increasingly encouraged Americans to focus their gaze homeward, retreating from the kind of broad global engagement that has characterized American foreign policy since 1945. President Donald Trump’s election has simply confirmed this unhappy reorientation in spades.

Canada has been engaged in a similar reassessment, prompted by its uncertain engagement in Afghanistan (2001-2011) and worries about former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s (2006-2015) narrowly focused foreign policy. But Canadians have responded differently. In October 2015, they elected a prime minister, Justin Trudeau, who promised the world that Canada was back, launching a high-profile bid for a United Nations (UN) security council seat, doubling-down on peacekeeping and peace stabilization in fragile states, sending troops to defend Latvia, and welcoming Syrian refugees. “We need to focus on what brings us together, not what divides us,” he told the UN last fall. “For Canada, that means re-engaging in global affairs through institutions like the UN. It doesn’t serve our interests—or the world’s—to pretend we’re not deeply affected by what happens beyond our borders.”[55]

From Kinshasa to Kandahar, as reviewer Chris Roberts perceptively points out, reflects this national discussion of Canada’s global role, implicitly asking whether and when Canada should engage with fragile states. We are obviously pleased that all of the reviewers acknowledge its timeliness. We are happier still that all four—one historian, two political scientists, and an historically-trained practitioner—share the consensus among our contributors that in today’s world there is indeed no real alternative but engagement.

We are grateful that none of our reviewers raised serious issues with the substance of any of our chapters, though given the caliber of the contributors this does not greatly surprise us. The chapters all stand on their own admirably. As editors, however, we are to blame for not explaining more explicitly how we selected our cases. There were two considerations. First, we wanted to craft a balanced manuscript that explored a range of Canadian policy-responses: humanitarian and political, military, and regulatory; we also wanted it to offer broad geographic and chronological coverage while embracing the most innovative multidisciplinary scholarship. Second, there was a practical concern: despite Canada’s long exposure to state fragility—superbly illustrated in Tom Keating’s introductory essay—there were (and are) relatively few scholars working on the issue in depth. Indeed, we are particularly grateful to several of our contributors for reexamining their research through a lens of state fragility. The final product represents the kind of wide-ranging examination of the theme that we hoped to achieve when we embarked on this project.

One significant challenge that we did not anticipate on setting out are the contentious definitional questions around state fragility. As historians, perhaps a little cavalier in our approach to categorizing social phenomenon, we innocently began with the Fund For Peace’s Fragile States Index, assuming broad agreement on the fragility of the states listed therein. We were surprised then when three contributors, Julian Schofield, Jean Daudelin, and David Webster, produced papers that challenged the notions of fragility applied to their subjects. Again, we ought to have explained more explicitly why they were included. These unorthodox chapters—Schofield’s on Pakistan, Webster’s on Indonesia, and Daudelin’s on Latin America—invite readers to critically examine the standards, assumptions, and criteria for measuring state fragility, and represent one of the collection’s genuine strengths.

We were perhaps remiss too in not more explicitly cataloguing the lessons of this collection. We are grateful to Stéphanie von Hlatky for doing that for us. First, we would agree with her judgment that over fifty years, interventions in fragile states have won very few, if any, outright victories. “Its lessons are not uplifting,” she notes. Others make this point as well. Jill Campbell-Miller echoes Darren Brunk’s concluding description of Canada’s efforts towards fragile states as “incomplete,” an adjective some might dismiss as too diplomatic, too Canadian. At the same time, however, we would be more inclined to emphasize the partial successes in Bosnia or even Afghanistan, where new approaches to old problems paid at least limited dividends. Indeed, it is the prospect of ‘doing’ state fragility better that makes Hevina Dashwood’s chapter, on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the global protocols being harnessed to oblige extractive companies to reinvest in local economies and provide sustainable benefits, so compelling and encouraging.

We would also endorse von Hlatky’s second lesson about the importance that notions of Canada’s national interest play in shaping Ottawa’s response to state fragility. We might perhaps reframe her lesson slightly and argue that long-term and persistent interventions are most likely to result when Canada’s domestic interests align closely with UN and U.S. interests. This, perhaps, is one of the most important lessons from Haiti, with much broader application in determining if and when Canada will or should intervene in the future. Indeed, recent delays in deploying Canadian peacekeepers to Africa following Trump’s election suggest that this is a lesson already being heeded in Ottawa.

One lesson seems clear from Canada’s experiences over the past fifty years to all our reviewers, even the most skeptical. Though a cautious bunch, none of them suggests that Canada should abandon or ignore the plight of fragile states. Campbell-Miller is perhaps the most forthright, suggesting that yes Canada should be engaged, though with caveats. Even Chris Kilford, who has practical military experience on the ground with fragile states, is not jaded but rather offers sage advice that Canada should “tread carefully” and suggests that “direct military intrusions are best avoided.” This is encouraging

“The world needs more Canada,” said Bono, or Barack Obama, or both.[56] It’s nice to be needed, but if Canada is going to engage with fragile states Ottawa needs to make sure that the job is done right. We hope that some of these lessons stick.

Finally, we would like to say how grateful we are to Tom Maddux, Diane Labrosse, and the H-Diplo editorial team for their steadfast determination to review Canadian subjects. It’s a small country, with a small community, and willing reviewers are not always easy to find. We are equally appreciative of the efforts to David Black, Jill Campbell-Miller, Chris Kilford, Chris Roberts, and Stéfanie von Hlatky to reflect on the thorny issues raised in From Kinshasa to Kandahar. We share with them the grim recognition that there are no simple answers to the kinds of problems that Andrew Thompson has so aptly characterized as “too complex to ‘fix’ yet too volatile to be left alone.” (98) However, as Justin Trudeau’s government navigates Canada’s way back onto the world stage, their thoughtful voices represent the hope that the lessons of the past will not be forgotten.


[1] “Darren Brunk, “Conclusion,” in Michael K. Carroll and Greg Donaghy, From Kinshasa to Kandahar: Canada and Fragile States (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2016), 247.

[2] Jean Deaudelin, “Canada and Fragile States in the Americas,” in Carroll and Donaghy, 202.

[3] Stephen M. Saideman, “Six Years in Kandahar: Understanding Canada’s Multidimensional Effort to Build a Sustainable Afghan State,” in Carroll and Donaghy, 180.

[4] Stephanie Bangarth, “The Politics of African Intervention: Canada and Biafra, 1967-70,” in Carroll and Donaghy, 53-72.

[5] Duane Bratt, “Bosnia: From Failed State to Functioning State,” in Carroll and Donaghy, 158-161.

[6] Andrew S. Thompson, “Entangled: Canadian Engagement in Haiti, 1968-2010,” in Carroll and Donaghy, 97; Daudelin, 196-203.

[7] Thompson, 98.

[8] Saideman, 172; Bratt, 143.

[9] “Official Development Assistance Accountability Act,” Justice Laws Website, 29 May 2008, http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/O-2.8/FullText.html. The United Kingdom protects its foreign aid budget of 0.7% of Gross National Income through the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act passed in 2015. See Jon Lunn and Lorna Booth, “The 0.7% aid target: June 2016 update,” House of Commons Library, 20 June 2016, http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN03714/SN03714.pdf. Although the act passed with support across party lines, it is controversial, particularly among conservative thinkers and politicians.

[10] Tom Keating, “Responding to Failed and Fragile States: The Evolution of Canadian Policy,” 9-32.

[11] Jean Daudelin, “Canada and Fragile States in the Americas,” 185-206.

[12] Julian Schofield, “Diagnostic Confusion and Missed Opportunities: Canada and Pakistan’s ‘Failed State’,” 121-142.

[13] Hevina S. Dashwood, “Corporate Social Responsibility in Fragile and Stable States: Dilemmas and Opportunities in South Sudan and Ghana,” 207-235.

[14] Andrew S. Thompson, “Entangled: Canadian Engagement in Haiti, 1968–2010,” 97-119.

[15] Kevin A. Spooner, “Present at the Creation? Canada, United Nations Intervention, and the Congo as a Failed State, 1960–64,” 33-51.

[16] K. Spooner in Kinshasa to Kandahar; S. Bangarth in Kinshasa to Kandahar; Duane Bratt, “Bosnia: From Failed State to Functioning State,” 143-164.

[17] Stephanie Bangarth, “The Politics of African Intervention: Canada and Biafra, 1967-70,” 53-72.

[18] D. Bratt in Kinshasa to Kandahar.

[19] Stephen M. Saideman, “Six Years in Kandahar: Understanding Canada’s Multidimensional Effort to Build a Sustainable Afghan State,” 165-184.

[20] James Fitz-Morris, “ Justin Trudeau tells Paris climate summit Canada ready to do more,” CBC News, 30 November 2015, http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/trudeau-address-climate-change-paris-1.3343394.

[21] Tullio Irace, With the Italians in Tripoli: The Authentic History of the Turco-Italian War (London: Dare Publishers, 2003), vi.

[22] Tom Keating, “Responding to Failed and Fragile States: The Evolution of Canadian Policy,” in From Kinshasa to Kandahar–Canada and Fragile States in Historical Perspective (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2016), 9.

[23] Andrew S. Thompson, “Entangled: Canadian Engagement in Haiti 1968-2010,” in From Kinshasa to Kandahar–Canada and Fragile States in Historical Perspective (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2016), 98.

[24] Government of Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Supplementary Information 2016 Immigration Levels Plan, http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/media/notices/2016-03-08.asp, accessed 3 August 2016.

[25] Kevin A. Spooner, “Present at the Creation? Canada, United Nations Intervention, and the Congo as a Failed State, 1960-64” in From Kinshasa to Kandahar–Canada and Fragile States in Historical Perspective (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2016), 39.

[26] Chris R. Kilford, The Other Cold War–Canadian Military Assistance to the Developing World 1945-1975, (Kingston: Canadian Defence Academy Press, 2010), 155.

[27] Kilford, 4.

[28] Michael K. Carroll and Greg Donaghy, eds., From Kinshasa to Kandahar–Canada and Fragile States in Historical Perspective (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2016), 39.

[29] Government of Canada, Global Affairs, Canada’s Engagement in Afghanistan, http://www.international.gc.ca/afghanistan/index.aspx?lang=eng, accessed 11 August 2016.

[30] Stephen M. Saideman, “Six Years in Kandahar: Understanding Canada’s Multidimensional Effort to Build a Sustainable Afghan State” in From Kinshasa to Kandahar–Canada and Fragile States in Historical Perspective (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2016), 165.

[31] Government of Canada, “The Peace and Stabilization Operations Program,” 26 August 2016, http://international.gc.ca/world-monde/world_issues-enjeux-mondiaux/psop.aspx?lang=eng, accessed 22 February 2017. No announcements about where additional military and police personnel already promised would be deployed accompanied the PSOPS press conference, attended by no less than four federal cabinet ministers. However, two weeks later it was announced that Canada would host the 2017 peacekeeping ministerial forum, following up from the 2015 Leaders Summit hosted by President Barrack Obama and the 2016 ministerial forum hosted by British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. See Government of Canada, “Speaking Notes for the Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence,” 8 September 2016, http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?mthd=index&crtr.page=1&nid=1121579, accessed 22 February 2017.

[32] Kevin A. Spooner, “Present at the Creation? Canada, United Nations Intervention, and the Congo as a Failed State, 1960-64,” 33-52; Stephanie Bangarth, “The Politics of African Intervention: Canada and Biafra, 1967-70,” 53-72; Stephen Saideman, “Six Years in Kandahar: Understanding Canada’s Multidimensional Effort to Build a Sustainable Afghan State,” 165-184; Hervina Dashwood, “Corporate Social Responsibility in Fragile and Stable States: Dilemmas and Opportunities in South Sudan and Ghana,” 207-236.

[33] A recent crop of books from American and European sources about international inventions in Africa generally ignore Canada completely. For example, see Elizabeth Schmidt, Foreign Intervention in Africa: From the Cold War to the War on Terror (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Olawale Ismail and Elisabeth Skons, eds., Security Activities of External Actors in Africa (London: SIPRI; Oxford University Press, 2014); and Thierry Tardy and Marco Wyss, eds., Peacekeeping in Africa: The Evolving Security Architecture (New York: Routledge, 2014). And Muehlenbeck’s excellent look back at John F. Kennedy’s relations with African leaders during the independence era misses important three-way interactions between some of those key leaders (e.g., Nkrumah, Nyerere, from Congo and Francophone Africa), the Kennedy Administration, and Canada. See Philip E. Muehlenbeck, Betting on the Africans: John F. Kennedy’s Courting of African Nationalist Leaders (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[34] This collection is the most historically oriented. Others include Fen Hampson and Stephen M. Saideman, eds., Elusive Pursuits: Lessons from Canada’s Interventions Abroad (Waterloo: CIGI/NPSIA, 2015); Stéfanie von Hlatky and H. Christian Breede, eds., Going to War? Trends in Military Interventions (Montreal/Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2016); Rohinton Medhora and Yiagadeesen Samy, eds., Canada-Africa Relations: Looking Back, Looking Ahead 27, Canada among Nations (Waterloo; Ottawa: CIGI; NPSIA, 2013). In addition, I co-chaired a workshop project on the theme of “Revisiting Africa in Canadian security planning and assessment” in June 2016. Some results from that workshop were published in a special issue of the Journal of Military and Strategic Studies 17:2 (October 2016): http://jmss.org/jmss/index.php/jmss/issue/view/74, accessed 22 February 2017.

[35] Tom Keating, “Responding to Failed and Fragile States: The Evolution of Canadian Policy,” 9-32.

[36] See Robert H. Jackson, Quasi-States: Sovereignty, International Relations, and the Third World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

[37] Ian D. Quick, Follies in Fragile States: How International Stabilization Failed in the Congo (London: Double Loop, 2015).

[38] See The Fund for Peace/Foreign Policy magazine annual ‘Fragile States Index’ (http://foreignpolicy.com/fragile-states-index-2016-brexit-syria-refugee-europe-anti-migrant-boko-haram) as well as how the OECD ranks the top 50 ‘States of Fragility,’ (http://www.oecd.org/dac/governance-peace/conflictfragilityandresilience/rf.htm). The continent is also home to the most ‘fragile cities’: see Igarapé Institute, “Distribution of city fragility”: http://fragilecities.igarape.org.br, all accessed 22 February 2017.

[39] Darren Brunk, 237-250.

[40] The Colombo Plan only focused on development and economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. Some of the authors in the book occasionally allude to a wider remit for the Colombo Plan. While Canada was an original member, any assistance later provided to Commonwealth Africa was not through the auspices of the Colombo Plan.

[41] See the recent edited collection by Stephen Brown and Jörn Grävingholt, The Securitization of Foreign Aid (New York: Palgrave, 2016).

[42] Kevin A. Spooner, Canada, the Congo Crisis, and UN Peacekeeping, 1960-64 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2009).

[43] Most elaborately displayed by Yves Engler, Canada in Africa: 300 Years of Aid and Exploitation (Winnipeg: Fernwood Books, 2015).

[44] Andrew Brewin, a lawyer, was a New Democratic Party Member of Parliament (1962-1979) from Toronto, and David MacDonald, an ordained United Church minister, was a Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament (1965-1980) from Prince Edward Island.

[45] Both my ongoing dissertation research and the pioneering yet unpublished historical work of Alec Lalonde (MA, Royal Military College of Canada) on the pre-civil war relations between Nigeria and Canada illustrate much closer bonds than generally recognized. By the early 1960s Nigeria had surpassed Ghana as Canada’s top aid recipient in Africa, and diplomatic relations strengthened with Nigeria within various multilateral fora, including the UN and Commonwealth.

[46] While some Nigerians do refer to themselves as part of a ‘tribe,’ the use of the analytical term “Ibo tribe” (65) should instead refer to Ibo ethnic group or peoples. In the pre-colonial and colonial periods, Ibos were amongst the most decentralized groups, in small village-based communities without the kinds of hierarchical political structures found amongst the Yoruba kingdoms in the west or the Hausa-Fulani and Kanuri emirates in the north. The first coup in January 1966 was later described as an ‘Ibo coup’ though at the time many Nigerians from around the country were fed up with the corrupt political class at national and regional levels. That the political class was dominated by Northerners and the middle-ranking officers who launched the coup were mostly Ibos, combined with the fact General Aguiyi-Ironsi was also Ibo (from all accounts he was not involved in the coup plot but, as head of the armed forces, he was asked to take over by politicians, not by the army officers involved who were quickly arrested), ethnic mobilization against the Ironsi government proved relatively easy, leading to the Ibo persecution and exodus. Canadians who served under Ironsi in Congo a few years earlier were relatively unimpressed with his leadership and his apparent drinking problem. See Spooner, Canada, the Congo Crisis, and UN Peacekeeping, 209-210.

[47] David Webster, “Failing Fragile States: Canada and East Timor,” 73-96.

[48] Stephen Saideman, Adapting in the Dust: Lessons Learned from Canada’s War in Afghanistan (Toronto: University of Toronto, 2016).

[49] While the flawed process behind the drafting and approval of the constitution cannot be covered here, even the position of provincial governor, an issue of so much concern for Canadians in Kandahar and every other allied effort across other provinces, is not delineated in the 2004 constitution. The only mention of the word “governor” is Article 151, where it is mentioned in a list of offices that “shall not engage in any profitable business with the state.” See “The Constitution of Afghanistan,” http://www.afghanembassy.com.pl/afg/images/pliki/TheConstitution.pdf, accessed 22 February 2017.

[50] Hevina S. Dashwood, The Rise of Global Corporate Social Responsibility: Mining and the Spread of Global Norms (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

[51] Named after political scientist John Ruggie who served as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights from 2005-2011, the Ruggie Principles promote a ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/GuidingPrinciplesBusinessHR_EN.pdf, accessed 22 February 2017.

[52] For a good explanation for the neglect of rural regions and how that is tied into the problems of post-colonial sovereignty, see Jeffrey Ira Herbst, States and Power in Africa : Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).

[53] Beyond the current problem of how the ‘global war on terror’ is used by numerous regimes to leverage additional resources from various external sources, UN missions themselves can become so intertwined with local political elites as to become part of the problem. See Richard Gowan, “When should blue helmets walk away from a conflict?”, Global Peace Operations Review (Center on International Cooperation, 16 August 2016): http://peaceoperationsreview.org/thematic-essays/when-should-blue-helmets-walk-away-from-a-conflict, accessed 22 February 2017.

[54] The latter approach is exhibited by a new textbook, Karen Dubinsky, Sean Mills, and Scott Rutherford, eds., Canada and the Third World: Overlapping Histories (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016).

[55] “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Address to the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly,” http://pm.gc.ca/eng/news/2016/09/20/prime-minister-justin-trudeaus-address-71st-session-united-nations-general-assembly, accessed 6 February 2017.

[56] “Bono endorses Martin, Canada in helping third world,” Globe and Mail, 16 November 2003, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/bono-endorses-martin-canada-in-helping-third-world/article1169121/, accessed 6 February 2017; “Obama: ‘The world needs more Canada,’” CBC News, 29 June 2016, http://www.cbc.ca/news/obama-the-world-needby s-more-canada-1.3659172, accessed 6 February 2017.