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Les Archives de Radio-Canada

Home · War & Conflict · Peacekeeping · Peacekeeper to the World

Topic spans: 1956 - 2003

Peacekeeper to the World

For half a century, Canada's Blue Berets have defused escalating tension and conflict with their peacekeeping missions. The United Nations Blue Berets have come to symbolize reconciliation and idealism. Initially, Canadians regarded our peacekeepers as a point of pride - our noble contribution to the global community. But with time, Canada was forced to measure the costs of success and the harsh realities of loss. CBC Archives examines five pivotal peacekeeping missions including the Suez crisis, the Cyprus mission, the Congo operation, the East Timor success and the Rwandan retreat.

Image of Canadian peacekeeper shaking hands with a child courtesy of the Canadian War Museum.

9 television clips
10 radio clips

Lester Pearson's Suez solution

Broadcast Date: Nov. 3, 1956

Egypt's President Nasser has taken control of the Suez Canal — a vital shipping link between the Middle East and Europe — from British and French interests. The two nations are outraged, and have secretly teamed up with Israel to regain control by attacking Egypt. The conflict, dubbed the Suez Crisis, has been at a boil for days when a Canadian diplomat, Lester B. "Mike" Pearson, proposes a solution to the United Nations.

Canadian leaders are in a sticky position: they don't wish to alienate their allies, the United Kingdom and France. Yet they feel they can't support the reckless attack on Egypt. Instead of taking sides, Canada plays peacemaker — a role for which it will long be remembered. The Canadian delegation's resolution calls for an international emergency force to supervise a ceasefire in Egypt. Pearson's speech to the UN General Assembly was broadcast by CBC Radio.

Lester Pearson's Suez solution

• Pearson's resolution was inspired by a speech he'd already made to the UN about the Suez Crisis. Late one night, the General Assembly passed a motion from the Americans calling for a ceasefire in the region. Canada abstained from that vote, and Pearson's original speech was in part an explanation of the abstention.
• Over the next two days, Pearson fleshed out his idea and got permission from Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent to present a resolution to the UN.

• Canada's resolution called for the creation within 48 hours of "an emergency international United Nations force to secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities." It passed with 57 votes in favour, zero against, and 19 abstentions.
• The new force was called the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF). It consisted of troops from six nations: Colombia, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Canada. Canada contributed 1007 personnel to the mission.

• The UNEF peacekeepers immediately became known as the "Blue Berets" — the colour of their headgear.
• Canadians were deeply divided about the action. Some felt they had sold out their "mother countries," Britain and France. Many supported the idea of the UNEF, but others felt that by remaining neutral, Canada was behaving too much like the United States.

• Pearson, who was minister of external affairs at the time, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for his solution to the Suez Crisis. He became prime minister in 1963.

Lester Pearson's Suez solution

Medium: Radio

Program: CBC Radio News Special

Broadcast Date: Nov. 3, 1956

Speaker: Lester B. Pearson

Duration: 07:49

Last updated:
March 11, 2008

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