Halifax International Security Forum
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Session Recaps

Friday, November 16

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Leading decision-makers from civilian government, the military, business, academia and the media convened in Nova Scotia for the 4th Halifax International Security Forum.

Halifax International Security Forum President Peter Van Praagh and Canadian Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay welcomed attendees to Halifax—a community for thoughtful and engaged decision-makers to share ideas and work together to meet emerging threats in a changing world.

This year’s Forum features discussions on a range of critical issues, including Afghanistan-Pakistan relations, the rebellion in Syria, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the growing economic power of China, North American energy independence, and the responsibilities of democratic nations, among other topics.

Below, read excerpts and watch video of Peter Van Praagh’s and Minister MacKay’s opening remarks, which highlight why this year’s Forum—set against the backdrop of escalating crises in the Middle East—is more important than ever.

On the Panel

Peter MacKay
Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Department of Justice, Canada

Peter Van Praagh
President, Halifax International Security Forum


Peter MacKay, Canadian Minister of National Defence

“This is why the Halifax Forum exists: To provide a forum where we can constructively analyze, debate and learn as a community of thinkers. The fact is we often struggle with issues too much in isolation. Even as issues cross borders and solutions must be global, we continue to work in the old vertical and national stovepipes of ministries, headquarters, universities and newsrooms. This can and should change.”

“Halifax is all about going global; going horizontal; looking at the nexus of issues; and connecting dots to get seamless solutions. Halifax is about discussions that question our assumptions to help us better meet the challenges ahead of us. This Forum informs and enables us as a community of ideas for the real world—a community that remains active even after each of us returns to our homes and our routines.”

Peter Van Praagh, President of the Halifax International Security Forum

“We believe in government by and for the people that addresses security issues with the best interest of the worlds’ people first and foremost in our mind.”

“The rise of global powers, democratic and otherwise, pose challenges we must grapple with…What is our special burden to the world as a democratic community? What does it take to be the good guys?”


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Plenary 1: What is the New Normal and When Will it Get Here?

The rise of India and China, and new middle-powers like Brazil and Turkey, has re-shaped the balance of power in geopolitics. Traditional Western powers have seen their perceived dominance decline as we transition towards a “new normal.” But what exactly are we transitioning towards? In this panel, leading scholars and policymakers from around the world discuss how to navigate the new geopolitical map.

On the Panel

Wolfgang Ischinger
Chairman, Munich Security Conference

Paula Dobriansky
Senior Fellow, The Future of Diplomacy Project, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University

David E. Sanger
Chief Washington Correspondent, The New York Times

Hot Topics

America’s “Light Footprint”: Can the United States transition to a “light footprint” form of international engagement? Does it want to? The backlash against involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan may have led to calls for a more isolationist role abroad. Yet Americans still find it difficult to watch the events in Libya or Syria transpire without getting involved.

Who does technology benefit? The United States and Western powers have moved swiftly to a more technologically advanced form of warfare—cyber and drones, for example. Yet advanced technology can also benefit non-state actors who lack a traditional military. In a technological race, who’s getting the benefit?

Can our nation-building match our military? The military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan proved that Western military powers are still capable of swiftly defeating initial opposition. But it’s unclear if those same powers are capable of re-building the societies they’ve engaged in militarily.


David Sanger, Chief Washington Correspondent, New York Times:

“If this is what the new normal is these days, then we’re probably going to have to redefine the concept of normal. There have been very few times I can recall when the U.S. was in such flux itself about the degree to which it views itself as responsible for shaping where the world is.”

Paula Dobriansky, Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University

“I think there’s a strong commitment…in putting our values forward….[T]he worst way of doing that is taking our model and transplanting it on the soil of another country. We’ve never done that, but now there is a heavy emphasis on the process of working internally in other countries, and working for long-term, sustainable results.“

Wolfgang Ischinger, Chairman, Munich Security Conference

“That matter that we become so excited about in Europe is the future in Europe and the Eurozone. Here again, I don’t see much change. I believe those in Wall Street and London that decide they should bet on the departure of Greece from the Eurozone or the collapse of the Eurozone, I bet they will be wrong.”


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Saturday, November 17

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Plenary 2: Syria’s Terror, the Middle East’s Tragedy

Western powers have looked on with both hope and anxiety at the events unfolding in the Middle East. While the emergence of pro-democracy forces provide a cause for optimism, weve also seen unending bloodshed in Syria and the increasingly likely prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. All the while, Western powers have struggled to decide just how much they should get behind pro-democracy forces, and how to do so most effectively.

On the Panel

Cengiz Çandar
Journalist, Radikal and Al Monitor

Safeen Muhsin Dizayee
Leadership Member, Kurdistan Democratic Party

Afra Jalabi
Member of Syrian National Council

Raghida Dergham

Kevin Newman
Anchor, Question Period, CTV News

Hot Topics

What will it take to topple Assad? Can internal opposition eventually topple the regime, or will he continue to suppress them indefinitely? In Libya, a Western-led no-fly zone successfully ousted Gaddafi. Is that type of intervention necessary in Syria, and does the West have the political will to take such action?

Whats the state of the Syrian opposition? Is there a common agenda between the armed rebel forces in Syria, and the political leadership in exile? Other developments in the Arab Spring have given Western powers pause about empowering an opposition that may promote the goals of Islamist extremists. Is the Syrian opposition sufficiently secular to gain the trust of the West?

Are womens rights the first casualty of the Arab Spring? Womens rights have often been bartered away in political negotiations as new Arab governments formed following citizen-led uprisings. How can the democratization in the Arab world be encouraged to include progress and equal rights for women?


Raghida Dergham,Columnist and Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, Al Hayat

“I think eyes are always on Washington for leadership. Whether the US wants to lead or not, leading from behind really becomes a problem for the region and for the United States, because it can be dragged into situations.”

“There is no sign that Russia is going to budge on the Syria question at the United Nations Security CouncilIts quite distressing that leadership in Russia wants to regain its might and power at the expense of women and children in Syria.”

Afra Jalabi, Member, Syrian National Council

“The message they want to bring to you is that the democracy movement feels abandoned. Not just over the last few years, but the last decade. In the Arab world, theres almost an implosion of civil society.”

Cengiz Çandar, Journalist, Radikal

“The Syria we used to know is over. The question which we face in Turkey, and everyone faces all over the region and the world, is that the days of the regime have endedyet the paradox is, the regime is in place in Damascus.”

Safeen Muhsin Dizayee. Kurdistan Democratic Party Leadership Member, Kurdistan Democratic Party

“They have been expecting that knock on the door for some time. Perhaps the events in North Africa have speeded up this process in a way to engulf Syria, or at least to support a regime change.”


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US Congressional Delegation Press Conference

The US Senate delegation to Halifax fielded questions from reporters, opining on topics ranging from the escalating crisis in Gaza and the bloodshed in Syria to climate change.Senator John McCain called on President Obama to institute a no-fly zone over Syria to help oust Bashar Assada proposal that Senator Mark Udall said deserved serious consideration.

On the Panel

John McCain
Senator from Arizona, United States Senate

Mark Udall

Barbara Mikulski
Senator, United States

John Barrasso
Senator from Wyoming, United States Senate


John McCain (R-AZ), Senator, United States

“Tension in Gaza has clearly reached crisis proportions. We believe and hope the US will be actively involved in the efforts to diffuse this very serious situation.”

“My view is unless something changes in the dynamic in Syria, its very likely this conflict will be extended for a long period of time, given the Iranian involvement, Russian arms and continued recalcitrance of Bashar Assad.”

“The American people would not support ground troops in Syria. So that cannot be an option under any consideration anywhere, in my view. Americans are war weary.”

Mark Udall (D-CO), Senator, United States

“The no-fly zone proposal is worthy of some deep and thoughtful consideration. The longer this conflict continues, the more dangerous it is for the region.”

“Now that our elections are over, I urge the Administration to consider every option. The status quo [in Syria] is not acceptable.”

“We are all urging restraint [in Gaza], but at the same time we believe Israel has a right to defend itself.”

Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Senator, United States

“Climate change is a big deal and the American people are growing to that realization.”

“It will affect our food supply in generations ahead, which could lead to massive population unrest, instability, migrations of people and so on.”

John Barrasso (R-WY), Senator, United States

“Anything we do has to be aimed at making energy as clean as we can, as fast as we can, but that [still] doesnt raise the cost for families who need energy and for businesses who need energy.”


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Plenary 3: Mischief or Miscalculation? China and the Rise of Confusion-ism

Over the last decade Western countries have begun worryingand in some cases panickingabout the rapid ascent of China as a world power. Are we truly on the verge of a radical shift in the power of balance, or do we need to re-evaluate the assumptions underlying that argument? Whatever the answer, its worth examining how exactly China will exercise its growing powerthrough cyber warfare, traditional military strength, and growing economic influence. In other words, what exactly does China want?

On the Panel

Kazuyuki Yamuzaki
Ambassador for Policy Planning and International Security Policy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan

M.J. Akbar
National Spokesperson, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)

James N. Miller
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, US Department of Defense

Steve Clemons
Washington Editor-at-Large, The Atlantic and Editor-in-Chief AtlanticLIVE & QuartzLIVE

Paul Maddison
Commander Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Canadian Navy

Hot Topics

Is the US debt a liability or an asset? Pundits and policymakers often wring their hands over the trillion-plus dollars of US debt owned by China. But does that very same debt make America too big to fail in the global economy? In other words, can the US use its debt as leverage to engage other powers?

Can Chinas technological advancement speed up democratization? While we tend to focus on Chinas technological prowess as a threatwhether through economic competition or cyber-warfareit can also serve to provide a more open, engaged citizenry. Will Chinas technology ultimately create a more open society?

Can we build more successful communication bridges with China? Many diplomatic dilemmas with China seem to be a result of miscommunication, or a lack of communication. As Chinas power rises, communication will be key in preventing an adversarial relationship with the West.


Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison, Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy

“China is emerging as a global power. And its engine of global power is its economy. Its beginning to shift its internal focus to a more maritime-focused [economy]. Its in our interest in Canada to enable China as it emerges as part of the globalized system, and to make it betteras opposed to pushing it to a point of instability, which would be very adverse to the flow of trade.”

James Miller, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, United States Department of Defense

“At the end of the day we need to have the capacity for power projection. Thats a global capability, but irrespective of decisions that are made by other powers we want to sustain our presence in the Asia Pacific, and the same is true around the globe.”

Mobashar Jawed Akbar, Editorial Director, India Today

“The essential question is not of domination or respect. Its about whether the equilibrium will be static or dynamic.”

“The great difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is accountabilityChina is a successful nation, but it is not a modern nation.”

Kazuyuki Yamazaki, Ambassador for Policy Planning and International Security Policy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan

“We would like to see Chinas development as a chance, not as a threat.”


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Plenary 4: The Good Guys? The Special Burden of Democratic Nations

Recent events in the Middle East and Africa have given a new urgency to the age-old question: What responsibility do democratic nations have to promote democracy and prevent bloodshed around the world? How will the rise of democracies like Brazil, Turkey and India change this conversation? Policymakers and journalists convened in this panel to cast new light on these questions and discuss how effective international institutions can be in resolving such conflicts.

On the Panel

Peter MacKay
Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Department of Justice, Canada

John McCain
Senator from Arizona, United States Senate

Josef Joffe
Editor, Die Zeit

Juan Carlos Pinzón Bueno
Minister of National Defense, Colombia

Kathleen Koch
Author, Journalist, and Founder of LeadersLink

Hot Topics

Are our interests the same as our values? Some in the West believe its always in our national interest to spread democratic values. There are cases, however, in which spreading those values might cost us blood and treasure for benefits that seem intangible at best. Are our values and interests the same? And which wins out when theyre in conflict?

Can the US spread democracy by leading from behind? Many Americans seem wary of trying to put out fires across the Middle East, Africa and beyond. If America scales back its military and humanitarian activities, will another country step up to take the reins? Will we finish what we start? After a decade of war, Western powers are hesitant to commit ground forces for an extended period of time. But is it possible to find a sustainable solution to conflicts like the one in Syria, if were not willing to stick around and defend those we support?


John McCain, Senator, United States

“Russia should be called upon to step up and belly up; to stop supporting the Syrian regime and start supporting UN Security Council resolutions.”

“We cant right every wrong, or put out every fire. But where we can, we should. Because its in our interest to see countries develop, to have a chance at democracy and freedom and all the things weve stood for in our country for over 200 years. Its very clear that the reset button [with Russia] has failed. It seems even more important that we have certain principles guiding usWe shouldnt pull out our pistol at every provocation.”

Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence, Canada

“There is a higher calling on democracies. We cant sit in splendid isolation in North America, or anywhere else. We must act as a community to stop the slaughter of innocent civilians.”

“The enthusiasm with which an entire generation of Afghan women have embraced education is awe-inspiring. But it has to be protected. Because people will get off the back of the helicopter, and theyll be slaughtered unless there are soldiers there to protect them. Democracy is founded on accountability and on peoples ability to change their government. That is the essential ingredient of democracy that we admire most.”

Josef Joffe, Publisher-Editor, Die Zeit

“We are being reminded once more to be careful what you wish for. We wanted democracy and we seem to be getting IslamizationSo what do we do until the good guys really become good guys? Until Islamists become good liberal democrats?”

“The one power that has carried the burden for the last 50 years wants to lead from behind and now exerts its power from above and from afar. If [the US] doesnt take on the responsibility, no one else will do it. The problem with these countries is theres a civil war there. In a civil war you dont necessarily divide bad guys from good guysIf you go in, you have to be ready to stay and protect those whom you help.”


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Plenary 5: American Global Leadership After the Election

America remains the post powerful military and diplomatic power in the world.Yet questions remain about the role the country can (and wants to) play in the coming years.How will the economic crisis affect Americas global impact?After a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, how much political will remains in the United States to shoulder a global peacekeeping burden?Leading policymakers from the trans-Atlantic community and Middle East discussed possible answers to these questions in the context of the recent Presidential election.

On the Panel

Shlomo Avineri
Professor of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Carla Anne Robbins
Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

Pauline Neville-Jones
Chairman, Cyber Security Advisory Panel to the Bank of England

Mark Udall

Jonathan Tepperman
Managing Editor, Foreign Affairs

Hot Topics

Will a recovering economy boost Americas global leadership? As the United States has struggled to emerge from the Great Recession, weve seen louder calls for nation building at home instead of engagement abroad. If the US economy picks up steam in the next few years, will we see a re-emergence of Americas global supremacy?

Are Americas foes underestimating American resolve? Adversaries may have been lulled into complacency by Americas recent retrenchment. But will leaders in Tehran, for example, be unpleasantly surprised by the USs willingness to re-engage if pushed to the brink?

Will the US get burned by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Over the last 40 years, American presidents have spent political capital in failed attempts to achieve Middle East peace. Will Obama pursue this in his second term? And if he does, will he suffer the same setbacks as many of his predecessors?


Mark Udall, Senator, United States

“If you think about what weve faced economically over these last few yearswe have still stayed engaged during whats been called the Great Recession. Given all the pressure on us domesticallythat weve stayed on the world stage and led in some new and creative ways that speaks volumes about our intentions to stay engaged.”

“The real strength of America is every culture, religion, and race is represented among our 300 million people. So by definition we are outward looking. For those reasons, I know America will stay fully engaged.”

“In a unipoloar or bipolar world, it was easier to toe the line and stand together as Americans. But now theres not one strategy we can agree on for those variety of threats.”

“If were a family of nations, we dont want to be the patriarch; we want to be the big brother.”

Pauline Neville-Jones,Patron to Cyber Security Challenge and Special Government Representative to Business on Cyber Security, House of Lords, United Kingdom

“My biggest wish for American leadership is that Americans get their debt down. Its not just the potential issue of the leverage it gives China, which I think it does. I think it has just as much to do with how the debt drags down American potential growth rates.”

“One thing thats striking to a Brit is the danger signals in the United States that we saw in Great Britain a half century ago. A bit too much complacency, a bit of overreach, and a lack of focus.”

“We spend millions and trillions on military intervention when a relatively small amount [non-militarily] would do a lot of good in these countries over the long term.”

Shlomo Avineri.Professor of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

“There is a gap between [Obamas] wonderful and lofty rhetoric and the reality. He will have to come down from that rhetoric and deliver.”

“The United States is number 1. But to stay number 1, it needs allies and credibility among those allies.”

“You can bring a reluctant horse to the water, but you cant make it drink. You might be able to get it to sign a piece of paper.”

Carla Robbins,Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

“Dont underestimate the American public. As much as people want to retrench, theyre aware of the world and dont want to give up their leadership role. They know the rest of the world isnt going to forget about America, either.”

“The Obama Administration made a mistake when they talked about leading from behind. They should be talking about leveragingThe US can leverage itself by working with other countries, but ultimately we are the indispensable nation.”


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Plenary 6: North America Off Foreign Oil and its Impacts Everywhere Else

The recent discovery of new energy sources in North America and elsewhere could re-define the debate about energy independence. Traditionally oil-rich countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia could find themselves with significantly less economic and geopolitical leverage.Yet the prospect of true energy independence for the Western world also raises new questions about global interconnectedness and engagement: Would the West be tempted to turn inwards and become more isolationist?

On the Panel

Alison M. Redford
Premier, Alberta Progressive Conservative Party

Fabrice Pothier
Senior Associate, Rasmussen Global

John Barrasso
Senator from Wyoming, United States Senate

Tom Clark
Chief Political Correspondent, Global News and Host, The West Block with Tom Clark

Hot Topics

Will energy independence change US aspirations around the world? If the US were to become energy self-sufficient, the country would have less economic incentive to engage in the Middle East. But would we really see the US retrench from the region, or instead would its influence subtly shift to a less direct approach?

Does the US hope to control the global energy market? Saudi Arabia can manipulate its oil reserves to change the price of a barrel. Does the United States hope to play a similarly strategic role, or does it merely want to become self-sufficient?

How can we balance the environmental impact of our energy needs? Coal-fired power plants emit greenhouse gases, and oil drilling carries its own risks. Whats an acceptable amount of risk to take on, in order to fulfill our economic and energy demands?


Alison Redford, Premier, Alberta

“In everything were doing for economic development, we have to acknowledge it has some kind of environmental impact. We might as well admit that, and then figure out how to manage it.”

“North America is energy rich in an increasingly energy thirsty world.”

Fabrice Pothier, Director of Policy Planning, NATO

“We are seeing a great energy pivot. The US will become energy self-sufficient, but that doesnt necessarily mean the US will disengageThe US is about keeping key regions like the Gulf open for business.”

“Is that a responsibility the US wants to carry? To set the global oil price? I think its pretty clear the US will be energy self-sufficient. But its not given that the US can be an energy power in the traditional sense of the term.”

John Barrasso, Senator, United States

“Thats what people call me about: They dont want to know about how many barrels are made where. They want to know about the price.”

“There is a tradeoff between climate change policies, and competitiveness.”

“It will say a lot about the presidentnow that the election is over, hes wonwe now need to move forward in dealing with our energy issues.”


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Sunday, November 18

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Plenary 7: Is Afghanistan Pakistan’s Problem? (Or Vice Versa?)

After a decade of war in Afghanistan and a seemingly endless search for Osama bin Laden, the terrorist kingpin was finally found—in Pakistan. The inability of Pakistan to police extremists inside its own borders raises troubling questions about a country that US officials would still like to consider an ally in the war on terrorism. Can we ever consider Afghanistan stable, if it has an unstable relationship with Pakistan?

On the Panel

Saad Mohseni
Chairman and CEO, Moby Group

Ahmed Rashid
Journalist, Pakistan

Abdul Rahim Wardak
Senior Defense Advisor and Former Defense Minister, Afghanistan

Amrullah Saleh
Former Intelligence Chief, Afghanistan

Elise Labott
Foreign Affairs Reporter, CNN

Hot Topics

Transparency and legitimacy in Afghanistan: After years of corruption and an election widely considered questionable, what must the Afghan government due to sustain the legitimacy of the state? To many, this boils down to transparency. Specifically, the next election must be seen as fair and free, or the country could face significant unrest.

How can both countries meet the aspirations of their youth? Both Afghanistan and Pakistan have young, growing populations whose hopes transcend the conflicts embroiling both nations. Can Afghanistan sustain a modern education system and economic opportunity for its young people? Can Pakistan provide an alternative to radical madrasas?

Who are the Taliban and what do they want? Should we consider the Taliban an independent Islamic fundamentalist group, or a branch of the Pakistan military? We must answer this question before determining the best way to either defeat or negotiate a truce with the Taliban.


General Abdul Rahim Wardak, Senior Defense Adviser and Former Minister of Defense, Afghanistan

“There is no doubt that Pakistan has a very important role to play. They can play it by addressing the sanctuaries; they can help to use their influence for peace and re-integration; and they can also can fulfill it by having a sincere and earnest cooperation with the Afghans, so we can help each other interfere with terrorist communications, command and control, their planning and operations, their flow of funding, weapons procurements and also capturing their senior leadership.”

“I think we have reached a defining and critical junction in our endeavor. The process of transition which the Afghans have to defend is their historic responsibility to restore and secure their country…The only sustainable way to secure Afghanistan is to enable the Afghans themselves.”

“If the level of violence comes down, if the peace and integration become successful, and the Afghan forces are supported and given what is required, there is no doubt this campaign will conclude successfully.”

Amrullah Saleh, Former Intelligence Chief, Afghanistan

“Please do not say [the violence] is because of Afghan tribalism, and the fever of violence in Afghan blood. No, we want life. A very civil, normal life. But we are in a very bad neighborhood. A country to our south promotes Sunni extremism, and a country to the west supports Shiite extremism. And in the middle, we are like an asphalt flower trying to survive.”

“If we can have a degree of transparency in the next election, that will ensure legitimacy for the state and the government, and it will not decrease the motivation of the National Security Forces to fight.”

“We have to be very honest in assessing Pakistan. Is it an ally, or is it a hostile state? What do they want? Answering that question will have a profound effect on the future of Pakistan.”

“We have to change our narrative of reconciliation. An easy peace is a dream, like frying snowballs.”

Ahmed Rashid, Journalist and Author, Pakistan

“I think the present US and NATO strategy is deeply flawed. They’re focusing on the military transition, and I have no doubt that will work out all right. But the real issue at stake is the political transition. The elections coming up in 2014—how much leverage or pressure can the West bring to bear to ensure those elections are free and fair? If there’s another rigged election, Afghanistan very well could fall apart. We could face a civil war or a crisis that we’ve never faced before.”

“In light of this very bleak picture, how do we turn the situation around? I think what is needed is a much more transparent policy, first from the Western community…that there is a time limit to what you’ll put up with.”

“Young people want a political party in Pakistan that reflects their aspirations. And unfortunately we don’t have one.”

“If there is a terrorist attack that is traced back to the tribal areas of Pakistan, it’s going to spell real misery for Pakistan as far as the international community is concerned.”

Saad Mohseni, Chairman and CEO, Moby Group

“If neglected, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be the world’s problem in the years ahead…collectively we’ll have half a billion people in this very small area between South Asia and the Middle East. With the nuclear weapons, the drugs, and the terrorism, this area cannot be neglected.”

“The paste is out of the tube. There’s no going back. Afghanistan has changed dramatically. We have a population with a median age of 17. They have aspirations. They want the country to change for the better.”


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Plenary 8: Automated or Automatic? Cyber, Drones and the Consequences of Modern Warfare

Modern warfare is advancing faster than our ethical framework can keep up with it. This leaves us struggling to make sense of a new kind of war, in which unmanned drones can hit targets from miles away, and a computer virus can do as much damage to a nation’s infrastructure as a cruise missile. How can we adjust the rules of war—and our sense of right and wrong—to account for these new technologies?

On the Panel

Victor Toews

Jean-Paul Paloméros
Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Mohammed Abulahoum
Head, Justice and Building Party, Yemen

Elisa Massimino
President and CEO, Human Rights First

Rafal Rohozinski
Principal and CEO, The SecDev Group

Jeanne Meserve
Senior Fellow, Homeland Security Policy Institute, George Washington University

Hot Topics

Are we over-relying on technology? Unmanned drones provide a plethora of advantages on the battlefield. But at the end of the day, drones are only a tactic, not a strategy. Do we run the risk of using technology’s advantages as a crutch that prevents us from developing a meaningful strategy?

In cyberspace, what amounts to an act of war? If a cyber-attack disables infrastructure or steals intellectual property, how is that different than a conventional military attack? We must develop clear standards about the proportionality of response to a non-conventional attack.

Should the government start viewing cyberspace as a battlefield? Governments take authority over land, air, space and sea. But we still tend to view cyberspace as a commodity. Are we essentially ceding ground to potential enemies by not more vigilantly patrolling cyberspace?


Jean-Paul Paloméros, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, NATO

“Men and women are really our force multipliers now, but they rely on information.”

“Drones require a lot of good skilled individuals just to use them. Somewhere in the loop there is a man, a skill, a commander, and many more people than is the case to operate a single system.”

“As we come into the information sphere we must take into account not only the systems, but the users and providers. Users are skilled people who are able to understand information, put it in context and transform information into intelligence. Only if we master information can we properly inform the decision-making process.”

“We shouldn’t overreact, and we must remind ourselves that cyber security is first and foremost the responsibility of each nation. We have an alliance responsible for global defense, but each nation is responsible for its own security.”

Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety, Public Safety Canada

“The evolution of the concerns happens so quickly—and the bombing of the Twin Towers is an example. We never even thought of that possibility. And I think the same is true in the cyber world.”

“We also have to look at where the threat is emanating from. The situation in Lebanon, where Lebanon may not actually control areas, how fair would it be to retaliate against a city or community in Lebanon when it may be only a criminal act. But in situations where the central government has fuller control, there is responsibility for one country to approach another country and say there is a threat emanating from within your borders, and you have responsibility for determining that.”

“This conversation about drones, I don’t see the legal or moral implications as different than a manned aircraft. There is still damage done with a manned aircraft. I simply see the drone as a technological development, but it doesn’t relieve us of any moral or legal responsibilities.”

Rafal Rohozinski, Principal and Chief Executive Officer, The SecDev Group

“Do we currently have situational awareness in cyberspace the way we do in air, land, sea and space? The answer is no.”

“I think we have to recognize that secrecy as part of military operations is a necessity. Political decision-making about the goals of those operations—that requires transparency.”

“The ability to generate data from vast distributed services, to aggregate and correlate and share it effectively was a huge advancement. It was responsible for interrupting IED networks in Iraq before they could form.”

Elisa Massimino, President and Chief Executive Officer, Human Rights First

“Because the technology is advancing so quickly, this is technology the bad guys will have very, very soon. So we need to be very clear on what we consider a threshold for retaliation.”

“One of the questions people ask in the context of a cyber attack is, can this be an act of war that triggers the laws of war or self-defense? I think it’s a pretty clear answer: It does.”

“Drones in a way are like a lawn mower. You have to keep using it or your grass keeps growing. It’s a tactic, not a strategy.”

“Keep the human judgment in the loop. All of our rules depend on having accountability. You’re not going to blame Dave the Computer.”

Mohammed Abu Lahoum, Head, Justice and Building Party, Yemen

“What worries us most is that collateral damage caused can be a serious problem. Use the drone but don’t overuse it…But I would still prefer to see drones than boots on the ground.”

“Intelligence has to be very precise and very accurate. You don’t just go in and strike in an area where you’d create more mess than you’re eliminating.”


Session Photos

Session Videos

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Closing Remarks

November 18th marked the closing of the 4th Halifax International Security Forum, a community for thoughtful and engaged decision-makers from governments, militaries, business, academia, and the media, who work together to meet emerging threats in a changing world.

Convened in Halifax, Nova Scotia every year, the Forum provides an unscripted, discussion-based atmosphere. This year, the Forum hosted 300 leaders from 50 countries who participated in 32 panels, dinners and night owl discussions, covering dozens of topics from Syria and Gaza to energy independence and cyber attacks.

In their closing remarks, Canadian Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay and Halifax International Security Forum President Peter Van Praagh reflected on the weekend’s conversations, the importance of the Forum in the foreign policy community, and how the discussions at Halifax can lead to action moving forward.

On the Panel


Peter Van Praagh Quotes

“Halifax is not about the talk: It’s about the relationships that are fostered and strengthened; the ideas that are articulated, and challenged; the insights and information that inform real decisions made by leaders on the front lines, around the world.”

“It is our hope that the few days spent together here will inspire and inform leaders of democratic nations to work together, in new and better ways, to achieve our mutual goal of a safer world.”

Minister Peter MacKay Quotes

“Our work, and your commitment to this cause, is critically important. This Forum affects the lives of our citizens and our leaders. And it holds the potential to make those lives better. That, in essence, is really why we are gathered here.”

“Our ability to speak openly about these issues, and to challenge one another, is part of a process that can lead us towards practical solutions to the challenges we face.”

“Ours is a Forum that is about going global but remembering that there are real consequences to our theories and practices. We are a community charged with examining the linkages between problems in order to find solutions.”

“Throughout the entire weekend, we’ve questioned our assumptions, challenged conventional thinking, pushed the debate on key security and defence issues, and as we leave here today, I thank you for challenging yourselves—and putting yourselves out there—in order to better our community.”

Session Photos

Closing Press Conference

As the 4th annual Halifax International Security Forum drew to a close, Canadian Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay spoke to the press about the importance of the Forum, and fielded questions from reporters on Canada’s national defense and role in conflicts around the world. Minister MacKay sounded an optimistic note on the future of Afghanistan, where Canadian troops will withdraw by 2014, but noted that Pakistan must play a more constructive role in securing the transition to democracy.

Quotes from the press conference are excerpted below.


Minister Peter MacKay Quotes

“There is an incredible synergy when people come to Halifax…Something magical happens. It’s really the outcomes and the takeaways from Halifax that we’re concerned with. We want this dialogue to continue. We want these conversations to matter.”

“[Halifax is about] bringing people together, making this community feel safer—and at the end of the day we all hope some of the solutions that come from this dialogue and the ones that follow will help de-escalate the violence that is raging in Syria and in Gaza. That is what is at state and that is what we’re addressing here at Halifax.”

“The international community is committed beyond 2014, not with troops per se, but with resources. Canada is certainly there among those countries.”

“There are things we can and things we can’t control. Much of the fate of Afghanistan we know is tied to Pakistan, and there were a number of quite poignant but provocative points made [at the Forum] about Pakistan’s commitment to a safe and secure Afghanistan. Let me be clear: We need Pakistan’s unequivocal support for that effort, for their neighbor. And thus far that has not been the case.”

“[The 2014 election] is an opportunity for Afghans to express themselves, and we need to devote our attention to ensuring that it is a free and fair election, and then reassuring the people of Afghanistan that we will continue to work with them.”

“Countries like Russia could be far more proactive and exert significant influence and use its weight with the Assad regime to end the violence. We can’t have Russia on the sidelines of a country coming apart at the seams.”

“While drones don’t have pilots, they play a very important role for the Canadian Air Force, and I think they’re going to play an even bigger role.”

Session Photos