Halifax International Security Forum
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Session Recaps


Friday, November 18

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Introductory Remarks

The 2016 Halifax International Security Forum kicked off with remarks by Peter Van Praagh, President of the Halifax International Security Forum, and The Hon. Harjit Sajjan, Canadian Minister of Defence, welcoming participants to Halifax and to the 2016 Forum.

On the Panel

Peter Van Praagh
President, Halifax International Security Forum

Harjit Singh Sajjan
Minister of National Defence, Department of National Defence, Canada

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Britain’s Place in the World

Sir Michael Fallon reflected on the Week of Remembrance, beginning his address with praise for Canada’s courage to fight for democratic values amidst the threats it faces from global extremism, Russian aggression, and rogue nations. In his call to make democracy great again, he argued that the strength of democracy lies in the will of the people. Affirming the importance of strengthening democracy, Defence Secretary Fallon noted that NATO also has a role to play, especially when it comes to ensuring that all members uphold their common commitment to defending democratic systems. In conclusion, Defence Secretary Fallon stated that Britain has a clear view of its place when it comes to standing up for democracy. As the world grows more complex and dangerous, Britain is ready to uphold its commitment by employing hard, soft, and smart power in order to maintain a safe and prosperous future for all. 

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Michael Fallon
Secretary of State for Defence, Ministry of Defence, United Kingdom

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The West Block

The opening panel discussion on Day 1 of the Forum was produced as part of Global News’ “The West Block,” hosted by Tom Clark. This session addressed the future of democracy, peace and conflict in an increasingly changing global political environment. The panelists focused on the importance of multilateralism, the dangers of viewing problems in isolation and the necessity of developing conflict prevention strategies before problems materialize. There was broad consensus among the panel of the imperative nature of this conversation in lieu of the recent US presidential election. Speakers weighed the wider implications of this shifting political environment on U.S.-Canadian relations, North-Atlantic cooperation, the West’s relationship with Russia, as well as the NATO alliance. The session concluded by considering the opportunity for constructive engagement and collaboration with Russia in Syria and in the Arctic.

On the Panel

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

Harjit Singh Sajjan
Minister of National Defence, Department of National Defence, Canada

Jonathan Vance
Chief of the Defence Staff, Canadian Armed Forces

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

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Plenary 1 - Make Democracy Great Again

The moderator, Jonathan Tepperman, framed the first plenary by asking whether 2016 can be considered as a year of democracy’s vindication or defeat. Speakers responded that the answer is much more complex. The viability of the Western democratic model is being challenged, but the feeling of disenfranchisement among segments of the population is part of a broader trend of alienation from liberalism – in both ideology and practice. The discussion that followed stressed the importance of politics transcending political parties and institutions in order to get closer to addressing the needs of the people. Read the transcript.

On the Panel

Shlomo Avineri
Professor of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Michael Fallon
Secretary of State for Defence, Ministry of Defence, United Kingdom

Jonathan Tepperman
Managing Editor, Foreign Affairs

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Saturday, November 19

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Plenary 2 - The Superpower’s Enduring Priorities: Trade, Justice and the American Way

The first discussion of Day Two focused on the uncertainty within the international defence community following the recent U.S. presidential election. Moderator Gideon Rose began the session by reminding panelists that the familiar world of mutually beneficial cooperation is being challenged. He stated that now more than ever, the conversations that take place in Halifax will be significant in predicting what happens next within the “global operating system,” a metaphor used by Admiral Harris. Speakers felt that while there was uncertainty, the threats to our security hadn’t changed in practice – yet. The discussion then continued to focus on the possible consequences of President-elect Trump’s victory. The panelists debated and mostly agreed that America’s allies have a collective responsibility in holding the new U.S. administration accountable for their future foreign policy decisions. Read the transcript.

On the Panel

Rosa Brooks
Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Graduate Programs, Georgetown University Law Center

Harry Harris
Commander, United States Pacific Command

Josef Joffe
Editor, Die Zeit

Gideon Rose
Editor, Foreign Affairs

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Plenary 3 - Great Continent, Great Responsibility: Finding China’s Role

Uncertainty continued as a theme in the discussion on China’s trajectory in establishing its global role in the world. Moderator Michael Auslin noted the timeliness of the conversation given that next year will mark the forty-fifth anniversary of President Nixon’s engagement with China. The panel debated the role of regional powers in the Indo-Pacific region, including India and Japan, and their relations with China. Given its influence in the region, India has increasingly had to navigate China as both a continental and maritime power on its borders. The panelists concluded the discussion by contemplating China’s ability to fit into the global world order moving forward and whether it is more likely that China will create its own version of a global operating system. Read the transcript.

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Plenary 4 - Because Syria: I’m Your Friendly Neighborhood Terrorist

Moderator Yalda Hakim opened up the plenary with a reminder of just how important the discussion on Syria was. She encouraged all participants to remember that cities like Aleppo continue to be subjected to bombardment. Ms. Hakim then asked the panelists to offer solutions that would end the suffering of civilians. Speakers strongly agreed that something must be done, beginning with addressing the root causes of conflict. The conversation concluded with the call for developing a much more comprehensive strategy that addresses the growing global network of terrorism. Read the transcript.

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Plenary 5 - NATO: Necessary

This panel discussed the necessity and relevance of NATO in light of the recent US presidential election campaign. Every speaker stressed that the commitment to the alliance will remain strong, but agreed there was a need for increase defence spending. The panel concluded that more – not less – NATO is needed as the world faces new and more dangerous threats. They also underlined the importance of upholding mutual obligations that extend beyond security in order to ensure stability – both among its member states and in the larger community. Read the transcript.

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Halifax Chat

This intimate conversation explored the checks and balances in the United States’ three branches of government – the executive, the legislative and the judicial – within the wider context of the recent presidential election. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Tom Barrasso (R-WY) agreed that there are ways for both Democrats and Republicans to work together to assist President-elect Trump in governing the country. Both stressed that cooperation between the two parties was even more critical when it comes to major pieces of legislation. Their discussion also addressed the importance of recognizing and respecting the election result as a display of what the American people want.

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Plenary 6 - Climate Security, Energy Security and the Politics of Slow Moving Threats

In the final Plenary session on Saturday, panellists were asked to reflect on climate change as not just an environmental threat, but an economic threat. Speakers agreed that there is a final opportunity in transitioning to a ’new energy economy’. The panel noted that President-elect Trump’s commitment to becoming a more fossil-focused country could actually take the U.S. backwards. Taylor Wilson noted that new energy sources have jump-started struggling economies in the past. Speakers concluded that climate change, rising water levels and natural disasters have the potential to become a major security in the medium term. They also agreed that if the U.S. walked away from the Paris agreement, it will be a massive blow to the planet. Read the transcript.

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Sunday, November 20

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Plenary 7 - Spies Love Us: Protecting Information in the Age of Openness

The first plenary of Day Three opened with a recognition of how significant it was that cyber security made it on the Forum’s agenda. The discussion focused on the need for critical and flexible infrastructure to address current security challenges, particularly those involving new cyber threats. Panelists agreed that we are moving into a world of artificial intelligence, where our increasingly interconnected society will require more and more security. Cyber threats involve a variety of state and non-state actors. This is why solutions need to be implemented through joint partnerships between the government and the private sector. At the end of the session, speakers reminded the audience that there is no one-size fits all approach to curbing cyber threats. We should aim for resilience, as opposed to achieving perfect security.  Read the transcript.

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Plenary 8 - Return of the Nation State

Moderator Kathleen Koch opened the final plenary session by posing a question about the recent rise of nationalist feelings and what it means for the rest of the world. Are countries beginning to turn inward? The debate focused on ways to achieve a balance between the need for national self-determination and the creation of state institutions. It is also vital to ensure good governance, regardless of geography. Speakers made a theoretical distinction between characteristics of patriotism and nationalism. They then applied that theory to case studies such as Russia, the United States, Israel, and Kurdistan. Read the transcript.

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