Opening Remarks from Peter Van Praagh, President, Halifax International Security Forum - Halifax
Opening Remarks from Peter Van Praagh, President, Halifax International Security Forum
November 16, 2018

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Senator John McCain was an American Hero for the World.

It was our honor to welcome him here to Halifax International Security Forum every year.

We will miss him very much.

This year, our honor is to welcome Mrs. Cindy McCain, who has been with us here before, and who tomorrow morning will be awarding the inaugural John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service.

Mrs. McCain, welcome.

Ministers, Members of Parliament, Members of the Congressional Delegation, Distinguished Officers,

Ladies and Gentlemen, colleagues and friends:

Welcome to Halifax.

For those of you who have been here before, you know that this is the part of Halifax International Security Forum where I thank our partners, say a few words about how things will work over the weekend and, sometimes comment a little bit about the state of the world.

One regular and prominent participant told me recently that he looks forward to my opening remarks from the podium as an annual scolding.  I will do my best not to disappoint.

Of course, here at Halifax, we work to project today’s issues into the new year to give you, policy-makers and decision-makers, the information and the insights you need to make good decisions, to make good policy.

And you will be hearing from many people from this stage much better equipped than I to do just that.

But standing here in November 2018, it is impossible not to reflect that one hundred years ago today, the world was celebrating the end of the Great War:  The War to End All Wars.

After such a brutal 4 years, it was, of course, natural to have a strong sense of optimism.  The optimism must have been palpable.

Tragically, as we all now know, the celebrations, the optimism, did not last.  The peace that followed became, as historian David Fromkin put it, the “Peace to End All Peace.”

Here at Halifax, our mission is to strengthen strategic cooperation among the world’s democracies.  It is a mission that Senator John McCain always considered fundamental.

When we began this project 10 years ago, aside from Senator John McCain and a small handful of others, there was not great understanding why the world needed another security conference.  And why would the world need a security conference committed to democracy?

In November 2009, when Halifax began, it was after 9/11, after setbacks in Afghanistan and Iraq, after the financial crisis began.

But:  there was a young and dynamic president still-freshly installed in the White House.

There was a palpable sense of optimism then, too.

In the two decades that followed the end of World War 1, many factors contributed to the collapse of peace and to the rise of both Communism and Fascism.

But one remarkable and disturbing similarity with the world one hundred years ago and the world we see around us today, was the steady but certain alienation of the people from the establishments that led them.  People left the center ground and went to find the extremes.  The extremes then became the center ground.

Today, it is not enough to condemn populists as if they have arisen out of a vacuum.

The challenge is to properly identify those issues that allow populists to thrive and for us to address those issues head on.

Only this can push the populists back into the shadows where they belong.

In our very first panel today, and throughout this weekend, you will hear much about that subject and all that follows from it.  Please don’t hesitate to make your own contributions to this most urgent of topics.

Democracy is an eternal work in progress. Americans are always searching for, “a more perfect union.”

In all of our democracies, there is work to do.

There are conferences in Europe and in Asia that attract everyone from every country as if democracies and dictatorships were equals.

Of course I am biased in my own cause, but Halifax International Security Forum is different.

At Halifax, we know what it is that we aim to secure.

We are certain when we say that democracies and dictatorships are not equal.  That is what makes us different.

We say clearly here at Halifax: democracies are better.

To repeat and underline, Halifax was specifically designed to strengthen strategic cooperation among the world’s democracies.  And for the past 10 years, that is what we’ve been working toward.

As well as purpose, we need a leader.  As the world’s most powerful democracy, indeed, the world’s most powerful country, it is natural to look to the United States for responsive, responsible leadership.

I am grateful to Senator Jeanne Shaheen who has been committed to Halifax and its mission.  Tonight we are proud to honor Senator Shaheen with our annual Builders Award.

Senator Shaheen is joined by Senator Thom Tillis who together, lead this weekend’s congressional delegation.  Senator Kaine, Senator Fischer, Senator Coons: welcome back.

Senator Boozman, Senator Rounds, Senator Wicker: welcome, thank you for coming.

I am grateful that so many American political leaders are with us today.  Together with American military leaders, and American experts joining this meeting, you are signaling to the world, if there was any doubt, that America continues to be up to the task.

In a moment, you will hear from the Hon. Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s Minister of National Defence and your host for the weekend.

But quickly, as promised, I do want to explain how it works here at Halifax International Security Forum.

You will find that the agenda is most importantly, relevant.  And I want to thank our Agenda Working Group who worked with me during the summer to ensure all major issues were addressed.

This program is not only beautiful.  In this program, you will find short opinion essays by distinguished authors—many of whom join us this weekend.  They set the stage for the plenary panels.  They are meant to start the conversation and without exception, they are excellent.  Please take time to read them.

At this point in my remarks I want to thank the people who make this weekend work.  The true secret of our success is this gorgeous venue and the warmth of the people who work here.

We also have many local volunteers from the community.  They are identifiable by their white lanyards and I know are looking forward to helping you.

A word now about our partners:

Bill McCaffrey, founder of Calgary-based MEG Energy, founded the Halifax Canada Club 8 years ago to ensure that industry’s ideas for international security are included in the conversations here at Halifax.  Bill, welcome back. Thank you.

Thank you also Nancy Southern, CEO of ATCO for your unwavering support.  Nancy, welcome back.

Mr. Ahmet Çalik, Chairman of Istanbul, Turkey-based Calik Holding and Mr. Savas Erdem, CEO of Ankara, Turkey-based OYAK. Gentlemen, welcome – Hos Geldiniz.

Mr. Marc Allen, President of Boeing International, welcome back Marc.  I look forward to your panel this afternoon.

Together, the Halifax Canada Club ensures that the work we do here this weekend, and throughout the year, will continue.  In short, without them, there would be no Halifax International Security Forum.

Marc, Savas, Ahmet, Nancy, Bill, and senior members of their teams will be identified this weekend by their gold lobster lapel pin:  when you have a chance, please thank them for their very generous support.

Like this:  Thank you for your very generous support.

Thank you also to NATO.  Your support since the beginning has been fundamental and I’m glad to have Deputy Secretary General Rose Goettemoeller with us this weekend.  Welcome back.

Thank you Foreign Affairs Magazine, Foreign Policy Magazine, and new this year, Politico, our media partners.

Thank you to United Technologies, CAE, Gartner, Ipsos and DLA Piper.

I thank members of our board of directors for their leadership and for being with us this weekend, Jonathan Weisstub, Jonathan Tepperman, Ahmet Tacyildiz, Dean Fealk.  They are strong leaders and my true partners in this endeavor.

Thank you to the Government of Canada, the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Forces and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, ACOA, for your enthusiastic support.  Your agencies have believed in what we do since the beginning and we are very grateful.

Specifically, I thank Minister Sajjan for your leadership and your commitment.

General Vance, Chief of Canada’s Defence Staff, thank you for your confidence in us, too.

As well, for everyone’s situational awareness, you need to know that I’ve given my word to General Vance that the Forum will run on time this weekend.  That means:  on time.  General, I intend to keep my word.

I am proud to announce that with Minister Sajjan’s and General Vance’s strong encouragement and support, we have with us the first class of the Halifax Peace With Women Fellowship.  Senior officers from Canada, Albania, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Germany and the United States are concluding their 3-week study-tour with us at the Forum this weekend.  You will hear more about the Fellowship at dinner tonight.

Fellows:  Welcome to Halifax.

Of course, none of this would be possible without you, our participants.  Thank you for making the trip.

And I make special reference also to our delegation from the German Bundestag, and legislative leaders of the NATO parliamentary assembly that is meeting next door this weekend.

Minister Akar of Turkey, welcome back.

And General Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States of America, welcome for the very first time.

Our comms team tells me that I have to mention our hashtag.

Please use social media to convey your thoughts throughout our on-the-record sessions.  Our hashtag is #HISF2018.

The young men and women who fought and died in World War One depended on those who survived to keep the peace they had fought for.

The young men and women who fought and died in war far away since then, including Afghanistan, including Iraq, including in Peacekeeping missions everywhere have a right to know that in gatherings such as these, we are doing everything we can to make their sacrifice worthwhile, and our collective future secure.

Every school girl and boy in Canada learns the following lines that were written on the front lines of the battle field of World War 1 by Canadian Army Lieutenant Colonel John McRae:

In Flanders Fields the Poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below. 

We are the Dead.  Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields. 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Today you will have received a Waterman pen in your welcome package.  This iconic Waterman pen is the same Waterman pen that was used to sign the Armistice in November one hundred years ago.

This pen, this torch, is for ideas.

Use this pen this weekend and beyond.  Use this pen wisely.

To protect democracy, pass this pen forward to your children and grandchildren.

One hundred years from now, we want them to be proud of what we did here today.

Ladies and Gentleman, thank you for your commitment.

It is now my great pleasure to welcome Canada’s Minister of National Defence and your host for the weekend, the Honourable Harjit Sajjan.