Homeland Security Network Blog
The Progress Of Our Arms
The Progress Of Our Arms
The Halifax International Security Forum in wartime
The world’s a mess. Vladimir Putin still has no better idea than to keep grinding Russia’s army into Ukraine. North Korea has launched more than 30 missiles in November alone. Xi Jinping has consolidated his flinty hold on power in China. Europe is heading for a cold winter, disease stalks the world, food and energy are ever harder to find and deploy. So the big surprise at this weekend’s Halifax International Security Forum was the sound — tenuous, never dominant — of hope.
I don’t want to overstate this. I know any hint of optimism might sound jarring in a gathering of soldiers, strategists, think tankers and academics while brutal war continues in the heart of Europe. But a thread connecting many discussions at this most urgent edition of a conference that has been taking place annually since 2009 was that as bad as things are, they could easily have been worse. And that better days may yet be possible. Once I heard that optimistic note, like a countermelody to a dirge, it was hard to get it out of my head. And the note was rung early, by the conference’s founder, in his welcoming remarks to the delegates.
Peter Van Praagh has built something sturdy and useful in Halifax. Van Praagh is a former policy advisor to Peter MacKay, who was minister of national defence in the Harper Conservative government, and who was so impressed by a visit to a security conference across the ocean that he wanted to build one closer to home. Van Praagh quickly built Halifax into an important stop on the diplomatic circuit, based largely on his success in getting substantial numbers of high-ranking American senators and members of the House of Representatives to commute north every year from Washington for the weekend. I’ve been to Halifax three times before and wrote about it here, here and here.
It would be easy to overlook the organizer’s opening remarks, given the extraordinary personalities who spoke after, including the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, on his first visit to Canada, and — in a video message from Kyiv — Volodymyr Zelensky. But I thought Van Praagh captured the complexity of the moment well in his opening speech on Friday.
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