Halifax Security Forum, Worthy Investment


Bringing together senior officials from mostly democratic nations around the world to freely discuss problems, share knowledge and debate possible responses to global security challenges, from Ukraine to the Middle East, is clearly a good idea.

In fact, if an event like this didn’t already exist, reasonable people in democratic countries would no doubt support launching this type of annual get-together.

Just such a conference, however, does exist. The Halifax International Security Forum (HISF), which holds its sixth annual November sessions in Nova Scotia’s capital city this weekend, has become — since first meeting here in 2009 — one of only a handful of must-attend global security events on the international calendar.

The growing importance of the Halifax security summit is reflected by the calibre of those who attend. This year, that includes senior defence ministry officials from many countries, academic experts, business people, representatives of organizations and publications focused on international security issues, as well as U.S. Congressional members and seven four-star U.S. generals.

Many senior Canadian officials are also involved, including Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Justice Minister Peter MacKay.

Sessions on the agenda this year include the threat posed by Iran, confronting ISIL, clashing visions for Hong Kong and disputes over the Arctic.

Peter Van Praagh, president of the Washington, D.C.-based HISF, told our editorial board this week that one major value of the forum comes from the personal connections made between participants from different nations and different backgrounds.

For example, he said, two people who first met at a Halifax security forum dinner later jointly co-ordinated the rescue of a container ship carrying hazardous materials in danger of sinking off the Korean peninsula in 2011. Their personal connection made for a far swifter response, welcome in the circumstances, said Mr. Van Praagh.

Another example, said Mr. Van Praagh, comes from 2009, when an Israeli panelist’s observations on airport security at the Halifax forum led the U.S. government to later overhaul its own security system.

Mr. Van Praagh also credited Halifax’s atmosphere — friendly, relaxed and, when delegates spoke to Haligonians, informed and interested — as a key ingredient for the event’s success.

Certainly, the security forum — with 300 delegates and support staffs many times larger needing places to eat and stay — provides an annual economic shot in the arm for the city and introduces Halifax, and Nova Scotia, to many of these visitors for the first time.

The forum has required federal funding for longer than its organizers had anticipated, but the cost of less than $10 million for the next five years — compared, for example, to estimates of $90 million for Canada’s current six-month mission targeting ISIS — is relatively modest.

The value, both for global security and for Halifax and the province, is well worth the investment.

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