Hundreds of experts to attend defence and security conferences in Halifax this weekend

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, listens during the National Space Council meeting in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, June 18, 2018. The Canadian Press/AP, Susan Walsh

Hundreds of defence and security experts from around the world are expected to gather in Halifax this weekend to discuss everything from espionage and terrorism to Russian meddling and North Korea’s threat to world order.

The high-level discussions will be held at two separate conferences in the port city: the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the Halifax International Security Forum.

One highlight of the security forum will be an on-the-record chat Saturday with U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – the highest-ranking military officer in the United States and an adviser to President Donald Trump.

Peter Van Praagh, president of the Halifax International Security Forum, said Canada may have a small population but it punches above its weight when it comes to international affairs.

“The way Canada exerts its influence is to help make the world a safer place by inserting Canadian ideas into the world,” Van Praagh said in an interview Thursday.

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The forum, which is marking its tenth anniversary in Halifax, is expected to attract 300 delegates, including diplomats, scholars, U.S. senators, business leaders, military members and security analysts.

“The … forum has become not only a Canadian event, but it’s truly a global event … (And) it’s the only security event in the world that talks about democracy and protecting democracy,” Van Praagh said.

“So the Russians aren’t here, the Chinese aren’t here, the Iranians aren’t here. That means when the Americans walk in, or the Canadians … they don’t have to have a defensive posture or an offensive posture. We are here with like-minded countries.”

One of the plenary sessions on Saturday is called: “Beijing’s Cravings, Kremlin’s Gremlins: Freedom’s Foes.”

The conference will also hear from Gen. Jonathan Vance, Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff, Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, U.S. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, and Rose Gottemoeller, NATO’s deputy secretary-general.

As well, the conference will offer delegates an off-the-record session with Raed Al Saleh, co-founder of Syria Civil Defence, a group of volunteer rescue workers better known as the White Helmets.

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“They’ve saved countless number of people,” Van Praagh said. “And it’s important for policy-makers, Canadian policy-makers, American policy-makers, to hear first-hand some of the horrors that are going on.”

There will be more than 20 off-the-record sessions, which offer delegates a chance to engage in a more informal setting, Van Praagh said.

Meanwhile, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly will bring together politicians from the 29 NATO member countries, as well as delegates from partner countries to discuss international security issues.

The NATO conference will draft resolutions dealing with several hot-button topics, including Russian interference with democratic elections, and how terrorists use encrypted messages on the dark web.

Van Praagh said some NATO conference delegates, who are expected to include about 600 politicians, have expressed an interest in the security forum down the street.

“It’s not by chance that they’re here on the same weekend,” he said.

“This NATO Parliamentary Assembly chose Halifax this weekend precisely because of the people who would be at the Halifax International Security Forum … Some of our experts and speakers are going over to educate and discuss things with the legislators … while they’re in Halifax.”

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