Halifax Forum on #HISF2017

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The proceedings of the annual forum in Halifax (Canada) – an international security forum that has taken place each year since 2009 as a programme of the U.S. German Marshall Fund – took place on 17-19 November 2017.

Organised with the generous support of the host nation’s Defence Ministry, the international summit brought together 300 participants from 91 states. Academic experts in this field, political practitioners – former premiers or ministers from various states –, and high-ranking servicemen currently holding important offices debated various topics, from space warfare and its impact on global relations, to current crises – ranging from North Korea to Ukraine and Syria; from changes and trends in the global hierarchy of power – ranging from the U.S.’s dominant but apparently declining position –, to China’s exponential growth; from the issue of women’s equality and visibility, to the necessary ingredients of democracy today (among which education holds the prominent place) etc.

In the good tradition of organising such forums today, namely of representing a veritable laboratory of ideas and directions in the process of optimising international security, the works took place in panels in which renowned experts and political and military officials alike presented their points of view, followed by Q&A sessions, but also by the prior distribution of a set of “Halifax Papers” available on the internet. Among the “Halifax Papers” thus distributed in preparation of the debates, we cite those consecrated to the transition in the Mideast and to the regional transition from civil war to civil society; the evolution of the nuclear issue at global level; climate change; weaponization of capital: One Belt, One Road; how do we achieve rapprochement with Russia; the role of peace-keeping missions today.

In the same modern spirit of organising such forums of debate, the summit used the facilities made available by the digital era, from Twitter (#HISF2017) to the possibility of following the proceedings “live.” Basically, the digital era makes one a real-time participant to such summits, once exclusivist and with very low audience due to the shortcomings of the communications technology. To highlight the ideas that circulated on this occasion, we resort to the quotes posted on the Twitter account of the summit which, according to Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, was meant to promote “strategic cooperation among democracies” and consolidate “a modern vision of security.”

We point out, at first, an idea expressed on the last day of the summit by former Israeli Justice and Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni, immediately selected for posting on Twitter: “We need to confront these religious groups who are taking religion to a place of hatred.” An American participant commented: “Livni explicitly putting Jewish religious extremism in same category as Islamist extremism, something not often heard in US.” Also from the Middle East, what caught the eye was the statement made by M. Falah, head of foreign relations for the autonomous entity in Northern Iraq, which fears “that Iraq is not going to be the federal and democratic state we were promised… Iraq is going to become more Islamist… We are at the brink of war if the international community does not get seriously engaged.” Outlining the extremely volatile character of regional security in the short term, according to a tweet posted on the summit’s official account, “Turkey’s Gen. Hulusi Akar is unloading on the US for backing Kurdish ‘terrorists’ against ISIS. Calls YPG an arm of PKK w a convenient name change. (Nobody from Trump’s @DeptofDefense OSD or JCS is here to argue).”

From the U.S. however came the military official responsible for strategic forces, who made a statement that was immediately picked up by press agencies and became known in all diplomatic chancelleries: “The top U.S. nuclear commander says he would push back against President Trump if the president ordered a nuclear strike he believed to be ‘illegal.’” General Hyten, because he is the one concerned, immediately received replies: “If the President and his team determine its legal, would Stratcom refuse to carry out the order? Doubtful. The truth is that ‘legal’ is subjective and Hyten can’t stop Trump from using a nuke.”, including from ‘Daily Intelligence’ columnist Heather Hjurlburt: “u don’t get to determine legality. If POTUS acts within his authority, u either follow it or resign and face legal consequences.”

Of course, all in relation to the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula, where in August this year the White House conveyed to the North Korean communist regime a drastic warning regarding the possible use of the nuclear weapon. In fact, the title of the panel in which the American general presented his ideas included the words that President Donald Trump used in the warning he had tweeted: “Nukes: The Fire and the Fury.” Hence, referring to the planet’s volatile regions, the talks also outlined the systemic importance of today’s China – “Is China’s OBOR a Marshall Plan? Yes but with imported Chinese labour & hi interest loans. I’d add low labour and enviro standards, plus no human rights considerations” one of the participants pointed out, the stage of EU-U.S. relations – “America and Europe are currently experiences the biggest democratic stress tests we’ve ever experienced in our lifetimes,” the situation in Eastern Ukraine – “Russia has been waging a real hybrid war not only against Ukraine but against the West & its institutions” (Ukraine Foreign Minister P.Klimkin), NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s statement – “empowering women is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.”

The Halifax Forum turned out to be, just like in previous editions, a platform for the free exchange of ideas, proof of the current global political community’s effort to enhance international security indices in an era featuring different and contradictory