A Summer 2015 Highlight: The NOAC Commonwealth Defence Lunch

by Stefan Konrad, NATO Council of Canada’s Program Editor for Defence Procurement, and a recent graduate of Trinity Western University with a Honours B.A. in Political Science. 

On July 13, the Commonwealth Defence Lunch was held by the NATO Association of Canada (NAOC) at the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto. The keynote speaker was the Honourable Jason Kenney, (now former) Minister of National Defence. He was joined by the Honourable Hugh Segal, NAOC’s Chairman and the Master of Massey College, and Tim Hewish who is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Commonwealth Exchange.

Tim Hewish spoke first and outlined several of the prominent themes explored in the Commonwealth Exchange’s latest report on strengthening the defence relationships between Commonwealth countries. As Mr. Hewish explained, “The Commonwealth’s Call to Duty” report featured a number of findings very applicable to Canada’s situation. In 2013, Tim Hewish founded the Commonwealth Exchange with Ralph Buckle. He has published numerous reports on how the Commonwealth can strengthen and expand trade, diplomatic and defence relationships between member countries. As a multi-region network of countries, the Commonwealth is uniquely situated to address many of the world’s most pressing security problems. A number of Commonwealth countries, specifically India, Pakistan, Kenya and Nigeria are on the forefront of the fight against international terrorism. Many developing countries in the Commonwealth are also wrestling with internal insurgencies and piracy, among other security challenges. As a result, developed nations in the Commonwealth, such as Canada, have well-funded and highly capable militaries that could be of assistance through training programs and military diplomacy. However, Tim Hewish was quick to qualify that the Commonwealth should never be intended to rival the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Mr. Hewish was quick to argue that a general image of the Commonwealth needs to change. Especially on defence issues, the Commonwealth can no longer simply focus on the ‘core’ countries of the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Many of the world’s most pressing security challenges are happening in developing Commonwealth countries with militaries particularly in need of technical and training support. In Tim Hewish’s view, discussions about Commonwealth defence need to focus on defence diplomacy, inter-operability, intelligence sharing, humanitarian disaster relief, military training, anti-terrorism and anti-piracy. The Commonwealth Exchange’s report argued that progress could be achieved on these objectives through three initiatives. First, the creation of a Commonwealth Military Scholarship program would make it financially viable for officers to study at the military academies of other Commonwealth countries. This would allow senior military leadership to gain additional expertise and advance the broader goal of defence diplomacy. Second, Tim Hewish also advocated for an expansion of existing Commonwealth Officer Exchange programs. This would be of particular benefit to militaries in developing Commonwealth countries, allowing them to receive advanced training and specialized experience not available at home. Finally, the Commonwealth Exchange report noted that Commonwealth defence would be best promoted through a formal Commonwealth Security Forum (CSF). The CSF would bring together senior stakeholders from national governments, private companies, academia and non-governmental organizations. Tim Hewish believed the CSF should potentially be held alongside the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

After a break for lunch, NAOC Vice President Ellis Kirkland introduced the Honourable Hugh Segal as the second speaker of the event. Mr. Segal was appointed to the Senate of Canada in 2005 and served as the head of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and the Special Senate Committee on Anti-Terrorism. In addition to his work on security and defence issues, Mr. Segal has also been a strong advocate for Canada’s participation in the Commonwealth. In 2010, he was appointed to the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group by Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma. Mr. Segal reminded the audience that the countries in the Commonwealth have militaries with varying capabilities. Thus discussions about officer exchange and training programs need to accommodate the significant operational and cultural differences between the various militaries. Mr. Hewish had suggested the creation of a Commonwealth Security Forum to be held alongside the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Mr. Segal argued that the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers Meeting held in New York would be a more appropriate venue. Yet, throughout his speech, Mr. Segal was very supportive of the Commonwealth Exchange’s most recent report.

The Honourable Jason Kenny, (now former) Minister of National Defence, was the final speaker. In her introduction for Minister Kenney, Ms. Kirkland made reference to his long and distinguished career in Canadian politics. He previously served as the Minister of Employment and Social Development and was also the longest-serving Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in Canada’s history. Like the Honourable Hugh Segal, Minister Kenney was very supportive of the broad themes outlined in “The Commonwealth’s Call to Duty”. He also reflected on the powerful ideals that bind the Commonwealth together, including representative democracy, the rule of law and protection of human dignity. Minister Kenney noted that expanding officer exchange programs and creating a Commonwealth Military Scholarship could both pose challenges. Exchanges involving both Pakistani and Indian officers, for instance, would need to be thoughtfully handled. Concerns around human rights and espionage would also need to be addressed. Though the core Commonwealth countries are close allies, many of the developing countries in the Commonwealth are not. To enable developing countries to participate in joint training exercises, Minister Kenney mentioned a possible expansion of the Military Training Assistance Program. Finally, the Minister also outlined a potential venue for the Commonwealth Security Forum. He suggested that the Halifax Security Forum (established by former DND Minister Peter Mackay) could potentially serve as the setting for a dialogue about Commonwealth defence. The Halifax Forum is careful to screen out countries with poor human rights records. It is also only 1 hour away from Washington, DC, potentially allowing for senior American policymakers to be easily involved in any broader discussions.

The Commonwealth Defence Lunch was a wonderful opportunity not only for the audience to interact with senior dignitaries, but also to learn more about the under-appreciated issue of Commonwealth defence. The NATO Association of Canada is very pleased to have hosted the event and extremely grateful to the organizations and companies that made it possible.

Photo Credit by Defence Images via Flickr.

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