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Halifax International Security Forum

6th December 2011 by , | No Comments

I was in Halifax, Nova Scotia a couple of weekends ago to attend the Third Halifax International Security Forum.

I had heard good things about the previous two, and that, along with fora like the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore and the Berlin Security Conference, Halifax was becoming one of those “must attend” events for those wanting to immerse themselves for a couple of days in the key security challenges of our time.

Given the heavyweights on the speaking list, which included US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta; Senators John McCain and Mark Udall; Canada’s Defence Minister Peter Mackay, and Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak, the Forum itself was a relatively intimate affair in that delegate numbers topped out at about 250. This meant that with very skilled moderators, the predominantly panel format was able to get the best out of those on stage while drawing the delegates into a genuine discussion.

What was glaringly obvious was that when the conference was held last year no-one had heard of or was even close to prophesying the “Arab Spring”.  That such a room of experts, across the fields of politics, diplomacy, academia, NGOs and military had so comprehensively missed this potential, it was not surprising that there was little appetite for speculation as to either what would happen next (at the time of the conference most focus was on Syria and increasing pressure on the regime by the Arab League) or how the various changes in the likes of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt would bed down.

The word “complexity” was the one I heard more than any other. For me complexity tends to mean that something might be hard to understand but ultimately there is some sort of pattern, rhythm or underlying logic to what you see happening. There were many Middle East experts in the room (me not being one of them) but I didn’t discern much clarity as they tried to identify such patterns.

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