Thursday, February 20, 2014

Day One at The Military-Industrial Complex Show, 2014 Edition

I spent today at the first day of the Ottawa Conference on Defence, run by the Conference of Defence Association Institute.  The CDAI has been good to me, giving me the chance to speak at their roundtables and helped me connect with military folks, especially retired ones.  This is the second time I have attended their big conference.  Last year, I asked pesky questions and got buttonholed by the Lockheed rep (yes, the F-35 is magic).

This year, I spent half the day walking around with the NATO book, promoting mostly through people's peripheral vision.  I go both to see what the big names are thinking about security issues and to network with Canadians (and others) who attend.  So far, so good.  I met the new (new to me) Dutch ambassador, which was cool since his predecessor was helpful when I was working on the Dutch case.  I met a former top official in Mi-6--the British intel agency.  And a number of other folks.  Very helpful stuff.

I live tweeted the morning until my cell phone's battery went out.  I could not use my iPad with its much longer battery life since the hotel's wifi was protected.  I will try to pay a lot to get access tomorrow since the speakers include the Minister of National Defence, the Chief of Defence Staff, Britain's Chief of Defence Staff and a bunch of other interesting folks plus a panel on NATO.  The hashtag is #TheOC2014 which had me thinking of the TV show.

Anyhow, the program started with a discussion of the new CDAI strategic outlook paper, which is a bit long and its executive summary is not as concise as we would like, but still pretty sharp.  And a necessary substitute for the lack of Canadian white papers on its place in the world.  I had one quibble:
I found Jean Charest, the former premiere of Quebec, to be quite interesting but there was no chance for Q&A.  I would have loved to point out a contradiction--that Canada's willingness to take in immigrants is an advantage but that nationalism elsewhere in the world is problematic.  My Q: what will the Charter of Values in Quebec do for Canadian immigration?  Charest's best insight--that the deep decentralization of Canada means that treaty-making is really hard since most implementation requires provincial support--no interstate commerce clause here.  I scoffed at his worst statement--that no country is more impacted by climate change than Canada.  Please--Canada is not at or below sea level.  I was also annoyed by his reference to the absence of US leadership.  Not seeking to fight everywhere and anywhere is not an absence of leadership.

Kevin Ruud, the former Prime Minister of Australia, was very charming, alluding to his own career's ups and downs.  He showed off his ability to speak Mandarin, and was most perceptive about China as demonstrated later when the Chinese representative, a Major General, said stuff that exemplified Ruud's point about the toxicity of China-Japan history.  Ruud argued that the environmental disaster that is many Chinese cities is a real point of vulnerability for the regime, which helps to explain the big changes China is making in its approach to environmental issues.  He also was quite clear about Chinese priorities:

He also made the first hockey joke of the day.  It happened later than I expected but only because no American 4 -stars led off, and they always make hockey jokes (proved again later).

I had to take notes on my ipad after my cell phone died.
Anyhow, three general notes
  • only two women on the program--failing the Bechdel test, I think; and
  • I felt less guilty about carrying around my book to plus as Fen Hampson of CIGI (and of Carleton) plugged the CIGI publications endlessly.
  • DFATD (the foreign affairs dept) has a position called Sherpa. Really.
There was a panel on Asia-Pacific dynamics that was most interesting, but cannot concisely summarize.  I was surprised that anyone would suggest that Canada invest in amphibious equipment and ops given that Canada cannot seem to replace the 50 year old equipment it has for pretty much everything.  Adding a new requirement?  Oy!  I scoffed at the forward deployment of subs, but happened to be sitting next to a former Canadian Navy chief who said how it might work.

Interesting trade suggested--that Australia help build the next Canadian subs and Canada help build the next cold place ships (they have little Antarctic capability, Canada is building Arctic ships).

Another interesting suggestion--get China involved in counter-piracy since they depend so much on shipping and .. perhaps they might find themselves being refueled by a Japanese ship!?

The US Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Greenert was quite interesting and not just because he gave me this when I gave him our book after the talk. He made some important points very quickly and clearly--six key choke points in the seas (Gilbraltar, Suez, Hormuz, Red Sea, Malacca, Panama).  The map with American naval deployments (283 ships, 83 deployed at any time) had the desired effect--crap, the US has a big navy!  Forward deployment since it takes weeks or a month for a ship to get across a big ocean or two.

He made a fun statement about not making a statement about the Northwest Passage, a big point of dispute between the US and Canada.  He did indicate that the NWP is shallower and that will matter.

Greenert made a striking point--heaps of coalition stuff on the surface (among the skimmers), but undersea is not joint--"we own the undersea."  He repeated an American mantra--we cannot surge trust and relationships.

Best line--when talking about giving small sums of money to encourage innovation, not to give too much because then folks create bureaucracy.

The afternoon panel focused on China.  The Chinese apparently read Thucydides as they consider the fears that US has about a rising China.  The Chinese general cited the rising right-wing in Japan as an issue, but focused on US and building a community of common destiny.  Not a bad line.

Interesting point in this panel--some Southeast Asian countries don't like the American pivot to the Pacific because they depend on Mideast oil and want US to keep the peace there.

The other surprise today:  The biggest sponsor is CIGI--the think tank based at the Basillie School and formerly funded by Blackberry money.  I am confused about how they could drop so much cash on this event.

Anyhow, it was an interesting day.  Tomorrow (today by the time you probably read this) should be as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Technically, the federal government in Canada does have the power to pretty much force the provinces to go along with whatever it likes. But, for a variety of reasons - including inertia - it is more politically difficult to do so.

In my mind, this is one of the big but unspoken differences between the various parties: the Conservatives are devolving further power to the provinces, the NDP would like to pander to Quebec, while the Liberals are the only ones that are halfheartedly standing by a strong federal government.