Harjit Singh Sajjan, Canada’s minister of national defense, discusses the Halifax International Security Forum, security strategy, the country’s fighter requirement, spending and more with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada. Our coverage at this 10th annual forum is sponsored by L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan
Minister of National Defence, Canada
Halifax International Security Forum
Vago Muradian: Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report. I’m Vago Muradian here at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada, one of the world’s leading gatherings of security, economic, diplomatic and civil society leaders in the world. Our coverage here is sponsored by L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS, and we’re honored to have with us the Minister of National Defence for Canada, Harjit Singh Sajjan. Sir, thanks very much. It’s always a pleasure talking to you.
Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan: It’s a great opportunity for us to have a really good deep and intimate conversation about the security challenges that we all face.
Mr. Muradian: Absolutely. It’s the 10thanniversary here. It’s your fourth as Defence Minister.
Let’s go to the theme of this conference. Are we tired of winning? It’s the 100thanniversary of the conclusion of the war to end all wars, and that’s certainly not been the case. Canadian troops, just like yourself, you’re a retired lieutenant colonel in the Canadian Army, have spilled their blood in battlefields all around the world in that 100 years since.
The international order was supposed to solve that, but now it’s under pressure from so many different fronts. Are we tired of winning? Is the international order in danger at this point?
Minister Sajjan: First of all, I think here at the International Security Forum here in Halifax, we want to provoke these types of conversations. This question just provokes that. We have to, even when we feel that things are going well, that we feel that we’re winning, we need to analyze not only the success that we have but also the potential negative aspect of things. That’s what this question is about.
Our countries have benefited from trade, from global order, but at the same time, we do see challenges that we face and we need to look at how do we address them properly.
It’s important that we get the right advice, and this International Security Forum allows us to have a good discussion so that policy-makers can make the right decisions.
Mr. Muradian: One of the things you said which should be carved on a plaque and put on every leader’s desk is, are the decisions that I’m making today the right decisions and will they stand the test of time 100 years from now?
What do you think some of the biggest challenges are that we need to wrap our arms around as an international community? Peter van Praagh mentioned very articulately populism and the challenge of that should be pushed into the shadows. There’s a lot of discussion here about nationalism and how that can rear its head.
From your standpoint, as somebody who’s looked at the spectrum from hard power and how you combine that with other elements of national power, what do you think some of the big challenges are?
Minister Sajjan: First of all, I think we should never look at hard power/soft power. It’s about understanding the problem itself. And when we look at the issue of populism, the [alt right] and some of the challenges that we face, what is the root cause of that? What we need to do, what it comes down to, I think all of us what we need to focus on, how do our citizens in our respective countries all feel that they’re benefiting from the success of the country? And when people feel that they don’t, this fear is created or sometimes you end up blaming one another. And then there’s the organizations out there how want to fuel that anxiety and make things worse.
But when everybody feels that they are feeling that success, that inclusivity of success, that helps to dampen some of those issues.
So we can’t ignore those things. We can’t just say oh, that’s wrong. Don’t do it. We have to challenge, obviously, any type of negative bias, hate, any type of hate type of messaging. But we need to make sure to ask ourselves the question why is it happening? Are we doing our part to making sure that everybody feels inclusive in their growth? And in Canada, we focus a lot on that. As well, we focus on making sure that we support the middle class and those working hard to join it. This is not a buzzword. This is about how we make good policies for all Canadians.
Mr. Muradian: There are no military relationships as intimate as the one between Canada and the United States. But there have been stresses. There’s a renegotiation of NAFTA that’s happened, so there’s a new agreement. The tariffs still remain on the books. Last year when you and I spoke there was the whole Bombardier affair in terms of tariffs that were aimed at Canada’s premier aerospace company. How do you characterize the relationship with the United States on a working level, on a practical level?
Minister Sajjan: First of all, I’ll talk about that our defense relationship couldn’t be stronger. Our relationship between Canada and the U.S. is built over decades and decades of working together, whether it’s through trade or on the battlefield. And when you have difficult conversations like we’ve had when it comes to trade issues — and it’s good when you have governments on both sides standing up for their citizens. But that’s what good neighbors do. Our relationship is even stronger when we have those conversations, we’re able to tweak things and make them better, making sure that we have fairness in both our countries, that our relationship actually grows.
So I don’t look at these as challenges. These are good conversations that we need to have in making sure that we are supporting our countries. That we are also not looking strictly from a selfless lens. We’re looking at, both of us, as good, respectful neighbors and we see that in the military every single day.
Mr. Muradian: Last year, though when we talked it looked like you were going to acquire some F-18s. After the Bombardier issue, you told me we’re going to get used Canadian aircraft. Boeing isn’t going to be party to a suit against our leading company and our supplier there of aircraft. And there are those who are saying hey look, the F-35, and Canada’s been a partner on that program since its inception. But there is this concern that if more than 70 percent of Canadians, where the American President is unpopular with 70 percent of the population, that it would be difficult for Canada to acquire a $30 billion or however many billions program. Is that a factor at all in the decision-making ultimately in terms of the capability you require for your next combat aircraft?
Minister Sajjan: In fact actually our procurement process is based on the requirements that we build in Canada, but we are also extremely mindful that it’s not just strictly bringing in a capability for the military. It’s not just for Canada. Our closest relationship is the U.S. when it comes to NORAD. So when we looked at our commitment we did a thorough analysis and made the right requirements, and through a good procurement process that’s there and transparent, we will be able to pick not only the right aircraft for Canada, but more importantly, that aircraft is used within NORAD for both nations. And that’s what was very important.
If anybody wants to question our resolve, when we did the analysis on not just the requirements but the number of aircraft we, through our analysis, we determined that 65, originally the request that the previous government wanted was actually not enough. Hence the reason why we actually upped it to 88. And that’s what good, responsible neighbors do, is making sure that you go through a proper analysis and keep in mind, the U.S. when they do procurements, do the same thing. Making sure they have the right capability and we will do that.
Mr. Muradian: Let me ask you about spending. 1.23 percent of GDP, Canada is a NATO ally that’s participated in every operation since the birth of the alliance, supported that two percent goal. There are many in Canada who have said look, that’s not reflective, for example. Canada lost more troops in Afghanistan per capita than any other country. How do you get to that two percent? Why is two percent important and what’s the road map that gets you there?
Minister Sajjan: This is about making sure that, first of all, the Wales pledge was about making sure that we stopped the decline in spending in our respective countries. And that has happened. Plus we need a credible plan in our militaries to be, not only to be able to invest but invest in capabilities and capabilities that will lead you to providing good contributions. In Canada, we have done that.
With our new defense policy, we have gone through a good analysis of not only what we need in Canada, what’s good for North American defense with the U.S., for example. Hence the reason why we went up to 88 aircraft that we’ll be purchasing. And also, wider engagement in the world. We have contributed more. Then you cost everything out. And based on that analysis, we are going to be increasing our defense spending by 70 percent by 2026. That is not just a road map of a plan. Our government has also carved that money out of the fiscal framework for the next 20 years.
So that, so the military now can actually do predictable and sustainable planning because the money is actually there.
Yes, we do have more work that needs to be done in terms of [others], but we will do the appropriate analysis. When it comes to any decision you have to go at the pace of what you can absorb, and that’s what we are doing to be extremely responsible not only with the work that we’re doing around the world but more importantly, of setting a positive example for our allies. Not only here’s our plan, but that it’s backed up with the dollars behind it.
Mr. Muradian: Harjit Singh Sajjan, the Minister of National Defence for Canada. Sir, always a pleasure. Thank you so much.
Minister Sajjan: Thank you. Nice talking to you.