Canada's defense minister, Peter MacKay, talked with The E-Ring last Friday following his Pentagon visit with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. MacKay said that Canada is playing a critical role in North American security by fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, providing high-level training to U.S. and Canadian partners, and urging European NATO members to do their fair share for collective security across the Atlantic.
MacKay said all of that and more will be under discussion at the fourth annual Halifax Security Forum in November, North America's highest-level defense gathering. Coming less than two weeks after the U.S. presidential election, MacKay said it will provide an opportunity to "reset" some security challenges. Here is an edited transcript of his discussion with Kevin Baron.
FOREIGN POLICY: What did you and Secretary Panetta talk about today?
PETER MACKAY: Well, we always begin by delving into -- not doing too much navel gazing or reflecting on the Canada-U.S. defense relationship. But that's where it starts and finishes, and we're -- we closely monitor and cooperate with one another on so many of the vital defense relationships: operations, missions, training sets, and Afghanistan inevitably factors into that.
Our training mission, we've evolved from a combat mission into training missions. We're the second largest contributor, in fact, in that regard in Afghanistan. Secretary Panetta and his predecessor, Secretary [Robert] Gates, both were extremely magnanimous and quick to point out how much they valued Canada's contribution in that regard.
We talked a lot today about the [upcoming] Conference of Defense Ministers in the Americas, and the evolving challenges in our own backyard, in our own neighborhood throughout the Caribbean, and how Canada in niche areas can play a vital role. We're already quite engaged with island countries like Jamaica. We've been working closer with countries like Peru; we're going to be in Uruguay for the upcoming defense ministerial. And all of this is about demonstrating in a tangible way Canada's commitment to defense, our engagement right here in the Western hemisphere. We're lockstep through NORAD in the defense of North America, including the maritime approaches. But [we're also] going a little bit further afield and into the Americas writ large and our own hemisphere.
So, what we inevitably talk about and how the discussion evolves is into developing, reinforcing, how our regional relationship in the Americas can benefit and elevate the security quotum there. Because, as you're aware, it's a very complex part of the world when it comes to narcotrafficking, human trafficking, smuggling of all sorts of contraband. North America is not immune from these threats, and yet if we can work closer not only with one another but in partnership with these burgeoning nations and some of those that are trying to develop their own security forces, that's going to be key.
And so promoting the defense ministerial relationship there, the IADB [Inter-American Defense Board] which is the body in which Canada currently holds the chairmanship... they work closely with the OAS. And what we're trying to do is find a more meaningful and tangible role for Canada to train, in some case equip and prepare, some of these nations to take on a greater security responsibility. Because we're direct beneficiaries when that security capacity improves.
Just as we are -- to go back to Afghanistan -- seeing the Afghan security forces improve their professionalism, their capabilities, enabling them to do for themselves what we've been doing for them in many cases, in protecting their people, their villages, their sovereignty. Everybody wins in that scenario. So we do inevitably spend a great deal of time talking about that coordinated effort. In addition to the big security picture and the hot spots, whether it be the South China Sea or, clearly the Middle East is on everybody's mind, parts of North Africa, and issues that relate directly on our joint efforts to improve the security in many of these parts of the world where we will find ourselves for the foreseeable future.
FP: Tell me more, if you can, what are Canada's niche capabilities. You mentioned training, is there anything else that's uniquely Canadian in the offering?
MACKAY: Generally speaking, Canada's reputation in the area of peace-building and peacekeeping and training, imparting the type of skills to nations like Afghanistan, and before that, in parts of the Balkans, where we've had a presence in previous missions, we've developed a certain approach that some countries do emulate. And that is working in the "whole of government" fashion. NATO refers to it often as the comprehensive approach, where you're working closely with your development agencies, your public security agencies, and to use the most recent example of Afghanistan, working with our agriculture department, where we were able to improve their irrigation system, improve their infrastructure. These are things not always associated with military operations, but having a place like Kandahar province in Afghanistan connect communities by building roads and bridges and water systems, giving them generators that will allow them to have an economy that will allow them to engage in commerce -- well, if they're picking up hoes and shovels, they're not picking up AK-47s -- and if we're able to connect some of these communities to trade goods, that's also going to focus their attention away from insurgency. If we're building schools and medical clinics, that is obviously going to give their kids a future and hope for a better life.