UNIDEF-14: Final report

The final report on the 2023 edition of UNIDEF is now available.

Click here to download the French version.

The 14th annual Rencontre Université-Défense de Québec (UNIDEF) brought together various members of the Canadian academic and military communities at Université Laval on March 23, 2023. As in previous years, the event was organized in collaboration with the Military Institute of Quebec and the International Security Centre (CSI).

Today's security crises represent a major international challenge, and deserve urgent and appropriate solutions. At least, that's what Brigadier-general (retired) Richard Giguère, President of the Military Institute of Quebec, and Anessa Kimball, Director of the CSI, said in their opening remarks. This 14th edition of UNIDEF featured four panels moderated respectively by Philippe O'Brien, Olivier Bichsel, Olivier Fournier, and Chloé Duffort.

In his welcoming remarks, the Honourable J. Michel Doyon, Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec, set out a series of questions to explain the background to this 14th conference, which focuses on themes such as the future of global security, Canadian and international national defence policy, and the impact of contemporary conflicts on international institutions and global geopolitics. "78 years after its creation, has the UN succeeded in preventing war and conflict? Are we right to believe that the veto right still has a raison d'être? How can the UN respond to new problems whose resolution is essential to the maintenance and survival of humanity?" introduced Michel Doyon.

In his view, the nationalist and ideological impulses of the 20th century seem to be resurfacing in a different guise in the 21st century. Inflations, climate change, energy crises, the post-pandemic context, the scale of the European conflict and major military engagement are just a few examples. The United Nations is an important institution that needs to be readapted to the changing world, so that it can effectively play its role in maintaining peace and ensuring the survival of mankind and its peoples. If NATO is as important as the UN, it is because it has enabled the United States of America to forge closer ties with its European allies, and to strengthen their collaboration against numerous threats. However, Michel Doyon believes that it will have to meet a number of other challenges linked to international cohesion. The other global challenge is that of disinformation, because democratic institutions and systems can be very vulnerable to the distortion of facts," says Michel Doyon.

In his opening remarks on Canada's Security and Defence Policy, Lieutenant-General Jocelyn Paul, Commander of the Canadian Army, described the policy as having three pillars: protection of Canada, security in North America, and Canada's engagement with the world. "In light of recent upheavals in the world, the Canadian government has decided to upgrade this policy," he continued. In his remarks, he puts a spotlight on Operations Reassurance and Unifier conducted by the Canadian Armed Forces since 2014, with a deployment of nearly 1,100 Canadian troops. Operation Reassurance has contributed to the security of Poland and the Baltic states with the support of some 700 Canadian soldiers, while deterring Russia and Belarus. As for Operation Unifier, it has trained over 35,000 Ukrainian military personnel and even Ukrainian civilians wishing to defend their country using the "adaptive dispersed operations" strategy. "Canada was the first country to supply tanks on Polish soil to support Ukrainian troops in their war against Russia. The invasion of Ukraine and the various tensions in the world are a reminder of the relevance of having Canadian armed forces capable of rapid deployment both at home and abroad," said Lieutenant-General Jocelyn Paul. Canadian defense policy also includes the "IDEAS" and "MINDS" programs, which involve the participation of academia in quantum computing research and security innovations.

The first panel focuses on the United Nations (UN).

Referring to his experience of peace missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lieutenant-Colonel Frédéric Harvey recalled that the war in the Congo has been the deadliest since it began in 2000, with over 5 million deaths already recorded. The UN has deployed some 15,000 peacekeepers to the DRC, with the aim of imposing peace, protecting civilians, restoring the country's sovereignty and eliminating the enemy. However, UN troops on the ground have often proved difficult to coordinate under an inflexible mandate. Sarah-Myriam Martin-Brûlé, a full professor at Bishop's University, emphasized the geographical scope of the conflicts, the negotiating stakes and the obstacles encountered in the countries hosting the peacekeepers. In her view, one of the UN's priorities should be to address the issues of disinformation and cybersecurity, by involving players capable of using social networks to put an end to conflicts. In this respect, Canada should be able to offer relevant training and ISR (Intelligence - Surveillance - Reconnaissance) surveillance services. Louise Blais, diplomat in residence at ESEI, former ambassador and deputy permanent representative of Canada to the United Nations from 2017 to 2021, gave her analysis of the controversy surrounding the veto and the possibilities for UN member states and the Security Council to deal with the organization's paralysis. "Russia has used its veto 29 times since 1991, and twice since February 25, 2022, immediately after the invasion of Ukraine, and then after the annexation of Ukrainian territories. The 43 public meetings devoted to the situation in Ukraine have been fruitless. As a result, the UN General Assembly adopted two resolutions: one demanding that the use of the veto be justified, and the other condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine with 141 Yes votes, several abstentions and 5 No votes", says Louise Blais. She recommends that Article 27 of the UN Charter be applied to the permanent members of the Security Council when voting on decisions. She also points out that it would be preferable to vote on decisions of a procedural nature, as they are not subject to the right of veto.

In the second panel, the European Union and its competences in the field of peace were presented.

Asked whether the European Union (EU) has become carnivorous, Guillaume Lasconjarias, Director of Studies and Research at the Institut des Hautes Études de Défense Nationale (IHEDN), pointed out that the EU has financed 5.7 billion euros worth of military equipment to arm Ukraine against the Russian invasion. It has thus gone from being a normative power, conferred by the adoption of the European Peace Facility in 2021, to a military power in 2023. Since the war in Ukraine, the EU has adopted several sanctions and has consequently been much more effective than NATO. It is becoming more active in armed conflicts, with the materialization of security and defense instruments. Awareness of the vital need for European strategic autonomy in relation to the United States is becoming increasingly evident. Major Sébastien Bouchard focused on the EU's dual military-state deterrence method, which combines state and military forces to persuade another state by military coercion to act in a given way. Factors that determine the effectiveness of a deterrent strategy include the motivation of the aggressor, communication and the credibility of the deterring country. In view of the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Major Sébastien Bouchard therefore proposed that a campaign plan be devised and implemented to synchronize and strengthen efforts between NATO and the EU, and then apply the suspension of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act. He also proposed that Canada become more involved in the fight against Russian propaganda. According to Mulry Mondélice, Professor at the Royal Military College, the EU has established itself as a major humanitarian player since the 1990s. The complexity of crises justifies the challenges it faces in terms of coherence, coordination and cooperation between EU member states on the one hand, and between the EU and other players in the humanitarian system on the other. For better management of humanitarian crises on a global scale, local organizations and national human rights institutions must be involved. We also need to strengthen cooperation between the EU, Canada and the United States of America and the countries affected by these humanitarian crises.

Panelists on the third panel spoke about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Pierre Jolicoeur, professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, explained how Russia's invasion of Ukraine has rapidly altered the paradigm of international order and affected NATO's future. Indeed, since the United States is NATO's biggest contributor, its challenges in the Middle East are likely to influence the Alliance's focus on the EU. NATO could then be forced to make disconcerting choices between Asia and Europe. Ariane Théroux-Samuel, Deputy Director of NATO's Policy Directorate, made the following suggestion. If one of NATO's major objectives is to maintain credible military forces to challenge, deter and defend its members against any threat, then this alliance should act cautiously so as not to provoke direct confrontation with its member countries, including Russia, and above all preserve the alliance's effectiveness. With regard to its involvement in the current situation in Ukraine, NATO is providing political, economic, humanitarian and military support to the country. She was followed by Maxime Philaire, President of the Association OTAN Laval, which takes part every year in a NATO simulation (International Model NATO) in Washington DC. He observed that NATO is undergoing a clear evolution. The Alliance has gone from "brain-dead" to remarkably proactive, thanks to the current war in Ukraine, which has restored its legitimacy. Alexandre Massaux, a researcher associated with the Raoul-Dandurand Chair at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), focused on American strategy in Central Europe. He points out that there is a very close partnership between the countries of Central Europe and the United States. Poland is a prime example of this, preferring to collaborate with the USA rather than Russia or China on a number of fronts, including the massive supply of American or South Korean military equipment. However, a number of factors are tending to limit American strategy in Central Europe: internal problems in the United States linked to the division between the doctrines of Wilsonism and Jacksonism; criticism from certain European allies; and the growing power of China. Further on, Yves Brodeur, former ambassador and permanent representative to the North Atlantic Council (NATO), points out that NATO's credibility rests on its members and their ability to contribute to the Alliance's objectives. As such, Canada could provide a constructive impetus on artificial intelligence issues within NATO. Access to water and energy should also be priorities for NATO. Furthermore, Canada should try to integrate the first decision-making circle within NATO if it is truly concerned with putting forward its proposals.

The fourth UNIDEF panel focused on the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the Arctic region.

NORAD, which works in conjunction with defense partners in Canada, the United States and outside the Americas, has assigned itself aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning missions. In this regard, Lieutenant-General Alain Pelletier, NORAD's Deputy Commander, reassured the audience that, in the face of all-out cyber and information attacks, the organization intends to evolve and strengthen its current partnerships with several Northern commands in various fields of security. NORAD's other challenge is to maintain a persistent presence in order to adapt quickly to unforeseen missions. And for this, the organization is supported by both the Canadian government and the US Congress. NORAD has thus modernized itself to make its activities more relevant and effective. This is confirmed by Andrea Charron, Associate Professor of Political Studies at the University of Manitoba, who points out that NORAD's technological advances will evolve and modernize over the years, making a huge difference to the NORAD of the 1960s. Furthermore, a survey by Ross O'Connor, former Foreign Affairs and National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Senior Policy Advisor to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence, found that the Canadian public is generally very supportive of NORAD as a protective weapon. It is indeed Canada's first line of defence, but the Canadian government's financial investment in it remains inadequate.

Looking beyond NATO and NORAD issues, Pauline Pic, associate professor of geography and post-doctoral fellow at Laval University's École supérieure d'Études internationales (ESEI), examined Arctic security issues and the importance of cooperation in this area, which is threatened by climate change. According to her research, having states that cooperate both in the Arctic Council and within NATO could cause a collision between North Atlantic and Arctic issues if Russia is totally excluded from the negotiating table. The Arctic Council has long been the guarantor of regional and multilateral cooperation. But there is currently a risk of "Atlanticization" of the Arctic from a political and security point of view.

The closing session of the 14th edition of UNIDEF was marked by a speech by Bob Rae, Ambassador and Permanent Representative-designate to the United Nations in New York. Asked how Canada can assert itself on the world stage, the ambassador made it clear that Canada's influence depends on its willingness to participate effectively in issues of peace, security and development. He pointed out that the world is currently going through a difficult period, the roots of which lie in the military responses of the United States and its allies since the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Social and economic issues have an impact on the state of security in the world. Therefore, better decisions must be made to avoid future generations suffering the consequences of past and present conflicts.

The final words were brought by Philippe Bourbeau, Director of Laval University's École supérieure d'études internationales. He underlined the merits of UNIDEF, which responds to a need for dialogue and connections between academic and defense players. He went on to acknowledge the efforts of the organizers of these meetings, not forgetting the importance of the training courses offered at Université Laval.

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