Dalhousie Maritime Security Conference celebrates past and ponders future.

From 16-18 June 2010, the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies held its 21st Maritime Security Conference.  Titled “The Canadian Navy Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” this year’s conference coincided with the Canadian naval centennial. As such, this year’s conference was largely introspective and centred on the Canadian navy itself, with panels discussing a broad range of topics from the history of its ships and people to future challenges and considerations.

Attendance was as broad as the topics discussed: those present included serving and retired members of the Canadian Forces, scientists, academics, and concerned members of the public. Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden opened the conference with an address that emphasized the navy’s importance in maintaining a safe and secure global system, one of political, economic, and social connectivity made possible through the world’s oceans. The sessions that followed were also contextualized through thoughtful keynote speeches by Dr. Marc Milner, Dr. Jim Carruthers, and Dr. Robert Walker.

This year’s conference had two aims:

  • first, to look back over 100 years of Canadian naval evolution at select activities, including R&D, operational research, operational and training concepts, ship types, equipment, that have influenced the evolution of the Navy, and draw out lessons to take forward into the navy of the future; and
  • second, to examine new and emerging concepts and technologies likely to influence future development of Canada’s navy.

The first aim was fulfilled in a series of four panels discussing the navy’s historical experiences with ships, people, science and technology, and Arctic operations. Two panels satisfied the latter aim, discussing future planning considerations, and scientific and technological factors in future plans. A final roundtable session on future challenges and possible solutions provided for open discussion between the audience and panellists.

Discussions of emerging concepts and considerations suggested that the future awaiting the Canadian navy is fraught with challenges. Panellists pointed to a broad range of issues the navy must contend with, including fossil fuel scarcity, security threats from non-state and ‘hybrid’ actors, climate change, and the proliferation of technology and weaponry. However, these challenges are not insurmountable, with presentations ranging from autonomous systems to the recruitment of future leaders proving highly relevant to the problems at hand. To these ends, the conference showcased a significant ‘brain trust’ of Canadian scientists and academics available as a resource to the navy as it advances into its next century.