By Bibi Imre-Millei, CIDP Intern

This year, the annual Kingston Conference on International Security (KCIS) focussed on the international order: whether it might change, and where that might lead world politics and security. The liberal international order led by the United States is being challenged not only by states such as Russia and China, but by new ideas, new capabilities, and new perspectives. KCIS set out to address the changes and challenges, and the variety of possible paths moving forward in this changing order. In this post, we focus on the keynotes of KCIS. We outline the insights from the speakers, and the corresponding conversations on Twitter!

Day One Introductions

In the morning, Colonel Christopher Ingels of the US Army welcomed delegates to the conference and introduced panels and breaks as the master of ceremonies. COL Ingels emphasized the need to nurture connections from cross-disciplinary fields to continue to develop viable policy options in a changing international order. Major-General Stephen M. Cadden, Commander Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre gave the opening remarks. Major-General Cadden also noted the importance of professional development during KCIS, addressing the delegates directly when he remarked: “It is your conference, you’ll make it what you want it to be.” The Major-General urged delegates to “look upstream” and in doing so understand where changes to the international order will take us. The Commander of the Canadian Army, Lieutenant-General Jean-Marc Lanthier delivered the challenge to the conference, reminding delegates to look to new frontiers. While he made clear that Europe and NATO are still the core security alliances on which North America relies, he stressed the importance of paying attention to the Pacific theatre. The Lieutenant-General also noted the unprecedented complexity of the international order today. He outlined that many tensions today are on the edge of crisis with information manipulation as possible catalyst for conflict. Lanthier asked if the Grey Zone will be “the new normal” and if not, what will it evolve into? The challenge to the conference ended with Lanthier stressing the importance of thorough threat analysis.

Tuesday Morning Keynote: The World Order Today

Ben Rowswell, President and Research Director at the Canadian International Council was the opening keynote, discussing an overview of the world order today. Ben Rowswell began his keynote by referencing John Holmes, who labelled Canada a “middle power” in the 1960s. Holmes argued that an important aspect of Canada’s power was alliance with other Liberal Democracies across the globe, most importantly the US. Rowswell then moved into a discussion of the current shifts in power, and how many of those shifts are similar to the polarization of the 1940s. He pointed out that when power is perceived to be shifting, challengers emerge. Today, open societies are under threat, and democracies must combine their power for good.

Rowswell argued that sovereignty was the right place to start in influencing economics and society for the better. For Rowswell, common efforts by Liberal Democracies could create a popular sovereignty with well framed common interests to address the issues of today. By uniting Liberal Democracies, Rowswell argued that states could implement a global 5G network, minimise electoral fraud, and even unite as a front against China. Rowswell’s message was one of hope in unity, with Canada as a central force for the world’s Liberal Democracies.

Tuesday Afternoon Keynote: The Erosion of the US-Led Order

After a lunch break, the second keynote of the day, “The Erosion of the US-Led Order,” was delivered by Dr. Daniel Drezner of Tufts University. Dr. Drezner began by conceptualising the liberal international order as the “global rules of the game.” Drezner outlined the three most prevalent schools of thought on China. The first school contends that not all China’s actions are a masterstroke; Chinese actions do not fundamentally threaten the Bretton Woods institutions, and represent a change within the order instead of a change in the order itself. The second school is mostly Chinese scholars, who believe China is failing in its objectives. The final school of thought, the one which Drezner subscribes to, holds that China is experimenting. This school is concerned about what China might do when it feels weak. Drezner then highlighted a broader turn to populism by outlining three populist trends pre-dating President Trump. First, since 9/11, public trust in authority and expertise has been consistently waining. Second, the rise of polarization has led to an environment where people are more likely to discriminate based on party than on gender. Third, there are less and less constraints on the executive branch, leading to the majority of foreign policy decisions made by this branch. Drezner concluded by claiming that instead of looking to China as an existential threat, the US should look to the threat of revisionism from within.

Wednesday Afternoon Keynote: Challenges in Meeting Changes on the Ground

After lunch, Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre, the United Nations Command (UNC) Deputy Commander United Nations Command, Korea, delivered his keynote. Lieutenant-General Eyre began by noting that while the UNC Korea has changed in the years since its formation 69 years ago, it’s raison d’etre is still rooted in supporting a unified command to restore ‘peace and security to the area.’ Since the Korean War, the UNC has been charged with enforcing peace and security in the area, in particular, the Armistice Agreement. Lieutenant-General Eyre remarked that over the last five years, the UNC has experienced a renaissance of sorts, and has renewed its position of importance in Korean Peninsula. The UNC stands ready to support South Korea if the need were to arise, but mainly functions to keep the Armistice Agreement to allow for a diplomatic solution. While uncertainty surrounding North Korean actions has always been prevalent in this region, Lieutenant-General Eyre commented on the trust deficit between North Korea and the rest of world, and the different approaches taken to remedy this. While the South Korean approach is based around building relationships and bringing peace, the US approach has been centred on seeing tangible actions from North Korea in a process of denuclearisation. Lieutenant-General Eyre ended by mapping an uncertain future where North Korea may or may not keep its word, and continues to attempt to bypass the UNC.

Ending Overview

Demographics and major themes from the conference

The second day of KCIS revolved mostly around the region specific panels. The America’s were covered in day one by Ferry de Kerckhove, Dr. Kathryn Fisher, and Dr. Sara McGuire. On the second day, a panel of Dr. Marc Ozawa, Robert Baines, and Brigadier General Frédéric Pesme covered the North Atlantic. The Indo-Pacific was then covered on a panel consisting of Ali Wyne, Dr. Sumit Ganguly, and Dr. Christopher Ankersen.

The conference ended as it began, with a broader panel. On Tuesday morning, Dr. William Braun III, Dr. Sara Moller, and Dr. Carol Evans discussed the Drivers of Change in the international order. On Wednesday afternoon, the final panel discussed Commonalities and Security Implications featuring Dr. Isaiah Wilson, Kerry Buck, and Dr. Anna Geis. Major General John Kem gave the closing remarks, leaving the delegates excited for the 15th Annual conference in 2020!

Contact Report

The CIDP is part of the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University and is one of Canada’s most active research centres on international security.

Centre for International and Defence Policy

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The CIDP is part of the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University and is one of Canada’s most active research centres on international security.

Contact Report

The CIDP is part of the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University and is one of Canada’s most active research centres on international security.

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