Minister Sajjan Keynote Address to ‎Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, India


Notes for The Honourable Harjit Singh Sajjan
Minister of National Defence

Observer Research Foundation 
Keynote Address

Conflict Prevention and Peacekeeping in a Changing World

New Delhi, India
April 18, 2017

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Thank you so much for your kind introduction and warm welcome.

I am truly honoured to be here tonight. This trip is a bit of a homecoming for me. It is my first trip to India since being sworn in as Minister of National Defence by Prime Minister Trudeau in November 2015.

I was born in the village of Bombeli in the Hoshiarpur district of Punjab and my parents emigrated to Canada when I was 5 years old. I have so many fond memories of my childhood in India. 

I cherish these memories and my Indian roots. And I use every opportunity to teach my children about their heritage. And as much as I am proud of my heritage, I am also a proud Canadian. I have served Canada in many different roles.

I was a police officer in the Gang Crime Unit in Vancouver, tackling organized crime and drug violence.

I also served as an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. I served in Bosnia, and had three combat deployments to Afghanistan, where I was decorated by both the Canadian and U.S. militaries for my actions in fighting terrorism and the Taliban.

And today I now serve as a member of Parliament and Canada’s Minister of National Defence.

Even with the great opportunities Canada has presented me, it gives me great pleasure to say… I was born in India.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am no stranger to conflict. 

On my first deployment to Kandahar in 2006, I was the architect of Operation MEDUSA where we removed 1,500 Taliban fighters off the battlefield…and I was proudly on the main assault.

I was recognized for my efforts, but one question always nagged me: “How did the Taliban become so large after their defeat in 2001?” 

It turns out we did not address the root causes of the problem. 

The work I undertook in this field has given me knowledge. Knowledge that I now bring with me in my role as Minister of National Defence. Giving me a unique perspective on modern conflicts.

Tribute to Foundation

I would like to take a moment to pay tribute to the Foundation’s work in the area of defence and security.

It is truly a privilege to be here with you today, in the company of some of India’s greatest strategic thinkers and policy leaders.

Given India’s importance in the Indo-Asia Pacific region, this trip is an important opportunity to build and stregthen our bilateral relation, especially as it relates to defence.

I am exploring working together in the areas of naval cooperation, cold climate warfare, joint exercises, counter-terrorism, and sharing advances in defence research and innovation.

I am also interested in opportunities for Canada’s defence industry to develop closer ties with India. This is an area where we can benefit from each other’s expertise.

Recognizing India

As Canada’s Minister of Defence, I believe strongly that collaboration among partners and allies is crucial to strengthen global peace and security.

In this respect, Canada and India have a strong foundation on which to build. 

Our countries have significant people-to-people ties and have enjoyed longstanding bilateral relations.

A relationship based on shared values and traditions such as democracy, pluralism, and respect for the rule of law.

Canada and India are also important trade partners – in sectors ranging from agriculture and education, to entertainment and energy resources.

The strategic partnership between our nations is evident given the many recent visits by my cabinet colleagues.

Prime Minister Trudeau and Prime Minister Modi have also engaged in dialogue, including at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington last year.

These high-level engagements speak volumes about Canada’s recognition of India’s importance in today’s dynamic environment.

India has made major contributions to peace operations by sending battalion groups, engineers, medical teams, observers and staff personnel on some of the most challenging peacekeeping missions in history.

Indian troops have served in Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Western Sahara, and several other places.

In fact, I had the pleasure of meeting several Indian Peacekeepers in Goma last summer. I was inspired by their experience and valued the insight they provided me.

Over 220,000 Indian troops have participated in United Nations peacekeeping missions, more than any other country.

Your contribution is remarkable. But it has come at a great cost. Unfortunately, 165 Indian soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice in support of peace.

The international community is forever indebted to them for their sacrifice.

Canada’s contributions

Like India, Canada also has a proud tradition of peacekeeping, dating back to Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson.

Some 120,000 Canadians have served in more than 50 UN operations – from Cyprus to Cambodia and, more recently, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti and South Sudan.

It was Pearson who first promoted the creation of a UN-led “peacekeeping” force in 1956 to resolve the strife in the Suez Canal.  An achievement that earned him the Nobel peace prize, 60 years ago.

Modern peacekeeping

But the peacekeeping of yesterday no longer reflects the changing nature of conflicts today. Today’s missions are often undertaken where there is no peace to keep.

These missions are more about peace support and the protection of civilians than they are about traditional peacekeeping.

Modern peace support operations take place in complex and hostile environments where belligerents are often not identified, civilians are being targeted, and arms, drugs and people are being trafficked.

It is no secret that peace missions are under strain. Nor is it surprising that the UN has requested that countries with advanced militaries play a larger role.

In Canada, we understand that evolving conflicts abroad have a very real impact on our national security and Canadian interests. Many other countries do as well.

…“We cannot be an island of instability in an ocean of turmoil.”

Since forming government, Prime Minister Trudeau has committed Canada to multilateralism more strongly than we have in many years.

We have pledged troops and have launched our new Peace and Stabilization Operations Program, worth $450 million dollars. 

Our commitment also includes an increase of up to 150 police officers deployed to support UN peace operations.

And our commitment doesn’t end there. Canada will be hosting the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial meeting later this year.

Canada has not only contributed to peace operations.

We had many hard fought battles in Afghanistan.

And Canada continues to make valuable contributions to several international missions right now, including in Iraq, Ukraine and soon in Latvia.

In addition, Canada has been involved in the counter-ISIL core group where we continue to make significant contributions and have evolved our approach from a strategic military one to a more hocomprehensiblelistic approach.

Complex variables

We know that military might alone will not resolve modern conflicts today.

Conflict prevention requires a deep understanding of the the root causes of the conflict. It is not enough to just send soldiers. The military buys you time to allow diplomacy and development to work.

We also need to address the social and political factors that allow conflicts to fester in the first place.

That is why Canada’s approach to conflict prevention and peace support is a whole of government effort.

We believe we need to understand the fundamental causes of conflict, and learn from the experts who are working directly in the field.

We also must be frank about what is working – and what is not working – and consider innovative approaches to international peace operations.

Innovative approaches

In terms of innovative approaches, let me reiterate that the military alone will not be able to deliver security and restore countries to a peaceful state.

I firmly believe that NGOs, international organizations and the business community are doing very important work in conflict zones. We can learn from their experiences and perspectives.

I also feel strongly that we need to empower women in conflict and involve them in decision-making in security matters. I know this is an area where India excels. 

I applaud you for deploying the first unit composed entirely of female police officers in the UN to Liberia.

We also need to support younger generations in their education and eventually, in their gainful employment. This is particularly the case in Africa, where close to 60% of the population is 25 years old or less.

By working to address the root causes of conflict…by engaging other nations to work with us…and by supporting initiatives ranging from training to humanitarian assistance, development and education...we can maximize our contributions and increase our chances of success.

All of these things are needed today to achieve international peace and prosperity.

Defence Policy Review

Let me say a few words about Canada’s efforts to renew its defence policy.

Our government has been engaged in some deep thinking about our priorities and objectives over the past year.

We recently undertook a comprehensive review of our defence policy to address emerging peace and security challenges.

The review was rigorous and evidenced-based, involving unprecedented consulations with Canadians, academia and experts, Parliament, and our allies. Consultations of this magnitude have not taken place since the 1990s.

This process explored three key topics. The first was to examine the main challenges to Canada’s security. 

The second assessed the Canadian Armed Forces’ role in addressing threats and challenges, now and into the future.

The third area looked at what resources and capabilities would be required to effectively tackle these challenges.

The input we received from consultations and our analysis of these key questions has informed a new policy approach that reflects the vision Canadians have for our country and where it is headed in the coming years.  

A policy that responds effectively to both the challenges and opportunities inherent in the world  now, and into the future.

I am in the process of finalizing Canada’s new defence policy, which I will soon be releasing.


In closing, let me restate the importance of a cooperative approach in building a more stable world, and of doing this  with allies and partners that share our interests and values.

This is especially true in the Asia-Pacific, a region that has great importance to both Canadian security and prosperity.

Canada’s innovation agenda and strengths in the defence and security sector can easily be overlooked.

We are a humble country and one that seems far away from India. But Canada is as much a Pacific country and we are back on the world stage, ready to make a real difference…I firmly believe that Canada and India have much to offer in terms of defence and security. We share a commitment to peace support and conflict resolution.

We live in societies that are diverse and built on democracy and the rule of law.

This is my first trip to India as Minister of National Defence for Canada. It will not be the last.  Thank you.

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