Halifax: North America’s Next National Security Hub?

The quiet Canadian port city of Halifax is looking forward to a high-tech future after having been chosen as the North American host for NATO’s latest effort to spur the development of cutting-edge technologies seen as crucial to 21st century warfare.

The selection was announced at last month’s Halifax International Security Forum, an annual event in which top politicians, military leadership and experts from around the world meet to discuss the defense of democracies.

It had already been decided that one of the program’s two offices would be located in Canada. A European regional office was selected from a joint Estonian-United Kingdom bid, according to a NATO announcement earlier this year.

The initiative, known as the Defense Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic (DIANA), was unveiled during an April 6-7 meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.

The alliance said then that DIANA “will concentrate on deep technologies – those emerging and disruptive technologies that NATO has identified as priorities including: artificial intelligence, big-data processing, quantum-enabled technologies, autonomy, biotechnology, novel materials and space.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg added that NATO would work with the private sector and academia to “ensure that we can harness the best of new technology for transatlantic security.”

The ministers also agreed to establish a 1 billion euro ($1.05 billion) venture capital fund to invest in “early-stage start-ups and other deep tech funds aligned with [NATO’s] strategic objectives,” according to the April announcement.

The selection appears to be a good fit for Halifax, which despite its relatively small population of 431,000 is Canada’s most important Atlantic seaport and home to the nation’s largest military base. More than 40 percent of Canada’s military assets are located in the surrounding province, according to the Nova Scotia government.

The city also features the regional headquarters of Canada’s civilian intelligence agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and the Nova Scotia headquarters of the national police service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Halifax’s harbor is the site of a major shipbuilding industry for the Canadian Navy and its naval dockyard features a processing center for the so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing countries — Canada, the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. It also has one of Canada’s three regional Marine Security Operations Centres (MSOCs), designed to coordinate the nation’s response to any maritime threat.

“Halifax is a great fit for DIANA and its priorities of NATO working more closely with industry and academia,” said Emily Smits, CEO of Modest Tree, a Canadian defense contractor considered one of the rising stars in the industry.

“Halifax is growing rapidly as a tech hub and has many major universities in Halifax and throughout the province. Having DIANA come to Halifax would further position the city as a place of innovation in emerging technologies and demonstrate this on a global scale.”

Asked by VOA what the establishment of DIANA in Halifax would mean for her company, Smits said, “It will allow further collaboration in academia, global industry and potential contracts and partnership discussions. Innovation hubs and networking opportunities that include global players in your backyard are always great for continued discussions.”

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