Thank you very much.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members. It is an absolute pleasure to be here to address the Standing Committee on National Defence, specifically on Canada's involvement in NATO. This is what I deal with on a day-to-day basis and it is something I am very concerned with.
The NATO Association of Canada is a charitable organization. It is non-partisan, an NGO. It was founded in 1966 to explain to Canadians the value of security and Canada's role as a member of NATO.
In order to achieve this goal, the NATO association hosts about 20 events every year. We are national. Our events are in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary, and all over the country. We put on a slew of events—student events, receptions, dinners, conferences, and round tables—but the real impact we have is through social media. This is something I'm going to be talking a bit about today.
We publish about 1,200 short journalistic articles. They reach through all the different social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. We try to have a short, punchy article that will get average Canadians interested in what is going on internationally. Of course, once they are, it is much easier for them to see the value of NATO and international security. On the content side, what we produce creates approximately 180,000 social media impressions every month.
Finally, we also have a high school program, which is extremely valuable, bringing in students and making sure they have a model NATO kit and other information to support teachers to design lessons for Canadian classrooms.
We are part of a NATO-wide NGO network called the Atlantic Treaty Association. Essentially, NATO, very early in its life, decided that in order to ensure that the citizens of NATO countries understand the alliance, each member should create an NGO that would be arm's-length and grassroots, through civil society, to support NATO on the ground in each of those countries. Because of the importance of sovereignty, this was very much a hands-off affair. It's a hugely valuable network, active in both NATO member and partner countries, and it has very often been the first step in creating greater networks through NATO and non-NATO members. I must also say that the secretary general of the Atlantic Treaty Association is a Canadian and a former intern from the NATO Association of Canada.
Our most prominent sister organization, which you will have heard of, is the Atlantic Council of the United States, based in Washington, D.C. We are all in this together. Every single NATO nation has something like the NATO Association of Canada.
I began leading the organization seven months ago. I'm a baby in this, but I have been involved in the organization for seven years, so I have good information on the issues facing the alliance. I have reviewed the presentations by other witnesses and note that we have a lot of experts here. A lot of them have been involved with the NATO association before. Rather than retreading some of the ground you've already heard about, especially Ukraine and some of the other issues regarding cyber, I want to discuss the communication of ideas generally.
Canada—and I include the NATO Association of Canada in this—must do more to make sure that NATO, one of the greatest ideas in the history of international peace and security, is understood by the citizens of this country. I have a very simple message, because I want you to hear it. The next generation of Canadians do not know what NATO is. They have no idea. We've seen this in many different situations.
Then again, why would they? Perhaps it's a flash of recollection from a single civics class, grade 10 or grade 12, or a line referring to NATO in a war movie they may have seen. Perhaps if they pick up a newspaper they might see NATO; otherwise, they will be taking a look at their own newsfeeds, and unless they are already interested in it, they are not going to see it. We have a serious problem here, where the next generation is not going to know anything about NATO.
Throughout your previous committee meetings, you have been presented with many reasons why NATO is important. It's one of the greatest and most successful ideas in the long history of international relations. NATO has helped to provide one of the longest periods of general global peace in the history of the world. It sounds trite but it's just true, and nobody really gives it its due in this case.
It was formed, of course, in a flurry of activity resulting from the masterful resolutions of Churchill and Roosevelt in the Atlantic Charter, a well from which NATO, the United Nations, the World Bank, the Marshall plan, and so many other international initiatives sprung. These ideas were founded upon the refrain, “Never again”. Never again will we, the Allied powers, let the world slip into global conflict and total war. It's just not acceptable. The latticework of organizations and institutions that was designed and has succeeded in creating an international rules-based order is now backed up by mutual agreements and the willingness to enforce them. That is quite new in the history of the world.
Under this order, the globe has witnessed greater prosperity and development than ever in the history of our species. The condition has allowed for the lifting up of billions of people out of poverty. It has allowed for the spread of medicine, and it has given opportunity to billions. Just look at the UN development goals. It's no small achievement.
The connection between security, peace, and prosperity is clear. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, this is not seen by the next generation. We've forgotten to tell the millennials how all of this came to be. The past three generations of Canadians had direct or second-hand experience of total war. They had either lived through the horrors and hardships, or heard of them from their parents or grandparents.
Now, through the natural course of time, the rising generation born in Canada has no knowledge of war, not through personal experience, nor through their parents or grandparents who lived it. This is a blessed state of affairs, obviously—I think everybody will agree—but it's one which also holds great danger.
The danger lies in not appreciating the Herculean efforts undertaken to provide global peace and security, and then, obviously, taking it for granted. It's a vicious cycle. For many reasons we have failed to teach this narrative to the next generation. Members of my team based in Toronto recently went out to the University of Toronto to do some sampling of what U of T students knew about NATO. We've done this a few times. Within one or two points, it has always been that one out of 25 people knows what NATO is. Very often, “North American”, “Treaty”, or “Trade” is all that they get through. To actually identify what NATO is...it's unbelievable. This is U of T as well, not the general population.
This in itself would be bad enough, but since 2014, and the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the destabilization of the value of our institutions has been unrelenting. We've been under attack constantly. There have been two major fronts here, of course. All of our allies in eastern Europe have had a lot of social media barrages thrown at them, and on the home front, that has created an amazing amount of questioning about the value of our institutions and what they're for.
Questioning is good. It's a good thing. First principles should always be addressed and should be gone back to again and again, but the answers to the questions are being supplied by those who do not believe in our international rules-based order. The answers to these questions are being given by Russia Today, and bot factories in Russia.
A recent report from the NATO centre of excellence stated that 70% of Russian-language activity about NATO is automated—it was about 26% for the English language—i.e. they are bots. This just came out in September. We're now finding out that Russia backed $1 billion of Facebook funding, and $191 million on Twitter. They're successfully creating wedges in the rules-based international community by spending billions of dollars on the narrative counter to ours. Ideas of course are powerful. Narrative cannot be an afterthought. We have to be unafraid of telling our story of what has created NATO and our international institutions.
It's not only an alliance of boots on the ground. It's an alliance of ideas and ideals. It's unique. It has the commitment to back those ideals with action. You can reach 2% of GDP defence spending. You can purchase all the fabulous kit that DND wants. You're still going to fail if you can't convince your own people of why you're doing what you're doing.
Minister Freeland's speech was an excellent articulation of our ideals. I think everybody agrees on that. It was an admirable narrative, highlighting Canada's role in the creation of the current global framework of peace and security, a story that Canadians would want to be a part of, but nobody's going to spend 35 minutes watching the speech on YouTube. It has been watched 3,282 times since June. A Canadian heritage minute, posted a week later in June, has 164,000 views.
This is the kind of initiative I'm suggesting. We need to make the message tighter and push it through social media. In short, we have to make sure the new generation sees themselves as part of the story, because the only way they're going to see the story is if it is bite-sized, in a moment, as they're scrolling through their social media feed.
NATO's public diplomacy division conducted research polls this spring, just before the NATO leaders meeting in May. A Pew research poll that was undertaken found that NATO support was certainly increasing in almost every country, which is terrific.
However, it also found that people under 30, women, and those without a university education were most ignorant of NATO. As a result, NATO public diplomacy is conducting a new campaign to get to the Canadian public as one of five countries where it's rolling the campaign out to experiment on, and it has enlisted the aid of the NATO Association of Canada, Global Affairs, and the Department of National Defence. The campaign is called #WeAreNATO. Please write it down. Do take a look at it on social media if you haven't already.
It's a platform that this government must seize. It's not, strictly speaking, NATO's job to convince the citizens of its members that membership is good. We have to show our own value. We are, after all, sovereign nations. That's why I want to ensure that you're all aware of this campaign as it begins to roll out, and that Canada makes it its own.
The NATO Association of Canada is well placed to make the most of the campaign because we can be most creative. Without the hindrances necessary in large departments and ministries, we can be a force multiplier, and we are. We intend to utilize memes and short videos, non-traditional ways of getting to millennials, because that's how to do it and the status quo is not acceptable.
Let me be clear. All of the alliance members have been bad at this. NATO makes this point quite well. Canada was chosen to take part in this because we are relatively good, but compared with Russia, we're missing in action. We're not even on the field of battle, and we must be.
Our ideals deserve it, our history demands it, and the memories of those who came before us to create the greatest stretch of peace, prosperity, and security in the history of the world require it. It's a story that needs to be told, and it's a story that millennials need to know they're a part of.
Thanks very much.