Is Defence the Missing Link to Security?

I had just finished editing an article for FrontLine Safety and Security magazine. The topic was political correctness and how it is limiting our ability to be effective against threats, real threats like from those who want to eradicate us from the face of the earth. I turned on the news and began to absorb the latest crime against humanity, the bombings at the airport in Brussels.

There have been at least 96 terror-related killing events since January, with deaths in the thousands. Only a handful have been in Western cities, but we should be busily preparing, not downsizing, not putting everything on hold while we re-assess.

Few of my friends or relatives want to talk about terrorism, and I get that. It is too negative. We have created wonderful, safe, happy communities to live in. Most of us have done our level best to promote an inclusive society where we can all pursue our special interests as long as we don’t harm any one or any thing.

Why should we have to dwell on how to deal angry jihadis? We elect our government – to talk to other governments, to read and understand those distasteful reports, and to make the hard decisions. It’s why we hire police officers – to hunt down and apprehend the bad guys and ensure they face justice. It’s why we have judges, to ensure justice is fair. It’s why we have intelligence officers – to sift through the deceptions and decode the messages aimed at doing us harm. And it’s why we have a military – to ensure our safety when everything else is failing.

One could argue that the “defence piece” of the D3 concept (defence, diplomacy, and development) is the most important one to maintain readiness for. You can “work at” diplomacy and you can “work at” development, but they are inherently long-term-oriented; there is seldom ever an urgency factor beyond, for instance, getting a school built as quickly as possible to get the children back to classes.

But you don’t “work at” defence. It is cooperative only among those who are on the same side, otherwise it is intended to be heavily one-sided. Defence is decisive. It is action- and results-based. As a government, calling on the military is probably your last option. It may be a distasteful option to many, but when you need it, it had better be there; it had better be strong; and it had better be able to quickly put a plan together and prepare to be decisive (aka succeed). When not deployed, our troops have an endless schedule of training exercises during which they hone their skills – to be ready. Everything they do, is to be ready. It’s one of their favourite words: “readiness”. Our Canadian Armed Forces must be ready; not idly waiting for new equipment to come in; not tied up in press briefings or finance meetings or other mind-numbing meetings.

I’m sure we’d all love to go back to the simpler times when security meant locking the door at night, when going to the airport was exciting (in a good way), when you didn’t have to “watch for anything unusual” when attending large social or entertainment or sports gatherings, or restaurants.

Being watchful is just another sign of the times that we cannot avoid. Our lives have been impacted in so many ways by terrorism that we take most of it for granted. We lock down our schools when the kids are in class. We shake our heads at the very idea that people can “just drive up” to an airport without being scanned. It doesn’t matter what “holes” we plug, they will find others, or create a whole new target altogether.

Can we do anything about it? As Don Macnamara asserts in this edition, national and personal security is “Job One” of the government. It really doesn’t matter how pleasant our lives are now, without a relative assurance of safety and security, both of our person and our future prosperity, nothing else matters. Our very way of life could be destroyed. In fact it is, little by little, each time we get patted down by a uniformed stranger at an airport; every time we have to put all of our little bottles of moisturizer and shampoo into a little plastic baggie; and every time we are forced to chug our water before we get to security.

But I digress, let’s get back to readiness.  As the Irving and Seaspan and Davie shipyards taught us, if you don’t maintain a capability, it costs an awful lot to get it back when you need it. And so it is with military capability. How many platforms are in need of being replaced due to age? How many systems need to be replaced due to obsolescence? How much capability are we simply doing without, or leasing from other countries?

Procurement on the whole is far from transparent, seldom fair, always late, has little to no accountability, and is fraught with way too many meetings that do little more than add cost to the project.

Any government-proposed solutions seem to simply add more layers of approvals and checks to ensure everyone’s butts are being sufficiently covered – except maybe the soldiers, sailors and airmen and women themselves.

There are global solutions out there that would allow us to get more capability, at half the price, in half the time – but we are so busy arranging meetings and creating PowerPoint presentations and adding more layers of multiple, equal-level decision-makers and non-accountability documentation that the defence industry is getting very fed up. I’ve heard from so may innovative companies with solid products that just can’t get in to pitch Irving, for example, that they are steering away from defence business because it just isn’t profitable unless you have something else going for you. Many are turning their sights on the commercial sector, and that’s all well and good until the country realizes an entire capability has either fizzled away or been sold off to another country, or will cost three-four times what it should have to try to get it back.

How much money have we wasted on the stalled FWSAR project file over the past decade? Can we take some small solace in the fact that the project seems to be inching toward a conclusion after so very many years? We wait.

As Canadians, we appreciate living in a free society. Do many of us think about what it might take to protect our freedoms and that way of life? Not likely. However, if we had to think about it for more than 10 seconds, we would affirm that we do want it protected, as Don says, Canada is a country worth defending! But he means in the present, not a future dream.

If many of the big and small procurement projects are indeed being scuttled or pushed aside, many good companies will give up. They have to answer to their Boards, they just cannot continue to justify meeting after meeting after meeting with no results in sight.

Get back to the basics of procurement. Put out a fair SOR and an RFP that isn’t 6,000 pages long. Have a reasonable timeframe, choose a winner based on the bids, and move on. It can be that simple if you demand the lawyers set it up that way. Keep your eye on the prize: protection for Canada. It’s worth it!


Chris MacLean is the editor of FrontLine Defence.