Editor’s Corner article

Defence portfolio to get a real shake up?
CHRIS MacLEAN  |  Feb 15, 2016

The Liberal Government has chosen to step back and make real change rather than incremental adjustments that tend to bog down the system with numerous workarounds (... remind you of anything?). Revolutionary change requires a complete new vision, the implementation of which usually involves a painful period of converting everyone to the new culture (especially difficult for those who resist change).

I’ve read that to truly change the culture of an organization typically takes five years to take root and flourish. Not necessarily so when sweeping out the old guard almost completely and replacing them with energetic new blood, albeit with minimal political chops (though that could be a good thing, time will tell). New culture we have, in spades. It’s hard not to when most Members of Parliament and many in the Cabinet are rookie politicians, though many Ministers have extensive and impressive background expertise to manage their particular portfolios.

Defence Review – Vital National Interests
The defence and security sectors (and many FrontLine articles) have long called on the Government to take the time to do a complete review and establish what our vital national interests really are. With that information, combined with a defined budget, sustainable funding, and an articulation of priorities, companies can establish long term plans with confidence – investing in the right people skills and advancing technologies and solutions that are in line with Canada’s vital national interests. What better surprise than to provide industry with the opportunity to create an informed game plan for the Canadian market? And believe me, there is no shortage of horror stories of companies wasting millions of dollars pursuing contracts that the government simply cancels one day because... it changed its mind or was worried the public would not look favourably at the cost. There would be less of that if the government actually recognized its priorities and communicated that to its citizens.

The recent story from CBC News about DND losing out on what would have been the fastest (and probably cheapest in the long run) way to fill the RCN’s current, large naval capability gap, is a good case in point. With a comprehensive National Interests document, the concern that the cost might impact other programs in the queue, would have been moot as it would have been easy to prove (a) the need and (b) the national interests it would have fulfilled. And a decision could have been expedited if there was a compelling reason, such as the auctioneer hollering “going... going... gone!”

I am talking of course about the two Mistral amphibious assault ships with impressive capabilities that were built for Russia, but held back just before delivery and then cancelled due to the annexation and invasion of Crimea and Ukraine. Numerous strategists within DND (General Hillier), the Senate (Hugh Segal), and many others such as analysts George Petrolekas and Dave Perry, had advocated for this capability. And this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but Jason Kenney, MND at the time, couldn’t sign the paperwork before the election. Egypt, on the other hand, quickly stepped up to the plate, and now has two brand spanking new ships that are perfectly suited for the kind of humanitarian missions that our new Prime Minister has deemed vital.

Peacekeeping & Humanitarian
Are humanitarian missions a vital national interest? Possibly. Certainly there is no shortage of natural or man-inflicted devastation to respond to. On the other hand, while many Canadians have bemoaned the seeming demise of Canada’s beloved peacekeeping role (it fits so well with that “good guy” image we have of ourselves), few know the rules of engagement. As Major-General Lewis MacKenzie wrote in FrontLine (War 101: Debunking the Peacekeeping Myth, 2006 #2), “a peacekeeping force has to be invited to the conflict by the belligerents.” This is part of the 1956 definition developed by the United Nations.

Now, in this day and age of multiple aggressors, fighting alongside one group in this area and against them in another, or when nations such as Russia send its soldiers out in unmarked uniforms, or when terrorists are wreaking atrocious and unspeakable violence, tell me, where does Canada see a peacekeeping role in which all parties invite us to keep the peace?

It is truly a sad statement to make, but a realist would have to recognize that the time for peacekeeping, in its present form, may have passed. This is a far harsher world than in Lester B. Pearson’s time.

Recall the rise of Hitler – a threat the entire world eventually recognized as pernicious to freedom. Daesh (ISIS) is just as brutal, if not more so because they boast and rejoice in the torture of human beings.

How long will it take before we stop averting our eyes? Americans are still making excuses for its isolationist stance and taking so long to join the war against Hitler. Will a future Canada be making similar excuses about this time in history? Even Quebeckers are criticizing pulling away from our allies and letting Daesh run free across the Middle East and Northern Africa.

It is important to remember that not every promise made during an election actually has the support of the people who voted for that party. This is one of those. Canada must do what is right.

To say that joining our allies in trying to destroy ISIS is “not what this country is all about” is to misunderstand Canadians. We actually wanted that “badass” Defence Minister with an effective plan.

Interconnected Policy
Once our Vital National Interests have been identified during this Defence Review, the next step will be a comprehensive new defence policy, foreign policy and national security policy... coordinated and complementary... that relate to and reinforce each other. These policies will help guide all major decisions and define corresponding actions – and hopefully will keep us out of the “freeloader” category.

These three interconnected, interdependent, pieces of the strategic-level policy puzzle must be shaken from their silos and encouraged to work together with a sense of shared of purpose (wouldn’t that be a first?).

There is no shortage of advice bubbling from within the defence industrial sector. Years of frustration have led to many thoughts on how to improve. The problem is, we haven’t had the benefit of national strategies to set out interests and goals in any meaningful way. 

This government has the potential to be different, and has expressed a desire to listen and consider. They seem to, so far, embrace transparency, so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt

– Chris MacLean