Has Anyone Seen a Real Defence Policy?
© 2012 FrontLine Defence (Vol 9, No 5)

Canada has no defence policy and members of parliament seem disinterested in the fact that no such policy exists – thereby failing Canadians in two significant ways. First, they are putting Canada at risk by failing to ensure government is acting appropriately and effectively in the national interest when it comes to issues of national defence. Second, they are ­contributing to a worrisome democratic deficit, whereby government is allowed to treat Canadians like mushrooms – keep them in the dark and feed them… well, you know what.

“Hold on a minute,” government officials holler, waving the Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS) in the air as they indignantly point out that a defence policy does indeed exist. They seem sycophantically unaware that, not only is the CFDS not a policy, it is not even a real strategy.

Since its publication in 2008, neither the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence, nor the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence has examined the CFDS in any detail. They should do so now.

The CFDS is out of date, unaffordable and impotent.

Policy precedes strategy – no policy, no strategy. Policy, properly articulated is a concise, visionary expression of intent. It identifies national values, recognizes our fundamental national defence interests, identifies principles of action, and defines political objectives. If policy is crafted appropriately, it provides everyone – from ­cabinet ministers to ordinary citizens – with a clear, but general, idea of what is to be done. It also inspires popular commitment.

Policy is implemented by strategy. Where policy is the what; strategy is the how. Strategy articulates a broad, high-level plan that defends our national interests, acknowledges our values, assigns strategic objectives that support the attainment of political objectives, sets priorities, broadly allocates resources, and assigns strategic responsibility. The CFDS does none of these things. Its own Executive Summary supports this view.

"A new and proper defence policy is needed."

The first sentence betrays any claim the CFDS has to being a strategic document. It ignores any higher notion of policy or a broad plan for its implementation. It says that the CFDS “sets a roadmap for the modernization of the Canadian Forces.” The CFDS is therefore clearly nothing more than a tactical plan focused on the Canadian Forces. It is neither a government defence policy, nor is it a strategy.

A true defence policy would engage all government departments and agencies, all provinces, motivate the private sector, and inspire Canadian citizens. As it is, the CFDS is nothing more than a shopping list that has become a wish list because the necessary funds are no longer available.
The second sentence of the CFDS Executive summary says, “It will produce a first-class, modern military that is well trained, well equipped and ready to take on the challenges of the 21st century.” This is meaningless fluff. What exactly does “first-class, modern military” mean? What are the measures of merit?

Without defined objectives and political will, any “first-class, modern military” might be nothing more than a pretty, but fragile china cup that breaks on first contact.

The next sentence, “[W]ell trained, well equipped and ready to take on the challenges of the 21st century,” also lacks objective standards and is so intellectually empty it creates a vacuum. It sucks. “[R]eady to take on challenges” perpetuates exactly the same kind of mistake every government makes when insisting that the Canadian Forces be merely combat capable. Both descriptions insinuate simply showing up for a fight. There is no inherent sense that government recognizes the fact that a ­military force must be prepared to fight and win – not simply participate.

Wouldn’t it be better if government built the Canadian Forces to be combat dominant? We don’t simply want to ‘fight alongside the best, against the best,’ we want to ‘fight with the best to prevail over the best.’

Next, the Summary says, “This Strategy is based on the Government’s vision for defence as well as an extensive and rigorous analysis of the risks and threats facing Canada and Canadians in the years to come.” Oh, really? ‘Visioning’ is certainly a component part of policy development, but the current government, which prefers to rule rather than lead, has not deigned to share this “vision for defence” with us – if they ever really had one.

Moreover, what about the “extensive and rigorous analysis” that supposedly has been completed? From the time the Harper government assumed power in 2006, no parliamentary committee, in either the House of Commons or Senate, has invited any Minister of National Defence to attend their meetings for the purpose of discussing defence policy qua policy; nor have they invited  any Chief of the Defence Staff to lay out his vision for the Canadian Forces over the next decade or two; nor any Chief of Defence Intelligence to provide an overview of defence threats to Canada. How do we know that government has pondered any of this?

But perhaps most troubling of all is evidence that the drafters of the CFDS do not understand the true nature of a ‘mission.’ The CFDS claims to assign six ‘core’ missions to the Canadian Forces: 1) conduct daily domestic and continental operations, including in the Arctic and through NORAD; 2) support a major international event in Canada, such as the 2010 Olympics; 3) respond to a major terrorist attack; 4) support civilian authorities in Canada during a crisis, such as a natural disaster; 5) lead and/or conduct a major international operation for an extended period; and 6) deploy forces in response to crisis elsewhere in the world for shorter periods.

These are not ‘missions.’ They have no stated objectives. They, once again, focus on process, not results. They are simply statements of roles. Mistaking roles for missions perpetuates the erroneous equating of equipment with capabilities and the naïve belief that mere participation produces effect. All three are errors of such fundamental significance one wonders if government understands the role of modern military forces in democratic society at all.

No wonder they have not promulgated a proper defence policy. They don’t know how. And, once again, parliament is letting them off the hook far too easily.

Hudson on The Hill
© FrontLine Defence 2012