Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ethical Warriors and Related Thoughts

I spent the past two days at the Kingston Conference on International Security, which is run by Queen's Center for International and Defence Policy and the CF's Land Force Doctrine and Training System (which is a lousy name for an army's intellectual center).  I am not a scholar of ethics so I got to learn much while my talk had little to do with ethics (see here for how I translated my slides into a CIC column).

What did I learn?  The Just War presentation was a good refresher as it was Just War 101, more or less.  Stephanie Belanger of the Royal Military College presented a very interesting study, using discourse analysis, of how Francophone and Anglophone soldiers used different words to describe themselves and their relationship to the CF.  They have essentially different identities.  It was fun to hear a German scholar talk about the Afghanistan mission after I had used his country as an example in my presentation.  Oops. 

I tended not to be drawn into the ethics presentations as much as the ones on the social science of ethics.  Deanna Messervey of the Canadian Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis had an interesting discussion of when people are more and less likely to engage in ethical behavior, given that stress causes people to process and decide automatically rather than reflectively.  Olenda Johnson of the Naval War College showed how backward the US Navy's leadership training effort has been and the current initiative of the NWC to revise how the Navy does leadership development.  Most surprising? That the current naval leadership has gotten behind this effort, even though they are a product of the old system. 

These are just some of the highlights.  The most impressive talk was given by the former Chief of the Defence Staff--Walt Natyncyzk.  It was the most dynamic, captivating talk.  I guess getting to four stars requires some ability, eh?  The funny thing is that his rep is being soft spoken.  Perhaps compared to his predecessor, but otherwise?  Not so much.  The talk was funny, moving, and provocative.  I am not sure what I can say about it since he looked up and pointed at me twice, saying that I could not write about what he was saying at that moment.  It was really funny, and the officers around me were highly amused. 
Anyhow, some of the interesting things he said that I think I can quote are:
  • He preferred being responsible to being accountable.  An interesting distinction.
  • That he was ready to quit after his tour in Iraq (he was on exchange with III corps when it went to Iraq, and he went with it.*
  • He said he didn't want to be CDS because it was a glasshouse, it was really hard with incoming fire from all directions but was also the best job because he can make a contribution.
  • Rather than asking a female officer her age, he said "what is your story" which is a really nice opening line for a superior to ask a subordinate he does not know.
  • The greatest threats were ambition/ego/careerism which undermine the trust which is the basis of the relationships within the CF and between the CF and the public/government/allies.  "Declare success and remove the yoke of ambition." More on this point in a post later today.
  • He was willing to talk about his own "scandal" which involved flying a government plane when some folks thought he should not have.
  • His recipe for messaging: Go Ugly Early (do not let a mess sit around but confront it fast), Accept Responsiblity, Set the Record Straight respectfully, Focus on the Internal Audience.  
  •  If you face a really tough decision, default to the choice that involves compassion.  
  • He talked about his own post-war stress, diving off the bed during a thunderstorm.  The story he told was funny, but it was to get at the point that people in the Forces need to identify their own problems and ask for help.  To make that easier, the CF must reduce the stigma involved with mental health problems.  
  • He seemed to call for an operational pause and a focus on maintaining the base of the force in the face of austerity and in the aftermath of such high optempo in Afghanistan (some SOF did eight tours).  
  • One of his last references was most interesting.  He mentioned a particular unit of Americans that worked along side the Canadians in Kandahar.  When he met with them, he noticed their regimental colors, which included a ribbon or whatever from their very first victory--burning York in the War of 1812.  Enemies and now best of allies.  Indeed.
* During one of the meals, I was chatting with an officer who turned out to be a pilot who flew over Libya in the first rotation.  He informed me that the American Marine pilot that was embedded in his unit was not allowed to participate in the effort.  This was mighty strange, given the Canadian willingness to have its officers serve in their exchange positions even in wars that Canada avoided (Iraq).  The story indicated that the Americans had no clue about how to respond to this quick new mission.
One of the most interesting bits: that he and the folks of his generation were experiencing the decade of darkness (deep budget cuts) and complaining over beers (the folks in the story were Hillier and Stu Beare, who is currently commander of Canada's Joint Operations Command), and the realization that their near-quitting the force was less about the cuts and more about the failure of their bosses to inspire them.  Given this talk Natyncyzk gave and how he gave it, perhaps there is no shortage of inspiring leadership these days.  I don't think he is perfect, and I wish I had asked a key question about the conflict between being ethical and having to work with a government focused on message management, but the talk was damned impressive.

It was a good couple of days in Kingston, my Canadian home away from Canadian home.  I hope to get invited back again in the future (this was my second KCIS).

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