Today is the first day of the fall term of my Civ-Mil class to mostly M.A. students at NPSIA. One of the basic questions for this class and for modern democracies is: what counts as a crisis in civil-military relations? Luckily for me, I have a new example to play with: that apparently the Prime Minister did not let General Stu Beare, commander of all Canadian Forces operations (he is CJOC--Commander of Canadian Joint Operations Command), speak to the media a few weeks ago.
This story is nicely on the edge--that the media should have access to commanders to discuss operations and such, but that commanders should not be commenting on government policy. Nice gray area. Of course, if Harper trusted the military, he could have expected Beare to converse with the media without making any comments that might embarrass the government. But either because Harper is distrustful in general (he is), because he distrusts the military (he does), or because the general in question is just about to retire and thus has nothing to lose (and might be as outspoken as the outgoing head of the army was--General Devlin), Harper and/or his Defence Minister apparently chose to pre-empt.
Does a lack of trust = a crisis in civil-military relations? That depends on your basis of comparison. There is no threat of coup, so Pakistanis might say that Canada has no problem in civ-mil. The Canadian officers will salute and carry on. But in a democracy, proper civil-military relations requires mutual respect and that seem to be lacking here. Harper has been burned by leaks--that the cuts to the military are affecting readiness. On the other hand, the bait and switch budgetary politics--saying that x will be spent on the military but holding back a few billion--makes it very hard for the military to plan and operate effectively. So, both sides have grievances.
I have long argued here that the government is treating the military badly--that forcing them to keep the personnel numbers up while cutting the budget is good symbolic politics but bad policy, for instance. Yet the military is supposed to suffer in silence. The officers should give their feedback up through the chain of command and then let the civilians be wrong--that is how democratic control of the military is supposed to work. Of course, democratic control in practice also means that leaks happen and the media ask officers inconvenient questions which they will either dodge or answer.
So, where does that leave us? Well, since this is the first day of the semester, it leaves us confused.
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