Friday, April 29, 2016

Pre-Baked? Thinking About the Defence Review

The media keeps asking me if the defence review is pre-baked.  That is, whether the Liberal government already knows what it is going to do and whether the roundtables are a sham, mostly to make it look like they are taking the experts seriously. 

I honestly don't know since the folks in the government are not telling me of their plans.  I will say this: having a wide array of people offering their views will mean that the Defence Minister and his advisers will have many conflicting opinions sent their way.  How will they choose which threats are the most important?  Which capabilities seem to be the ones that are required?  Which strategies make the most sense?  The possibilities are:
  • the decision-makers may find that there is some consensus and go with that.
  • the decision-makers will find some arguments to be so convincing that they will go with those stances
  • the decision-makers will find a sea of noise and will pick out from the noise the stuff that resonates best. That is, their pre-existing beliefs may shape what they listen to.  
How will an outsider tell which one this is?   Well, this outsider is not going to have the testimony and reports from all of the roundtables and other inputs into the process, so I will have no idea.

The best way to tell if the Defence Review is meaningful if it actually advocates for hard decisions to be made and then those hard decisions are actually made (which I have said before).  If the review serves as a focal point and a framing device to managing the tradeoffs that have largely been kicked down the road, then it is a meaningful effort.  Sure, having roundtables in strange places sends confusing signals, but the only way to evaluate the Defence Review is after it takes place and after we get the results.  It is kind of like evaluating the NFL draft before it takes place, when we will only really know who did well and who did poorly a few years from now.

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