Friday, February 3, 2017

The Canadian Armed Forces: Misunderstood?

General Jon Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff, is upset at how the CAF is being covered these days.  The focus, he perceives, of the media is on "toxic narratives" related to sexual harassment in the military, the PTSD and suicide crises, and the like. 

I get it--the media tends to cover bad news stories. This can be incredibly frustrating.  And the more the military takes seriously and reports the problems, the more the media will cover those problems.  Like counter-insurgency, a challenge in all of this is how to measure progress?  How do you tell your story that is transparent and provides some optimism?

Well, the way not to do it is to be too optimistic.  I found the CDS complaining about the media far less disturbing than Vance's attitude about the CAF in a Trump Era:
On another issue, Gen. Vance said he is an “eternal optimist” about the path ahead, and despite the alarm in some quarters about the U.S. direction under Mr. Trump, “We are on the verge, I think, of great things together with the new administration.”
He talked of common interests in procurement, the ability to share intelligence with close allies and his close professional relationship with the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff – the body of senior uniformed leaders of the American defence department.
Great things? Oh my.  As Canadians (and Australians) get seriously scared about what Trump might do, saying that great things are on the horizon creates a huge credibility gap.  It is just incredibly hard to believe that pro-Putin, anti-NATO, unilateral and white supremacist Trump is going to cooperate well with the Canadians.  Will Trump keep American commitments to defend the Baltics?  Well, if Trump can't keep Obama's commitment to let in 1250 refugees from stalwart ally Australia, every other commitment is in doubt.  Share intel with the US when its top decision-makers have more affinity with Russia than Germany? 
  • Step 1: avoid making statements that raise questions about one's credibility.
  • Step 2: provide more media access to those doing the good work.  I already quoted Mr. Rogers once today, but if we can highlight the "helpers", we can give people hope.  The CAF does a whole lot of helping: training the Ukrainians and the Kurds, disaster relief at home, humanitarian missions abroad, and on and on.  I am sure they try to get coverage of such stuff, and it is hard as the media prefers to cover the hottest stuff (which is usually the most negative).  Here's a positive story: Canadian troops arriving in Latvia to present a deterrent against Russian aggression.  Perhaps it is the government's fault Canada is moving so slowly, but once the troops deploy, that will be a very visible story for the media to cover.
  • Step 3: Support the efforts of academics to build partnerships with the CAF, DND, defence scientists and private actors.  Oops, is that a plug for a SSHRC grant I am submitting this month?  Ok, just a bit.  But the more we communicate, the more we understand each other, the better informed Canadians will be.  Not just about the dark stuff, but also the progress the CAF is making within and its contributions beyond.

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