Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Figuring Out Low Expectations: The Rolling Out of the Defence Review.

The long awaited Defense Review is due to come out next week, so the Minister of National Defence gave a short, very scripted speech to tease the review.  To be clear, as I told the media (I was scrummed!), this was the teaser, not a trailer, for the forthcoming movie.  It gave a hint that a review was coming but gave us very little idea of what the movie would look like--what the plan would be.

MND Sajjan explained that the defence challenge is worse than they imagined when they started (Mercedes Stevenson of CTV asked: is this really surprising? No) and that the hole is deeper than they thought. The news reported last night that this was an effort to set low expectations.  But I am confused:
Are the expectations now low because the file is so bad that any improvement they make will be really cool?
Was the skepticism in the room so deep, that there will be no new money and no hard choicess so that no one expects them to be successful?  

I think they might have been aiming for the former and hit the latter instead.  How so? If the problems are so vast, then shouldn't we expect some combination of hard choices and more money?  They could claim to be more effective, efficient and efficacious in spending the dollars they have, but they would still need a story to explain how they get there.  On the other hand, Sajjan said that they would be looking to long term plans (despite the fact that this government is putting heaps of $ into interim planes--that would have been my question).

I participated in the defence review last summer, and, at the roundtable in which I participated, there was not much consensus.  The academics basically said: make hard choices, have less capability and then do less with less not more with less.  The ex-mil said that any cuts would make it hard to be a full spectrum combat capable force (because they love to conflate full spectrum with combat capable--two different things).  But what they did agree to is this: the only real threat Canada faces is cyber.  Everything else is too far away (prePresident Trump).  So, invest in cyber.  Well, that means more money or shifting money.  I told the media that the latter is unlikely as we would have heard one or more of the services complaining about cuts if they were losing money to fund more cyber.

So, the folks who talk defence in town were probably dissatisfied the teaser when they wanted the trailer--tell us not just about the problems but give us a clue about the plan.  Instead, we had to guess about the plan, and started with our own preconceptions and previous evidence.  Given that Sajjan said last year that personnel would be cut (they are 50% of the budget) and that military bases would not be closed (some are redundant or obsolete but it would job losses for some communities), hard choices don't seem to be likely.  I think the MND didn't help himself much, even though I refrained from asking any obnoxious questions.

Anyhow, I storified my live tweets here.

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