Friday, June 8, 2018

Canadian Defence Review: A Year Later

I spent yesterday at a Canadian Global Affairs Institute event on the Defence Policy Review (aka Strong Secure Engaged or SSE).  I am a CGAI Fellow, so I am kind of obligated to go, but I would have gone anyway as it is a great occasion to learn a lot in a short period of time, to meet new people in the defence sphere, and to bump into folks I have met before (like the Chief of the Defence Staff, more on that below).

I did live tweet some of it so you can find my running comments via searching me and @Caglobalaffairs a la:
 The running theme of the conference was that most folks thought the SSE was really good (sure, because it really did not make hard choices, but did set up several reasonable priorities such as making clear the personnel issues and giving money to academics to do engagement [alas, not my group]), but that the implementation is really hard and only just started.

Striking moments of the day:
  • when one of the most senior and conservative defence  scholars seemed pretty woke by suggesting that the challenge of recruitment and retention of women in the CAF is mostly misogyny.
  • followed up by a defence attache from a senior Westminster country said that a Canadian military exercise was too focused on gender by including a realistic peacekeeping scenario where the abuse of women might trigger mission failure.  Some people are not quite so woke, I guess.  Given events in Bosnia (where a major contractor was a participant in the trafficking of women) and more than one UN effort where the peacekeepers were raping women AND in Baltics where the Russian propaganda machine is making myths about NATO troops raping women, maybe this guy is clueless about the realities of 21st century war.
  • Much talk of lapse management--that the CAF/DND often don't spend the entire budget because the processes are slower than expected so that a project can't be funded--because the contracts are not settled or whatever.  I remember my mother, working at the Naval Aviation Supply Office in Philly, spending out the budget she had every October (the end of the fiscal year if I remember correctly) on spare parts for Harriers and P-3s and the like.
  • CGAI collected anonymous questions since either military folks are defence contractors might be worried about offending someone.  Yet none of the questions were all that controversial... well, except mine.
  • Lots of discussion about transparency--I wish I had remembered to ask about non-disclosure agreements being imposed on those working on the fighter replacement program (aka To F-35 or Not To F-35)
  • My pal and grant teammate, Stefanie Von Hlatky of Queens, had the punchiest presentation of her panel on personnel, noting that Canada talks a good game but is 7th on gender measures at NATO, putting it behind Hungary (growing autocracy FTW?).
  • The room seemed to have a better balance although not close to 50-50 in gender representation than previous versions.
  • I was chatting to two reporters over the lunch break and the Chief of Defence Staff Jon Vance came up to us, and we had a nice chat, including about the Steve/Dave/Phil project.  He is genuinely interested in civ-mil stuff, so I hope to continue this conversation at a later date.
  • Vance then gave a very interesting keynote speech, and I, of course, asked an obnoxious question: given that you are talking about this stuff still being in the beginning stages (like developing more flexible rules for personnel stuff) yet you are nearing the end of your term (average CDS term is three years and Vance is at the end of three years), how can you ensure that your efforts will be sustained beyond your time in office?  How do you institutionalize the effort?  He then poked fun at me, that I was suggested that he leave sooner than later (not at all), and that my term was short too (far from it): UPDATE (SVH provided the quote): “not sure you’ll be around much longer either... I spoke to the Dean"  Having spent a year on the Joint Staff, I know how to receive humorous fire from senior officers.
  • I live-tweeted the afternoon panels less because I was getting wiped out as was my phone's battery.  Also, I had to tweet back at people who were engaging me about my conversation with Vance.
  • The last panel had the top three civil servants at DND: the Deputy Minister Jody Thomas, the Senior Associate DM and the Associate DM.  I asked Thomas about this "taking more risks" thing she and Vance kept talking about.  Her answer, after joking about whether she would be leaving soon too and my tenure (a nice callback to Vance's jokes--tis a good thing to have a fairly sympatico CDS/DM team).
  • I then chatted over drinks with a bunch of defence contractors, but did nothing to get them riled up like previous conferences where I said stuff about planes and ships to get Lockheed and General Dynamics reps in my face.
  • On my way out, I picked up CGAI's new publication (spring issue will eventually be posted here).  I have a piece in it on academic engagement with defence, which, well, has been overcome by events as the military might say.  As I always say, rejection is inherent in the academic enterprise.
Anyhow, we are coming up on the sixth anniversary of our move to Ottawa, and this event reminds me of why I am so happy here.  Getting razzed by the most senior military officer in this land above the wall is a feature, not a bug, of being involved in the life of a national capital.  I have far greater awareness, engagement, and enthusiasm because I have heaps more opportunities to bump into all kinds of sharp folks.  Yesterday, this included reporters I have come to know, military officers, officials at DND, random defence contractors, other CGAI fellows, academics and others.  I do love my job, and I very much love it here in Ottawa.... even if my province voted for the worst guy.

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