Saturday, January 26, 2019

The State of Canadian Defence and Security Studies

I was in Calgary the past couple of days for a conference on the State of Canadian Defence and Security Studies.  There were profs from across Canada, some grad students, reps from the Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, and some folks from relevant funding agencies.  Because  it was a Chatham House Rules event, I can't cite what individuals said (other than me, of course, see below), but I can give the general gist.

And, well, the mood was fairly grim.  Why?  Because there is not much hiring these days and not much university support for defence and security stuff.  History departments long ago moved away from hiring military historians.  Poli sci? Depends.  The challenge is that those who focus on Canada are limiting their own careers as work on Canada tends not to published outside of Canada and tends not to get cited.  If cites and publishing in top journals are the ways to get ahead, departments may not hire those who choose to write on Canada.   Oh, and the end of the Security and Defence Forum about seven years ago hurt the regeneration of the Canadian defence and security community.

I was not so grim for a couple of reasons.  First, Carleton and NPSIA has built defence/security as a key strength--there have been new positions created (mine, for one) and retirements/departures have been replaced.  Second, I think there is a pathway to getting good pubs and cites for those who study Canada: either compare with other cases or work with others elsewhere.  The basic reality is that most folks are disinterested not just in Canada but in many countries--there are few countries that are viewed by many as intrinsically interesting--US, Russia, China and a few others.  So, scholars of Australia or Belgium or many others are more likely to publish more visible work in partnership.  This may not work for other people, and it may be a product of my biases--I have always engaged in comparative work.  Third, there is the CDSN.

I presented the status of the Canadian Defence and Security Network.  There is a defence and security community, but it  is like a body without a nervous system or skeleton.  The CDSN would help energize the community, work with a variety of partners, and build the next generation.  So, let me talk through the slides I presented.

The CDSN builds on but does not replicate the old SDF research centers, adding units from schools that were not involved before and CIRRIQC (a Quebec network that didn't exist in the old days).  The members include not just political scientists and historians but also sociologists, psychologists, and folks from yet other disciplines. We have had government agencies involved all along the way, with members of the leadership team including a defence scientist and a prof from the Canadian Forces College.   We have involved non-gvernmental organizations and think tanks interested in defence/security.  We include groups that will improve our ability to involve women (WIIS-Canada) and, well, Bridge the Gap between academics and policy-types.  We have also built on our individual networks to connect to institutions in the US and Europe.  
 What do we seek to do? To build a network--so that scholars and elements of civil society and the government know what research is being done, what questions folks want answered, and foster teamwork within and across various divides.  To share data so that there is less duplication and we get more bang for our research buck.  To engage the public so that the citizens understand better this critical sector.  And, yes, to regenerate but do so in ways that are more inclusive.

How?  We have five themes to serve as focal points: defence procurement, personnel issues, operations, civil-military relations and security.  Each one will have annual workshops that will focus on specific issues.  For instance, the personnel group will focus in the first three years (if we are funded, more on that below) on how to reduce discrimination against women in the Canadian Armed Forces.  The civil-military relations node will focus on using surveys (with Nanos (and analysis of social media to assess how the media shapes attitudes and knowledge of the forces. If funded, we w
ill connect students at all levels with the various CDSN efforts, mentoring, training and giving them fora to present their work. And, yes, connect to the network.  It turns out that there are summer institutes on defence/security so our idea is not that original except our aim is to include not just younger academics but also policy officers and military officers--to give each varying perspectives from the other sectors while getting  drinking from the firehose of knowledge from the profs in the network.  I'll save the Capital Capstone idea for now. 
Where do we go from here?  Well, we will know soon whether we will be funded by SSHRC.  If so, then we are off to the races.  We will also throw our hats into the next DND network grant competition (one bit of news from this conference is that we don't know when that competition will be, so the "this winter" may be spring?).
What challenges do we face?  Some may not want academics to interact with the armed forces.  I think we have handled that well by not including defence contractors in the partnership and by bringing in groups from civil society who are known to be critical of the CAF and DND.  One challenge is that we don't look new because we have been working at it for five or so years.

My presentation was well-received, so we shall see.  I feel pretty good about the CDSN's chances.  So, that is a key reason why I don't feel grim.  That and I drove today to Banff so that I can ski tomorrow! 

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