Tuesday, April 28, 2020

CDSN COVID Response Conference

Yesterday, we at the Canadian Defence and Security Network tried something new--a Zoom-based conference to brainstorm ideas of how Canada's defence/security sector should be responding to the crisis.  The origin was this: this is an unprecedented crisis, the least we, the community of defence/security scholars, can do is help the government think about what to do.  We brought together the existing networks funded by the Department of National Defence's MINDS program: SPNET (Concordia-based group of engineers working on tech-related policy, like AI), the Defence and Security Foresight Group,and the North American and Arctic Defence and Security Network.  We asked DND's Policy branch (ADM Pol) to provide us with questions that they would like us to address. We used several of those, some of our own, and some hybrids, and divided them among our five themes:


  • How is COVID affecting current ops at home and abroad?
  • What role is there for the CAF to support Canada during and after the pandemic?


  • How has COVID-19 changed the geopolitical landscape? What are the likely short-term impacts of the pandemic on international relations, defence and security?
  • If deployment is increasingly ‘local’ (and dealing with, for example, climate change events such as floods, etc.) how might this impact the relationships that CAF has with other ‘security providers’, such as local police, academics, the public, health officials, etc.


  • How does Op Laser impact preparedness and readiness? Do we need to think of an increased role for the reserves as we think of potential future pandemics?
  • How is Op Laser impacting the willingness to deploy of both the reg force and reserves?


  • What are the assumptions for 10% or 20% reductions in the defence budget?  Particularly in terms of the timing and process involved in either set of cuts?
  • Given the extensive regional and sectoral footprint of National Defence, are there investment opportunities that may help affected regions and industrial sectors?

Civ-Mil Relations:

  • How can the CAF work more closely with other government departments and agencies, civil society organizations, and the communities in which they serve to prepare for and prevent the spread of infectious disease? Who are the key stakeholders with whom they should partner? 
  • How can the DND/CAF further leverage social media/digital applications for flat (vs hierarchal) communications?
We will be spending this week sorting the discussions to come up with a short policy brief to share with DND and the public.  As the host, I surfed between the five breakout rooms before moderating a quick discussion of each group's findings.  Here's a quick hit and run of some snippets I picked up, including not just some good ideas for the government but also lessons about how these online things work:
  • DND and the Canadian Armed Forces probably should develop Principles of Involvement to clarify what they are and are not doing and how they are doing it.  
  • DND should get ready to do much messaging to demonstrate the CAF's relevance now as that might matter in the budget battles of the future. 
  • Much of this has gender dynamics, including replacing mostly female staff in long term care facilities with young men.  Some thought about the ramifications of that would be handy.
  • Those places hosting Canadian troops may not want Canadians around during a pandemic...
  • Maybe this event will cause Canada to re-think its priorities and definition of security?  
  • The CAF is not a miracle worker--good at planning, reviewing, wargaming, logistics.  Don't expect it to fill all of the holes like the supply chain or replace industry or doctors.
  • The event itself had a gendered dynamic: that we got a good mix of men and women participating, but of those people who signed up ahead of time, more women dropped out (25% for women, 6% for men).  This, along with the stats of who is submitting articles to journals, is suggesting that women are facing far more stress for dependent care (kids, parents, etc) than men.  
We build this as a two hour event because we did not think people could dedicate more time given all of the other competing demands.  So, we scratched the surface.  The plan now is to come up with a few policy recommendations this week (again, the idea is this is an emergency so we should move quickly), and then hopefully get some resources to direct some graduate students to provide the research for deeper discussions of these issues.

Again, once we get our policy brief assembled, I will be blogging it here as well as discussing it on twitter, the podcast, and wherever else we can.

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