Monday, March 15, 2021

More Civvies, Less Mil, Please

Watching Mercedes Stephenson interview yet another survivor of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces [CAF] and ... the Department of National Defence [DND] has caused me to expand my SecDef rant to apply more broadly: it is not good to have the part of the government that is responsible for overseeing the armed forces to have many former military folks staffing it.  

In my various posts about SecDefs Mattis and Austin, I made the claim that it is really hard to erase decades of socialization.  I haven't worked in many different kinds of organizations, but I can tell you from my one year at the Pentagon, the armed forces can be quite effective at socialization--shaping the sensibilities of those working within.  Indeed, unlike most other organizations, the armed forces does this deliberately and thoroughly--from haircuts to language to posture to daily battle rhythms.  To argue that one can simply toss that aside after twenty years or so is just silly.  It is even harder to de-socialize or re-socialize if one's next job involves both overseeing the armed forces and working closely with them.

There is also the networking side of things.  While it might be advantageous for policy-officers in the Department of National Defence to know people in the military, it also raises risks.  That the DND official might worry about the impact of a policy change upon his or her former pals.  

There is also the path dependence of gender thing--that the military is still overwhelmingly male and white and all the rest--so picking people from it to staff DND means that it will make it harder for DND to be more diverse and inclusive and representative of Canada (my friends in DC tell me the preference for veterans has the same impact on civil service jobs).  Plus given that the CAF has a legacy of treating women poorly, importing men from that environment who either participated in such treatment or were complicit, as the woman interviewed by Mercedes testififed, is a bad idea.

Sure, #notallwhitemilitarydudes are guilty, but they all come from an institution that has had pervasive problems of sexual misconduct and abuse of power. 

To be clear, we don't need the civilians and military folks to be at war over policy.  However, some tensions between the civilian side of the house and the military side of the house can be productive.  If the civilians at DND and the military folks in CAF are always seeing things exactly the same way, that is probably a problem.  Because it might just mean the civilians see themselves as allies/protectors/cheerleaders rather than overseers.*  If you want to argue that the military can oversee itself, the past couple of months should make it clear that is a bad argument.  When I talked to parliamentarians long ago, they argued their job was not to oversee the CAF but to hold the Minister to account for his work in overseeing the CAF.  Well, if he isn't doing the job (see my forthcoming editorial on that) and if the parliamentarians aren't overseeing the armed forces, who is?

So, as we move forward beyond the current mess, let's:

a) name a new Minister of Defence who did not serve in the armed forces for decades
b) re-think DND personnel policy as well
c) oh yeah, change the culture of the CAF.


* Canada is not alone in this.  Some countries' ministries of defence are entirely populated by active and retired military personnel.  Others may not be staffed that way but still see their jobs as protectors of the armed forces from civilian (legislative) interference.

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