Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Digging Out of the DND/CAF Hole

 I had a coffee with a really smart person yesterday that got me thinking and then the news that former CANSOF commander MG Pete Dawe was being reinstated got me thinking even more.  What can we do to make real change in DND/CAF?  Last week's roundtable was a progress report, but it reminded me of what isn't being done as much as what is being done.  Again, my expertise is not on personnel stuff or organizational or cultural change but on civil-military relations, so this is a half-baked set of guesses more than a well-worked out plan.  

The first step is instill (not necessarily re-instill because I have no idea when it really existed) civilian control of the military.  The Minister of National Defence managing the CDS is not micromanagement but it is, yes, political.  All public decision-making is political, so get over it. As Risa Brooks instructs us, thinking that this stuff is not political is a key step towards screwing up the politics of all of this.  This means tossing out Huntington and starting with, yes, principal-agent theory--that any organization, including the military (especially the military) has a shirking problem---that those down the chain will do less or more or differently than those at the top expect.  So, the MND must be careful about who gets picked to be CDS and who gets to have the big positions below that--chiefs of the army, navy, air force, personnel, special operations, joint operations command, etc.  Then, the MND must define how much discretion the CDS has--that when the CDS screws up or is less trustworthy, either replace the CDS or threaten to do so while narrowing their discretion.  And if the CDS is doing very well, then broaden the discretion with the greater trust.  People can refer to the National Defence Act and talk about what is and what is not within the Chief's purview, but the MND has the big hammer--do what I want or you will get fired.  So, that bit of formal authority can produce a whole lot of informal authority if wielded well.  Up to now, the CAF has considered itself largely autonomous and this MND has continued to foster that attitude.  Time to change that.  

The second step is to have some kind of reconciliation with the past.  It is likely that damn near every senior officer did something wrong in their past--that the Royal Military College was/is a place chock full of toxic masculinity, so the entire current generation of officers was either guilty or complicit of something.  There is a great need to admit one's guilt and then sort by severity.  Some sort of restorative justice is required where those who did minor stuff (the word on the street is Dany Fortin fits into this category) can admit and learn from what they did wrong and then use that lesson to lead better while getting rid of those who did major stuff.  

The third step is have a truly independent judicial process outside of not just the CDS but outside of MND.  Develop a civilian court with military expertise, so that those who are making the decisions--prosecuting and adjudicating--are not subject to promotion within the military.  Until that happens, independence is just "independence."  Who do they report to?  Ultimately, parliament (I will get to parliament further below).  Even an independent agency needs to have a boss somewhere--they can't float freely.  In Germany, soldiers accused of crimes are now processed in a court in or near Potsdam since that is the location of the Bundeswehr's operational hq (trials used to be held in the hometowns of the accused--but that meant little expertise/learning).

The fourth step is a truly independent ombudsman or inspector-general.  Multiple ombudsman have indicated that their budgets and discretion have been subject to interference from the Minister.  So, have them report to parliament.  

The fifth step is to figure out how to fix the Defence Committee of the House of Commons.  Folks on it don't want security clearances since their incentives are all about talking, not learning.  The original title for our piece was "Ignorant Critic vs Informed Overseer" and my continuing conversations with parliamentarians indicate that the incentives all push towards "Ignorant Critic."  I think a first step to give the committee teeth and relevance is to, dare I say it, give it the power to approve any and all procurement decisions above $100 million.  The actual threshold is not so relevant, but the key is that if the committee's approval is needed to do important stuff, the CAF will take it far more seriously even if the committee is doing stuff in private.  And, of course, going along with this is security clearances for the committee and a bit more staff for the committee itself.  Give the committee the tools do real work.  Something will have to be done to change agenda control since right now the government can squelch the committee whether there is a majority or minority government.  

The sixth step (and maybe it is the first one) is to remember this is an abuse of power crisis, not just a sexual misconduct crisis, so giving the Sexual Misconduct Response Centre damn near all of the responsibility is a mistake.  The SMRC needs to focus on sexual misconduct.  The Professional Conduct/Culture Command, LtGen Carrigan's shop, should be more focused on abuse of power and, yes, reducing toxic masculinity.  A key part of that is reducing the focus on either the Special Ops folks or the Infantry as the model of the contemporary soldier--warrior as an identity is exclusive and limiting and easily slips into toxic masculinity. 

So, all we have to do is reform the job of Minister, the role of parliament, the military justice system, and the culture of the force.  No biggie.  Of course, the big challenge for any academic making policy recommendations is figuring out how to make them attractive to politicians.  What is in it for today's politicians to do all of this?  That is something I will have to consider... but not today as I have a day job.

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