Monday, November 15, 2021

The Arbour Review: Consultations about CAF Reform

 Today, I had an opportunity to be part of a small group roundtable with retired Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour.  She has been charged with reviewing the Canadian Armed Forces to figure out how the CAF (and others) can be reformed to do less harm to those who join it.  It was held with Chatham House rule so I can't say who said what, but I can say that the only person who really needed the protection of said rule was me.  I think I was the only person to say something that was not well thought out--how about a truth and reconciliation process so that those in the CAF who grew up in a toxic environment can come clean about past mistakes?  The answers given  to my half-baked idea--that any kind of restorative justice should be led by the survivors and not the perpetrators, that drawing lines between minor and major misconduct very problematic, and so on--quickly made me realize I should stick to what I know.

Well, what do I know and what did I recommend?  When it comes to culture, others were more focused on toxic masculinity, and right so.  I am more focused on a different although related aspect of CAF culture--entitlement and a distorted view of professionalism.  That Sam Huntington not only gave us Clash of Civilizations, but also a view about civil-military relations which tends to teach military officers that civilians have little expertise and should not be interfering in the military's stuff.  Since moving to Canada and teaching civ-mil here, I was always struck by how Canada was far closer to Huntington's model than the US as the SecDef and his team have long been more involved in military stuff than most Ministers of National Defence.  A colleague on today's call mentioned three times where that wall was breached by the MND--after WWII when the idea of having enlisted folks getting pathways to officers (a party foul for those of the upper class), during unification in the 1960s, and after the Somalia affair in the 1990s.  Oh my, no wonder the military is concerned--the latter two are seen as awful times.  

Well, sucks to be them--the current crisis is on the military.  The civilians did not make them act in awful ways, abusing their personnel and their power.  The standard military answer--that they are the professionals with exclusive expertise on all things military--fails here as abusing one's personnel and abusing power would seemingly be unprofessional, but seems actually to be embedded in the definition/culture of professionalism in the CAF.  What is desperately needed is for outsiders, especially those up the chain but not exclusive those folks, to play a greater role in setting standards, reforming military justice and complaint procedures, and to engage in oversight.  That is: making sure that what the CAF says it will do actually gets done and also playing a more active role--vetting the officers who reach the highest levels.  Promotion was been way too much an insiders game.  

I recommended against making either Parliament or the Privy Council Office as the key superior bodies above any independent agencies.  Why?  Because parliamentarians don't think there job is to do oversight (they have told me that).  In the Steve/Dave/Phil project, Canada ranks at the bottom of the seriousness scale when it comes to legislative oversight.  Much better to engage in mindless point-scoring.  PCO?  It might make sense except I think to the public this would seem to be a blackhole--we really don't know what goes on in PCO.  I suggested imitating the review bodies that oversee the Canadian intel community.  Another suggested a minister monitoring committee.  I definitely think the Minister's office needs to be active, engaged, and empowered.

Some of the stuff the others discussed: 

  • that the senior leadership of the CAF is out of touch--that bad news does not travel up and when it does, the senior leaders don't want to hear it.
  • we need to be wary of culture change being a buzzword that does not really matter much--that we need to take seriously that other organizations have spent much effort and time on culture change and the military is not as unique as it thinks it is--there is much to learn form others.
  • that resistance to culture change will be intense when the culture change might require changing who has power.
  • Perhaps have some spots, like head of mil personnel be a civilian.  Which top jobs need to have military folks?  Apparently, at various points in time, the idea of a civilian CDS was broached, perhaps mostly as a threat to get the military to reform itself or else.
  • that there should be fully funded legal representation for survivors whether they end up pursuing justice through military or civilian channels (I found this idea extremely compelling and far easier/more likely to implement, although not necessarily easy)

I am glad that the former Supreme Court justice is reading out to these sharp people.  I am lucky that I was included, as I learned a lot in that short 1.5 hour session. I am better equipped at offering criticisms than prescriptions--this stuff is really hard.  The good news is that the military can't resist as strongly as it usually can--it is thoroughly discredited.  Senior military leaders can't say--we've got this, just keep giving us autonomy, and everything will be fine.  Eyre was right to call this an existential crisis--recruitment is already hard enough.  Which means that the military will have to listen to the civilians and implement some of the reforms ... as long as the civilians keep paying lots of attention.  And by civilians, I mean not just the Minister of National Defence but also the media and the experts outside the military. 

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