Saturday, December 18, 2021

Defend the Review

One of the notable absences in the Mandate Letter that the Prime Minister gave to Minister of National Defence Anand is any mention of a new defence review.  Instead, her mandate is to keep implementing the Strong, Secure, Engaged document produced by the 2017 defence review.  The 2017 review was a lot of work, as the DND folks consulted widely--at least ten meetings across the country with four senior folks (former CDS, former Supreme Court justice, former MinDef, and former DepSec of Cabinet), lots of submissions, etc, etc.  It is understandable that at a time where there is already a review concerning the culture of the CAF and DND by the aforementioned retired Supreme Court justice that the focus would be on just getting that stuff straight.  

But after talking with a friend, I am more convinced that a new defence review is something that should happen sooner than later.  Why?

  • These reviews should be a regular event, perhaps every four years, like they do it in the US and elsewhere.  The world changes and priorities evolve.  It is good to do a lessons learned process and figure out what went well and wrong with the previous review.  Indeed, this would give the Minister a much needed oversight tool as one of the core challenges now but actually always is civilian control of the armed forces and of those who oversee the armed forces.  And DND would develop a skill set that would be sharpened as it gets used over and over.
  • There is more than just the DND/CAF culture to review.  Do the priorities set forth in the last review make sense now?  I will continue to harp on the idea that listing a bunch of priorities is not really prioritizing and that listing aid to civilian authorities (domestic emergency operations) as one of a few top priorities isn't sufficient. The pace of domestic operations is increasing and has increased much over the past four years thanks to climate change.  So, it is time to seriously think what that means for the other priorities (domestic emergencies shouldn't just be seen as something to get right so that it does not impact readiness), how the CAF might be realigned so that domestic operations are seen as the day job of the CAF as much as stuff abroad, and so on.  
  • There should be a review of the procurement stuff listed in the SSE.  Where are we at in terms of the stuff that was proposed to be procured?  What worked, what did not work?  How have we adapted to improve procurement?  
  • What is the threat picture?  I should have started with this (it definitely should not go last).  Is the CAF set up well for attacks short of war?  What progress has been made on reducing vulnerability to cyberattacks and developing cyberoffensive capabilities?  How can Canada prepare if either Trump returns or the US succumbs to greater civil strife?  How does climate change, now that it is here, threaten Canada and the CAF?
  • Maybe this time make some hard choices.  The 2017 review ended up being a list that gave lots of different constituencies pretty much everything they wanted.  Which is probably not sustainable.  So, maybe make some difficult decisions at a time where the military is not in a great position to fight back.  
  • The personnel file is, yes, a part of the Arbour review, but there is probably more to it than what she is looking at.  Plus after she does her review, the Minister and DND will have to figure out how to implement her recommendations, and, yes, which ones to implement (simply agreeing to do everything she says is an abdication of responsibility--Arbour may not be right about everything).

The SSE set the agenda for the past four years.  It served as a signpost for pretty much everything although, of course, the previous CDS (ok, one before the one before the current one) interpreted it as he saw fit as he didn't do stuff that he found inconvenient.  So, this review should not only serve as an exercise in civilian control of the military, but provide an opportunity to measure and improve that exercise.  Once the review is done, the question then becomes how much is implemented in the ways imagined by the Minister of National Defence and the Prime Minister.  We need a new marker, a new baseline, as the new minister definitely has a different idea of what her job is than her predecessor.  

In short, the new Minister needs to do a review so that she inflicts her will upon the CAF and on DND, and that we all can see what the priorities are.  With that, she and the rest can be held accountable for whatever progress is or is not made.

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