Thursday, December 16, 2021

New Defence Mandate Letters: Are All the Priorities Prioritized?

 Today, PMJT released his mandate letters that provide each minister with their marching orders.  I am most interested, of course, in the defence letter to the new Minister of National Defence.  

  • The first item I noticed is fealty to the existing and increasingly outdated Strong, Secure, Engaged [SSE] defence review document.  As I will write in the next day or two that we are in need of a new review and that those reviews should happen on a regular basis, this letter pretty much screams "no new review anytime soon."  I understand that the Minister and her policy staff are busy trying to improve the sexual misconduct/abuse of power crisis so that they might not want to be distracted by another review.  However, just as intelligence should drive policy, policy needs to drive everything else and we need to think about whether the policies developed four or so years ago need to be revised.
  • There is much discussion of transforming the culture of the CAF as it should be.  That the Arbour recommendations should be implemented, but since we don't know what they are, we can't really say what this will involve.  Related to this are both "eliminating all sources of ..." all kinds of bias including white supremacy.  I am glad to see that, as these biases are as much an "existential threat" to the CAF as the abuse of power/sexual misconduct crisis.  There is also appropriate attention paid to the military justice system and the Fish report.  
  • It is striking that the mandate mentions continued CAF support to Canada's COVID efforts but no real mention, as far as I can tell, of making domestic emergency operations of a higher priority.  Sure, it is always listed as one of the four main priorities, but it is also always seen as an inconvenience that gets in the way of the CAF's day job.  This needs to change, but this mandate letter does not provide a basis for making that change (maybe a defence review would?).  
  • "Undertake ambitious efforts to improve the diversity of the CAF...."  My favorite proposal for this one would be to have serving in the CAF as a pathway to citizenship.  But this is "too hard" so I doubt it will happen.  
  • Expanding Canada's long and short-range strategic airlift capability?  Hmmm, this would mean buying more planes, which are not, as far as I can recall, costed in the SSE.
  • Speaking of planes, no mention of the fighter replacement effort, which could mean that they don't plan to replace the fighters, that they already have decided what they are doing, or that they don't want to raise the salience of this controversial issue.  
  • Modernizing NORAD gets much play.  This was not in the SSE, but has been something discussed quite a bit in Ottawa including events semi-orchestrated by the government before the pandemic.  This stuff is super-expensive, but the defence challenges are getting very complicated and require new tech.  I am not surprised to see it here, given the conversations I have heard the last few years, but it stands out with the stuff that hasn't been mentioned (fighter replacement, domestic ops).
  • There is no clear mandate here to do heaps more peacekeeping.
  • The focus of Climate Security stuff here is on establishing a new NATO Centre of Excellence on Climate and Security, which is good for us as our current grant bid focuses on that element of climate change.  On the down side, maybe the CC priorities of DND should be on reducing CAF's carbon footprint and, oh yeah, more effort on the domestic operations front.
  • I didn't know Communications Security Establishment, Canada's NSA, is under the Minister of National Defence.  What is striking here is the focus on a "renewed Cyber Security Strategy" and "National Cyber Security Action Plan."
  • Shipbuilding, alas, gets mentioned not just for getting the ships but "advance the shipbuilding industry and create middle class jobs."  Notice the play to Quebec with the "add a third Canadian shipyard."
  • Supporting the Minister of Foreign Affairs in developing an Indo-Pacific Strategy is interesting given that, well, MFA does not do strategy or reviews, so good luck with that.

Minister of National Defence Anand has a very, very full agenda with both that which is mentioned here and that which is not.  Domestic operations, for instance, are going to play a greater role thanks to Climate Change as well as Pandemics.  There is not enough research, understanding, or policy on this stuff, which, yes, the CDSN hopes to examine over the next several years.   

The good news is that Anand's prior experience as Minister of Procurement will help her here.  That and she understands that civilian control of the military requires .... civilians exerting control.  I expect lots of complaints about micromanagement in the years ahead, but given that the CAF has not managed itself well, there will not be much support for these complaints.  Management is much needed.  I guess that is a recurring theme in this letter, and it probably could not be more explicit.  

Any thoughts from y'all?

1 comment:

Mad Padre said...

I'm just glad that the minister has any sort of mandate. When I was still serving, there was much hope that Minister Sajan, being "one of us", would be good for the CAF. I also recall that any strat level briefing note had to have at least a few prominent references to SSE. It was almost magical. Now that Sajan is gone, SSE is outdated as you rightly note, and the military leadership is in disarray, there's a lot for the new Minister to do. I share your hopes for her procurement background, but I fear that the CAF will be allowed to drift, that much energy will be taken up with the anti-bias and diversity files (love your path to citizenship ideas) and that real priorities and capabilities will continue to be neglected. It's a tough lift for the new minister/