Friday, March 17, 2023

Talking to THE Civilian in Canadian Civil-Military Relations

 For the second straight year, Minister of National Defence Anita Anand joined my Civ-Mil class towards the end of the term.  That she is a former prof helps a great deal, I am guessing, in persuading her to spend roughly a half hour of her very busy time with us.  Last year, it was a bit of surprise.  This year, I knew ahead of time so I could prime my students to ask civil-military questions, not just Canada in the world questions.  And since the theme of yesterday's class was Culture Change, most of the questions focused on that. 

Once again, she spoke for a few minutes including discussing her background in corporate governance and how often she was in a boardroom that was far from diverse--that her previous work set herself up well for this moment.  She then talked about some of the achievements of the past 13-14 months: adopting the interim recommendation from Arbour about transferring sexual assault cases to the civilian courts, accepting the recommendations of both the Arbour panel and anti-discrimination panel, apologizing to those who were in the class action lawsuit, and more.  She noted that there is a lot of skepticism about culture change (I have heard much of that online and in person), so she noted how promotions of generals and admirals has changed (in my view, there is now much more civilian oversight than in the past, a very good thing), she mentioned a few programs that will be starting soon that I can't talk about at this moment, and more.  She said that she hoped to institutionalize these measures so they last for decades although this kind of contradicted some of her answers that focused on the right personalities and relationships at the top of DND/CAF. 

Anand then answered many questions.  So, what did they ask and how did Anand respond?

First, one student asked about whether the culture change effort was a short term effort or would require generational changes.  Anand indicated that there is no deadline, that it will require decades.

Second, how will the culture change fit into the defence policy update.  Here, she referred to a recent op-ed that suggested that she and DND were too woke and Marxist--she indicated that culture change is not something that gets in the way of operational effectiveness but is a necessary ingredient, something I have been yammering about as well on twitter and here.

Third, one student asked about the basic structure of Canadian civ-mil--that is a diarchy with the Deputy Minister and Chief of Defence Staff being equals.  Anand indicated that this structure works with the current team (which raised questions about what happens when the team is not good, and perhaps that structural change might protect against that some?).

Fourth, a student asked how do you keep this stuff prioritized?  The Defence Minister said that she needs to ensure every day that she, the CDS, the DM, her team, and everyone else is focused on this every day.

Fifth, one student asked about data sovereignty.  Anand responded by discussing how NORAD modernization is going to include a whole bunch of initiatives to improve the digital side of things.

Finally, our Visiting Defence Fellow, Colonel Cathy Blue, asked why Anand hasn't considered developing an Inspector General.  Anand noted that other agencies in Canada and beyond have IGs, but that her job as minister is to focus on implementing Arbour's 48 recommendations.  I found that a bit troubling as I understand that she is busy and the demands are high, but I didn't think the Arbour report was perfect and and should limit the imagination of what the Minister/DND/CAF need to be doing.   

I didn't get to ask any questions as I wanted the students to get their questions in during the short time we had with the Minister.  I will save mine for a future podcast interview or whenever we meet in person.  She did ask about my cookies, and my policy is always to deliver in person, so maybe some day we can actually meet in real life.  As always, I am super impressed with the current Minister of National Defence--I continue to think she is the right person in the right place at the right time.  She has faced greater challenges than she probably expected including a war in Europe.  We don't always see eye to eye on things, but she takes this whole civ-mil thing very seriously and very thoughtfully, and I really appreciate that.   I am very grateful that she is willing to hang with my students for a bit, as the students got a lot out of it.  I am also thankful to my students as they asked great questions.

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