A thought for the Canadian military’s leadership


As I watch the Canadian Forces embrace “traditions” from the 1960s (traditions that were imposed on us by colonial overlords in the 1860s) and then impose their own “zero tolerance” policies, often politically driven, I fear that our military is in danger of being “frozen” in one mould … and not, necessarily, a good one.

downloadWe should remember that innovation is often the key to victory. Wellington innovated, often against the best advice of the entrenched military establishment, which included Napoleon, who called him a “sepoy general” because he, jfcfuller1Wellington, had learned his craft in India rather than from European books; so, a century an a half later, did JFC Fuller who “wrote the book” on armoured warfare that Rommel and Guderian read, to our peril; LeonardWarrenMurrayCanadians innovated too … people like Rear Admiral Leonard Murray who insisted upon lots and lots of small ships escorting huge convoys, despite the views of the Chief of the Naval Staff in Ottawa and Major General Worthington who pioneered the use of armour in Canada, again against the views of the entrenched establishment.

Innovation requires people to be given scope and freedom to think and speak and write and to try new things in new ways. Innovators will fail; others will learn .. in fact an old friend reminds me that we should never “fail,” we should either win or learn … and learning from one’s own mistakes is winning, in its own way.

My fear is that we, in Canada, have adopted a command and control (C²) philosophy that was designed for and implemented by a very, very large army that “institutionalizes” innovation into some, special, organizations but does not encourage or even allow it in the majority of its formations and units. Ever since Wellington we have had a navy and an army that allowed and even encouraged some “independence” … it made the British forces different from the Americans and, by the 1960s, in made Canadian different from them both … different and, pretty  much everyone agreed, better, too. I, personally, heard American, British and German three and four star generals talk in glowing terms about the quality of Canada’s “vest pocket army” as it was often called: small but mighty.

I have mentioned before that we, nationally and militarily, must “punch above our weight,” as we, arguably, did in the 1950s and ’60s.

Now, it is not the fault of the admirals and generals that the defence budget has been cut, time and time and time again, by a succession of Conservative and Liberal governments. tab-na-xmas-harassment03-vancejpg.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxThat’s what Canadians want; that’s what politicians deliver; and that’s how it should be in a democracy. But, how to make the best use of the resources available, how to be innovative, is within the remit of General Jonathan Vance and his admirals and generals and captains and colonels. It is part of what I see as the qualitative rather than quantitative and financial elements of defence policy and defence management. It seems to me that if we, as a country, have tough, superbly discipline and well trained people in our navy, army and air forces then, despite lower than desired numbers, despite too little food, fuel and ammunition, despite less than adequate equipment, despite a too low budget and despite indifferent (or worse) political leadership, our forces will “punch above their weight.”The qualitative elements are, mostly, the responsibility of the military staff, itself. But, to get us to a qualitatively better state, to a more innovate, less risk averse state, to a less change resistant state he, and his admiral and generals may have to change their own views on command, control and management and even fight back against some of the “social engineering” that civilians love to try out on the military.

On of the prime sources of innovative thought in large organizations like the military is diversity. Now real diversity is not about race or gender but, rather, it is about styles of thinking: that’s why, especially in the officer corps, the military needs a mix of “inputs:” the Royal MilitaryCollege, to be sure, but also civilian universities and officers who are commissioned from the ranks. The military needs specialists, like engineers, but it needs, more, generalist type people with degrees in mathematics and philosophy, history and economics, and chemistry and the classics. Above all those people need freedom to try, and sometimes to fail, to think and argue and propose and criticise, too. That’s how real diversity is displayed and real diversity brings real innovation and real innovation bring success in war.

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