Strong, Secure, Engaged (2)

The Conference of Defence Associations (CDA) is a military lobby group. It aims to have a bigger, better equipped military because that is in the interests of its members which are the “associations” representing the various branches of the military and the defence industry, itself. It’s goal is to influence government policy with a view to advancing (or, at least, protecting) the interests of its members associations and their members.

The CDA has an “Institute” (the CDAI) which is its “mouthpiece,” and which produced, generally, well researched, well written and useful commentary on a wide range of defence issues.

I have no brief for or against either organization ~ I am, indirectly, a member because I am a member of two different regimental/corps/branch associations and I have attended a few public briefings and “round tables” over the years, but that is the total extent of my involvement and support.

The CDAI has analyzed the recent defence policy statementStrong, Secure, Engaged” and says that “There is much about the new Defence Policy “Strong, Secure, Engaged” that can and should be taken as positive.  While not as complete or comprehensive a policy as some critics would prefer, nor a ringing response to all the wishes, desires or criticisms that have been laid at the feet of this Government and its predecessors, it nonetheless charts a course for the defence of Canada that is clear, confident and long-term … [but] … Implementation of the Defence Policy is an area where there remains much work to do.  Some of the capability building blocks are there; however, much of the structure, additional capabilities and connections that will be necessary to make them effective with the other elements of Canadian national action for domestic and overseas theatres are yet to be defined or built.  A commitment to increased funding, a crucial element in this process, has largely justified the pre-release build-up.  Gradually increasing budgets, culminating in 1.4% of the anticipated GDP in 20 years is a considerable target to achieve, especially given the forecast of an increasing GDP for Canada … [and] … With the Defence Policy now in place, the next (huge) task is to make tangible progress, during this mandate and have a robust, sustainable plan with achievable objectives and measurable milestones.  This will require complete and wholehearted engagement and commitment within DND and the CAF as well as across the machinery of government, and always backed with strong political will!

No argument from me …

The CDAI has also published a more detailed analysis by retired Colonel Charles Davies that concludes that “Despite some limitations, Canada’s new defence policy provides National Defence, the other relevant departments, and Canadians with a well-considered and appropriately designed blueprint for the evolutionary development of the Canadian Armed Forces over the coming decade or more. It stands up well to comparison with the policies of other nations, notwithstanding that there is room for future improvement.

Again, no argument from me …

Colonel (ret) Davies begins his analysis of Canada’s new defence policy by looking at some recent examples from other countries: France (2013), the United States (2014), the United Kingdom (2015), and Australia (2016). “Clearly,” he writes, “the experiences of other countries may not translate perfectly into the Canadian context, but the analysis did yield some useful insights into the methods, depth of analysis, and rigour applied by these nations in developing their policies. Canada needs, and deserves, to have at least comparable foundations underpinning its defence policy … [and] … The French, UK, Australian and US policies were all found to have a number of differences between them but were remarkably similar in how they progressively built the defence policy rationale and narrative in five sequential steps:

  1. Defining a view of the nation’s place in the world and, in broad terms, how the instruments of state power, including but not limited to their defence capabilities, will be used to support a national strategy;
  2. Analysis of the global and regional strategic outlook, including “future shock” risks, and the military options current and future governments will need to have in order to face them;
  3. Defining the defence strategy each nation intends to follow;
  4. Defining the defence capabilities each nation will acquire, maintain or divest and the force structures to be adopted to implement the strategy; and
  5. Defining the financial means by which the required capabilities will be acquired and sustained.

These are steps that I have discussed, here, in several different posts since December 2015. My contention has been, and remains, that policy must be developed in a logical, coherent order and my main criticism of “Strong, Secure, Engaged” is that it is neither logical nor coherent. It seems to me to be a knee-jerk response to several, diverse “threats” to our interests from actors as different as Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and Xi Jinping.

Overall then,” Charles Davies say, “when read in conjunction with Minister Freeland’s June 6th speech, Strong, Secure, Engaged does a reasonable, if imperfect, job of defining Canada’s place in the world and makes some important statements, notably in terms of financial commitment, about the government’s approach to defence. The absence of a more comprehensive analysis extending into national security and foreign policy prevents the document from rising to the level of the four benchmark countries’ policies … [but, he adds] … The most important example of this is the new direction that the Canadian Armed Forces are to be prepared to undertake a long list of quite specific mission types simultaneously. These missions are clearly defined in terms of size and nature, so for the first time since the end of the Cold War National Defence has reasonably hard metrics around the capabilities it is required by the government to establish and maintain. This has good potential to reduce, at least to a degree, the bureaucratic friction the department traditionally faces in moving its requirements through the multiple departments involved in approving and implementing them.

In fact, the “long list of quite specific mission types” is one of the things that worries me. I appears, to me, that the government is guilty of one of the cardinal sins of military planning: rather than appreciating the situation, one situates the appreciation, making the “solution” fit a defined problem or, in some respects, “cutting your coat to suit your cloth.” Some, me included, sometimes, will argue that is a good, practical way to approach things ~ I would, sometimes, agree, but not when strategy and defence are concerned.

So, what should Conservatives do in response to ‘Strong, Secure, Engaged?’

  • First, they should embrace it for all that is good in it (and, as Colonel Davies says, there’s a lot). Conservatives should congratulate Minister Sajjan and the entire cabinet for aspiring, at least, to restore Canada to a leadership role in the world; and
  • Second, they should pledge to build upon the foundation Minister Sajjan and the Liberals have laid to, eventually, give Canada a strong, engaged military that will make us more secure in the world. This should include a specific promise to move from 1%, past 1.4% and to about 2% by, say, 2020, 2025 and 2035, respectively. The Conservatives should promise an effective three ocean fleet ~ albeit not all in the Navy, and the capability to deploy a whole brigade in mid to high intensity operations, and to have an air force that can conduct a range of operations ~ combat and support ~ world-wide while, always, maintaining our NORAD commitment.

In other words, ‘Strong, Secure, Engaged‘ is a step in the right direction ~ but only a very tentative step and one that needs to lead to a “journey of a thousand miles …”


… and Canada needs to take many, many more steps before the words “strong,” “secure’ and ‘engaged” have any real meaning again.


5 thoughts on “Strong, Secure, Engaged (2)

  1. Re: “they should embrace it for all that is good in it”, like the Liberals never acknowledging what the Conservatives have done right, the Conservatives won’t ever acknowledge what the Liberals done right – especially with the vitriolic hate some CPC members seem to have for PMJT. Well done for seeking the shades of grey, Ted!

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