The new defence policy statement provides a plan for the Department of National Defence, writes James Cox. But, like its predecessors, it does not offer a government-wide defence policy.
By James Cox, June 14, 2017
On 7 June 2017, Minister of National Defence (MND) Harjit Sajjan released the Defence Policy Review statement, titled Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada’s Defence Policy. Like previous editions, this statement promises more troops, more equipment and stable funding for at least the next decade. And like defence policies in the past, it faces skepticism about whether any of those three promises will materialize.
Wasn’t it Einstein who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?
The initial wave of post-release commentary was predictably, and somewhat myopically, focussed on money and procurement. This article hopes to provide further understanding of the nature of Canada’s new defence policy.
Strong, Secure, Engaged contains much to make generals and admirals happy, including intentions to enhance care and development of military personnel and families, recognition that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) must be combat-ready and have the capacity to engage in a number of missions simultaneously, and transparent costing projections covering acquisition of major equipment like warships and fighter aircraft. However, beyond all this, Strong, Secure, Engaged is inadequate, inconsistent and ill-structured.
Strong, Secure, Engaged, as published, is incomplete. Its intellectual reach extends only as far as military considerations associated with the CAF.
Is it really government defence policy? Maybe. It says so on the cover. Indeed, in the recent words of a very determined senior military officer, “It’s a policy, not a plan!” The MND apparently agrees and refers to the “new defence policy” in the first sentence of his introductory message. But, in the second sentence, he contradicts the idea, calling the document, “a long-term, fully funded plan built around people.” Surely a minister could take more to avoid inconsistency introducing government policy.
To be fair, criteria by which any policy will be judged should be outlined here before going further.
Conceptually, policy is the “big idea” driving the government’s agenda in any specific area. It is the high-level, visionary (hopefully inspirational) expression of the what and why of government intent. Policy defines political objectives, and outlines values and interests that will guide government decision-making.
Strategy implements policy. It translates political objectives into achievable and measurable strategic objectives. Strategy describes how political objectives will be achieved, by continuously linking ends with means. Strategies also identify general priorities and outline a general allocation of resources, in accordance with those priorities.
Apply this framework to Strong, Secure, Engaged and it becomes apparent that beyond considerable discussion of strategy and program aspects of CAF development, there is virtually no true policy level detail.
Strong, Secure, Engaged, as published, is incomplete. Its intellectual reach extends only as far as military considerations associated with the CAF. It seems oblivious to the broader notion of national defence of the entire country, in all military and civilian domains. Indeed, in the third sentence of his introductory message, Sajjan says, “providing them [CAF personnel and families] the training and equipment and care they deserve is the most important objective of this policy [author’s emphasis].” He goes on to say the document presents a “new vision for the Defence team.” Despite contrary assertions, the document reads like a Department of National Defence (DND) plan, not a full defence policy for the Government of Canada.
Notice too that the entire first chapter is devoted to enhancing the quality of life for CAF personnel, other members of the Defence team, and their families. That’s nice, but if this was truly a government defence policy, it would consider all Canadians who, from time-to-time engage in defence activities at home and abroad, such as diplomats, development officials, civilian intelligence officers, and contracted medical personnel. In short, anyone who may, or does, get shot at.
However, a note of polite caution is in order here. Notwithstanding that military personnel are generally held in high regard by Canadians these days, the country should be the first and highest consideration of defence policy, not CAF personnel. Their care is a derivative, not a driver, of defence policy. So much up-front hubris seems contrary to the special tenet of “service before self” that helps define the Canadian profession of arms as being distinct from all others.
Notwithstanding that military personnel are generally held in high regard by Canadians these days, the country should be the first and highest consideration of defence policy, not CAF personnel.
Admittedly, Strong, Secure, Engaged does consider issues of industry, space and the Reserves, but only to the extent they relate to CAF development. Recalling that the National Defence Act charges the MND with responsibility for the “management and direction of the Canadian Forces and of all matters relating to national defence [author’s emphasis], Canadians can legitimately expect to see more in government defence policy.
However, there is no attempt here to link other departments, other elements beyond DND and the CAF, and Canadians generally into a broader framework for defence of the country. Other departments also have a role in defending against threats to Canada, including Global Affairs, Public Safety, Fisheries and Oceans, and even Health and Environment. The latter two might seem counterintuitive, but one should recall that national security threats can include pandemics and climate change, as noted in the 2004 National Security Policy. Throughout the entire document, only the CAF are given specific missions related to detecting, deterring and defending against threats to Canada. Sajjan may as well call himself simply Minister of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Remove CAF-related material from the document and there is thin gruel indeed.
Some awareness of national defence as more than a military issue might explain the inclusion of Minister of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Chrystia Freeland’s drive-by recognition of the truism that diplomacy needs to be backed up by hard power. But here it is important recognize that defence policy is not a derivative of, or subordinate to, foreign policy. It is more accurate to think of the CAF as an instrument of foreign policy, not defence policy per se. Conversely, consider that diplomacy, not foreign policy, can act as an instrument of defence in certain circumstances.
Finally, perhaps because Strong, Secure, Engaged is limited to CAF and DND concerns, it articulates no explicit political objectives to be achieved. This alone is enough to disqualify it from claiming the status of a true defence policy. Canadians may be excused from treating the first three chapters skeptically because it is not until Chapter 4 that the document begins to offer some evidentiary hints as to why we need all the people, equipment and spending identified earlier in the document. Indeed, the idea that, “The Government has no higher obligation than the safety and security of the Canadian people,” does not surface until Page 60, more than half-way into the so-called defence policy.
Government seems stuck in its historical habit of describing initiatives, or activity the CAF or DND will do, without defining what is to be achieved, to the benefit of Canada. Review the initiatives listed in Annex D and consider the questions, “What exactly is the political objective to be achieved and how will we know when we have achieved it?” Government owes answers.
We cannot ask military personnel to put their lives on the line simply to show the flag, or ask Canadians to pay the bill for useless participation. True Canadian defence policy is egoistic, not altruistic.
Without clear, defined political objectives any attempt at Canadian defence policy will fall short of full requirement, as it does here. Even after reading Strong, Secure, Engaged, Canadians can still legitimately ask, why do we need to do all this?
Brigadier-General (Retired) Dr. James (Jim) S. Cox completed a 35-year military, mainly in operationally oriented command and staff positions across Canada and on five continents. He is a Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
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