By Colonel (ret'd) Sean Henry
In his article Bringing Military Culture into the 21st Century (Volume 23 Issue 12), Sean Bruyea overlooks several key factors while analyzing the state of the military in Canada. The same could be said for articles by Messrs. Curtis, Webb and Drapeau/Juneau in Volume 23 Issue 11 (December 2016).
Among considerations omitted, the most important would be the failure to recognize that societies in decline inevitably lose the will to defend themselves and instead pass the responsibility to others in exchange for training and other benefits. The best historical example of this is described in Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Next in importance would be the failure to accept the fact that members of professional armed forces occupy a unique place in their societies, due to the fact that killing and being killed are fundamental descriptors of the job — and source of the vital concept of service before self. Failure to recognize and accept this may be termed demilitarization of the military (i.e., making members of the armed forces civil servants in uniform).
The origin of demilitarization in Canada occurred in 1943 when all three ministers of defence (representing Army, Navy and Air Force) were authorized to invoke special measures related to defence production and the armed forces to win the war. Senior bureaucrats were scandalized and vowed to restore the status quo. They succeeded in 1973 in the wake of several reports on government reorganization, the chaos of unification and the pacifist/anti-military outlook of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. The reinstated policy of “no special status for armed forces” was entrenched in a number of Treasury Board directives and similar regulations, and these remain in force today.
The negative aspects of this condition are portrayed accurately by Bruyea, but he does not explain why they occur. In particular, he does not comment on the fact the military deals with action and results, whereas bureaucrats focus on process. This is the real source of the dysfunction found in defence affairs in Canada today. The civil service mindset was first implanted in the minds of the senior leadership, but today it has descended to those in the junior ranks. That explains recent examples of lapses of personnel management at the lowest levels.
Overall, demilitarization is at the heart of most serious problems within DND and the CAF, ranging from the breakdown of the procurement system (until 1969 there was a Department of Defence Production) through to the disgraceful treatment of veterans. Reinforcing the problem is that the federal public service is itself in a crisis mode resulting in overwhelming problems and no plan or method to resolve them.
Demilitarization has been justified by mistakenly stressing the need for civilian control and the myth of peacekeeping. The reality is that human nature has not changed and it is still necessary to defend one’s freedom and interests by military force, even in the midst of a progressive globalized and digitized milieu. Failure to do so leads to the disappearance of empires, nations and societies as typified by Rome.
The sensitive issue of “Caucasian male parochialism” is a further example of avoiding reality; in this case, the fact that DNA guides our behaviour. General Tom Lawson was correct when he referred to “hardwiring” in matters of male-female relations. There are numerous examples in other nations where mixing males and females in the combat arms of the armed forces did not work. The Russians solved the problem by fielding female units, and the Israelis have assigned women to training roles. In Canada, facts of this sort have been buried in layers of emotionally driven disinformation and political correctness. Women and men are different. To accept this in no way belittles one or the other in terms of capabilities. However, the signal attributes of both genders will remain until genetic engineering is applied to the human genome, and that will happen later rather than sooner. Similarly, only genetic engineering can bring peace to the world by neutralizing the strongest force in the domain of all living beings — survival!
Regarding a “culture that demands placing all else before one’s needs” (the military), it is necessary to recognize the evolution of the expectations of people in recent generations that they will never need to face and overcome challenges. They have been protected by a system that removes challenges. To place these individuals into the cauldron of combat operations will not surprisingly raise the rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide. A response would be to identify people with these tendencies in the recruiting process and deny their suitability for military service. If that is not possible, then adequate resources must certainly be available to treat them later for their disabilities. Again, constrained resources within a bureaucratic system undermines this solution.
The bottom line is that a military establishment that has been made into a branch of the civil service will find it difficult to recognize and succeed in dealing with these types of problems. It will become impossible if the government as well does not provide the resources to succeed. Curtis, in his article, gets it right when he says, “national defence … is among the most fundamental of priorities of any national government.” This concept has been in free-fall in Canada since the days of Pierre Trudeau, and so far his son does not seem inclined to change that.
Drapeau/Juneau reinforce the demilitarization curse when they advocate that military justice should be one with civilian justice. As well as ignoring the special nature of military service, they do not admit that in Canada the system of justice itself is dysfunctional as a result of a flawed Charter of Rights, and associated weaknesses resulting in an unending appeal process in which “justice delayed is justice denied.” Moreover, allowing lawyers and unlimited appeals into the military summary trial process at unit level would paralyze regular training and even threaten operations (see examples from Afghanistan).
Finally, Webb does not mention that Canadians’ love of peacekeeping is an example ofliving in a dream world regarding defence policy. It has seldom been effective and, as he notes, it often creates more problems. Moreover, allies have accused us of using it to avoid combat. This could also be applied to a focus on Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and wouldreinforce the demilitarization trend.
Reference to “peace enforcement” rings hollow as the United Nations and contributing nations seldom have the stomach to initiate the combat operations that Chapter VII of the UN Charter authorizes. Walter Dorn’s concept of providing training and equipment is another version of travelling on the Roman road towards defeat. Perhaps that is what the current prime minister has in mind via his “sunny ways” — avoidance of combat operations and cutting the defence budget.
It is therefore hoped that U.S. President Donald Trump will apply enough gentle persuasion (backed up with a “big stick”) to cause the Canadian government to allocate more resources to the CAF and to assign them to conventional national security missions — which will be needed sooner rather than later when one surveys the possible threats emanating from the likes of Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and Islamist jihadists. None of these see the world in utopian terms when it comes to national interests and security. In their world, armed force still counts.
A cure for demilitarization in Canada will remain elusive until a strong political leader emerges and is able to overcome the challenge of changing the culture spawned by the federal bureaucracy. Until then, the CAF will continue to operate in a new “decade of darkness” and rundown its combat capabilities, allowing it to make only token contributions to Canadian defence and security. These remarks do not seek creation of a militarized state, but rather to raise and maintain “reasonably sufficient” Canadian armed forces to defend the country and its critical national interests.