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The CDA and CDA Institute hosted a Defence Policy Review special event on May 11, 2016 where two of the four members of the Minister of National Defence advisory panel, General Ray Henault (retired) and Margaret Purdy, participated in a modified town hall session. The written material presented at the event was collected in a CDA Institute Analysis. We are pleased to showcase individual written material on our Blog: The Forum. The following is CDA Institute Research Fellow Charles Davies‘s written statement, titled “Perspectives on Developing Defence Policy.”

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Unlike, say, foreign policy, governments are more stewards than owners of a nation’s defence policy. Defence policy is not about current or future military missions, it’s about the capabilities the nation will acquire, maintain, or divest – and 21st Century defence capabilities are complex and can’t be created or scaled up on short notice. It takes years or even decades, so the current government has only the defence tools their predecessors put in the box and this policy review will define what tools future governments will have.

Beyond some enduring themes in Canadian defence policies – Priority 1, Defence of Canada; Priority 2, Defence of North America; Priority 3, Contributing to International Peace and Security – for example, the policies consistently flounder when it comes to turning “Bucks” into “Bang.” Part of the problem lies with the machinery of government, but political dynamics also push governments into expensive defence policy flip-flops and bad decisions.

Perspectives on the Policy Process

The defence policy reviews of France, the US, the UK, and Australia reflect good, disciplined policy development processes that have much in common, and I think Canada’s review should be no less rigorous.

Many nations review their policies every four or five years and I think Canada should consider doing the same. If nothing else, it would trigger a more regular and structured political discourse that, over time, may encourage a stronger national consensus around defence policy.

Perspectives on Policy Development

Clearly, the ends a government defines in its defence policy will be influenced by the means it’s prepared to allocate, but the first consideration must be an objective assessment of the global and regional security environment. The Department of National Defence’s (DND) Future Security Environment document and the CDA Institute’s annual Strategic Outlook for Canada offer good examples to follow. The assessment must lie at the core of the policy and it can’t be artificially constrained by fiscal or other considerations. Although some back-and-forth re-examination of it is appropriate as the policy is developed, this can’t be allowed to dilute its objectivity.

Strategic risks need to be methodically characterized and I’ve provided one example of a tool for doing so. Major risks need viable responses in the policy, whether through our defence capabilities, other instruments of state power, arrangements with the US or another partner, or some other solution. We can’t just “accept” major risks and hope for the best.

In prioritizing capability requirements, those needed for “No-Fail” missions have to come first. Capabilities critical to continental defence in particular must provide confidence on the part of both ourselves and our US neighbours in our ability to meet our commitments. We can’t dodge the hard, if slightly oversimplified, reality that Canada’s sub-surface maritime approaches will be protected by submarines, surface approaches by surface vessels, and air approaches by fighter aircraft – the question in all cases is whether they will be Canadian or American.

After “No-Fail” missions, others are more discretionary. Decisions on these need to consider the global strategies future governments will need to be capable of pursuing, and not simply the current government’s ambitions. For example, should Canada retain the capability to play a strong international leadership role as a G7 country, as it did when it assumed lead nation responsibility in Kandahar Province, or should it instead limit its capabilities to those needed for less ambitious roles such as selectively contributing to larger coalition forces? These questions will define the range of tools needed in the defence toolbox.

Finally, the new policy has to ensure a sustainable balance of resources across the many elements of capability: personnel; equipment; infrastructure; and the intellectual component that includes doctrine and the professional body of military knowledge. All have to be present in balance – and the force well trained, supported and readied – or the capability is useless. Shortchanging even one element undermines the whole. We currently spend proportionally too much on personnel costs and not enough on the other key elements of capability, and this is not sustainable. Your package contains a table providing some context to this problem.

With apologies for this fast skate across a very complex set of issues, thank you for your attention.

Colonel Charles Davies (Ret’d) is a CDA Institute Research Fellow and a former Logistics officer who served for four years as the strategic planning director for the Material Group of the Department of National Defence and three years as the senior director responsible for material acquisition and support policy in the department.

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