Punditry can vary widely in quality, and the realm of Canadian defence is no different. Tom Friedman tends to cite wise cab drivers, which is the clue to the start of a particularly hacky column. When it comes the Canadian defence sector, there are also some basic tendencies that, alas, can identify the writer as a hack. That they are making assertions based on under-considered comparisons, traditional but unhelpful metaphors, and/or appealing to fears or simplistic nationalism. To be sure, in all my blogging on Canadian defence, I have probably committed many of these sins.
As the new Defence Review is upon us, we are now being inundated with columns about what should or should not be included, whether it is already fully baked, and what we should be concerned about. So, it is a good time to figure out how to identify a Canadian Defence Hack.
You might be a Canadian Defence Hack if you*:
- Accuse Canada of being freeloader without ever a) defining what that means; and b) what it would take to fix. Canada is never going to get to NATO’s 2% of GDP aspiration. Nearly double the defence budget? Nope. Spending is only one measure of free-riding plus Canada does spend a bunch of real dollars (top 8?). The real question is spend on what? And for burden-sharing debates, what are countries actually doing. Remember, Greece leads all but the US in GDP/capita and who thinks Greece is a good ally? Exactly.
- Argue that anything less than building an arctic fortress is letting down NATO.
- Sprinkle with references to ‘grown up’, ‘adult’ or ‘mature’ country. [Ooops, early drafts of Adapting in the Dust had heaps of this, but friends and editor encouraged me to drop such references although I might have kept a couple]
- Do not allow/admit to any tradeoffs. [I tend to insert Rush’s Freewill whenever I see this tendency.] A corollary of this is to discuss defence spending without mentioning personnel, which is nearly half of the budget. The funny thing about the Canadian defence debate is that few use the word “hollow” as the focus on kit and ignoring personnel ultimately means that the pundit’s recommendations are likely to lead to big cuts in training/exercises. So, a big rusty force? Not a good look.
- Link disaster relief, recruitment of Reserves and F-35s.
- Uncritically refer to The Netherlands and Australia as doing better than Canada with no reference to geographic realities.
- Blame only one party. Both the Liberals and Conservatives have made a mess of defence procurement. Indeed, most democracies have messed up procurement but in different ways. This stuff is really hard.
- Justify building stuff in Canada with the idea that Canada will become a major arms exporter. [See shipbuilding program which will never be economically competitive with other producers, sorry]
- Cite concerns about a new decade of darkness. The problem with this decade of darkness thing is that Hillier’s phrase was not just about spending but of the decline of the status of the Canadian Armed Forces in the aftermath of Somalia. That the CAF was under a great deal of turmoil including having six Chiefs of Defence Staff from 1993-1997. Some defence cuts, even in personnel, today do not make for a new decade in darkness.
I have collected this list of Rules of Canadian Defence Hackery from a variety of sources and am willing to expand it as I get more suggestions. So send along any additional ones!
*Apologies to Jeff Foxworthy
Stephen Saideman is a Fellow and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs