Connecting the dots on defence research in Canada

With the launch of a new network of security experts in Canada, Steve Saideman chats with OpenCanada about the state of defence research in this country and the issues on his radar.

By: /
24 May, 2019
Canadian soldiers of the NATO-enhanced Forward Presence battle group look on during the Iron Tomahawk exercise in Adazi, Latvia, October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

With Canadian defence issues regularly in the news — from the decision not to extend Canada’s contribution to Operation Presence in Mali to the withdrawing of charges against the military’s once second-in-command, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman — we consider it our duty at OpenCanada to continue to provide analysis and commentary on those issues, when warranted. To aid in that effort, this week, one of our regular contributors, defence and security scholar Steve Saideman, is launching a new network of experts across the country who will be working together on events and publications over the next several years.

As OpenCanada is one of the network’s media partners, we chatted with Saideman in advance of the launch on why he thinks there is a need for such a network, which defence issues and critical questions are currently on his mind — and should be on the minds of Canadians — and which events to watch next.

1. What is the state of defence research in Canada at the moment?

The good news is that there are many scholars and defence scientists doing excellent work across Canada. The bad news is that they are mostly disconnected from each other, from government, from the armed forces, and from those in civil society. Many individuals are well-connected, but there are big divides that are hard to bridge, especially when the people on the other side (the military and people in the government) rotate out of their jobs and into new ones every two to three years.

2. What are some topics or questions that need addressing when it comes to defence and security in Canada?

What does Canada do well? What is Canada’s comparative military advantage? What are the goals of our defence policies? The basics are pretty clear — defend Canada, participate in NORAD and NATO.

For personnel issues, the government has wonderful aspirations, but there seem to be structural dynamics within the military making reform very difficult. How do we know these efforts will last beyond the current government and current chief of the defence staff?

For procurement issues, all democracies have problems buying expensive equipment in a timely manner, but Canada seems to have more problems than most. We can’t take the politics out the process, but can we improve the process so that the parties have a bit less to fight about?

Coverage of Canadian defence is episodic — the media cares when there is a debate in parliament or a bad news story. Can we figure out ways for media outlets to cover issues more deeply and more broadly over time so that the public has a better idea of what is going on?

3. Tell us about the new network you are launching.

The Canadian Defence and Security Network (CDSN) involves over 30 partners and a hundred academics. The aim is to have more collaboration across the various divides (regional, linguistic, civil-military, etc.) so that we can provide more evidence-based, policy-relevant research that the government actually listens to while also training a more inclusive next generation of defence scholars.

We are organizing five streams of research — on defence procurement, military personnel, operations, civil-military relations and security. Co-directors of the CDSN will organize each of these, based across Canada. CDSN HQ, based at Carleton University, will try to provide the glue not just among the five themes but also between the entire defence and security community in Canada and international partners. HQ will help connect the participants and partners, it will organize a variety of events (summer training institute, book workshops, conferences, etc.) as well as engage in a social media campaign (Twitter, blogs, podcasts, etc.) to help amplify the work being done by those in the network. The network also includes on-call experts to help the government and media explain and analyze current events.

Officially, the network launches May 24, with an organizational meeting and reception. In June, we will also be supporting two member events, and in the summer, we will launch our social media efforts, including a podcast. In the fall and winter, we will have a series of thematic workshops, and we will also be amplifying any events our partners put on.

4. Which defence and security issues are on your radar this week, in Canada or globally?

First, the Mark Norman story — where a procurement project became a political hot potato and ultimately upended the career of the second highest ranking officer in the Canadian Armed Forces — points to a variety of issues in how Canada makes procurement decisions.

Second, US President Donald Trump’s pardoning of one war criminal with more on the horizon raises questions about whether Canada can partner with the United States in future missions where war crimes are possible.

And third, a Statistics Canada report on sexual harassment and assault in the Canadian Armed Forces just came out, so we need to take a look at it and see where we can do better.

5. Which events should we be watching out for in coming months?

The seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day is June 6. That will provide much opportunity for allies and former adversaries to get together and consider the progress made in the past and the perils we face today. It also gives Trump an opportunity to antagonize allies. Given that Canada was one of the key providers of troops that landed on that day, I expect much media and government attention. This may be the last big anniversary for those who fought that day.

Additionally, two members of our network have events later in the month. The Kingston Conference on International Security, which involves Queen’s University, the US Army War College, the NATO Defence College and elements of the Canadian Forces, runs June 10 to 12. It brings together sharp people discussing a specific set of issues. This year’s conference focuses on the changing international order.

Women in International Security-Canada are holding their annual workshop from June 17 to 19 in Toronto. Their aim is to provide opportunities for women, especially more junior defence and security scholars and scientists, to present research, get feedback and to network.

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