Saturday, 24 November 2012


 The report, “The Ghost of General Otter: Putting the Canadian Forces Report on Transformation 2011 in Context” by Andrew Godefroy, published by the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute, November, 2012, is recommended reading, and not just because it references Sir William Otter, one of Canadian Defence Matters favourite generals.

The report is a companion piece to the CDFAI’s report “Defence after the Recession and adds to our understanding of the future of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Godefroy makes two excellent points. First he makes clear the use of the word “transformation” in this context.

Reorganizations are not popular. Because of the belief, best summed up by the quote, “We trained hard . . . but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization” (Erroneously attributed to Petronius Arbiter, 210 B.C.) the word itself has fallen into disrepute. As the report points out” Whereas in the past such plans were more simply known as ‘reorganizations’, in the 21st century DND has given them the much more Disney-like title of ‘transformation’”.

Needless to say, the Canadian Armed Forces are not going to transform themselves into a car, or even an intergalactic robot.  What they are doing is reorganizing in an attempt to save money and retain as many capabilities as possible with a smaller budget.

This is where the report makes another pertinent observation. The author notes that: “Canadian history has repeatedly observed that in the absence of War, all military efficiency studies eventually come to pass.”

This report argues that while trying instinctively to the same with less (also known in government circles as “doing more with less”) it is not possible. The author argues that any reorganization should acknowledge this and not attempt to maintain capabilities at the expense of corporate abilities and the ability to re-generate those capabilities in the future when need and budget allow for them.

 "At one time in 2010, for example, the CF was simultaneously carrying out five of the six core missions laid out by the government in the Canada First Defence Strategy. In addition to ongoing combat operations in Afghanistan, the CF responded to a sudden humanitarian crisis in Haiti, supported government security initiatives for the 2010 Winter Olympics, maintained its preparations for a response to a terrorist attack, and carried on its daily provision of maritime aerial surveillance and search and rescue capabilities.”

In order to adequately cope with the coming budgetary shortfall the Armed Forces are going to have to speak truth to power. They have to tell government and the public that they can no longer fulfill the full range of services they have attempted to perform in the past with the budget they have today.

In the past they have essentially said of their capabilities, “you can have one from column A and 2 from column B at any time”. In the future the nation must explain that the choice is “one from column A or two from column B.  Unless you want to mortgage the future capabilities of the Canadian Armed Forces you will have to understand that doing with less means less.”