The Political Role of the Military: An International Handbook

By Constantine P. Danopoulos; Cynthia Watson | Go to book overview
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Douglas Bland

Most Canadians, if asked to describe the influence of the Canadian Armed Forces on politics in Canada, would say that there is none at all. The armed forces is a small, professional organization widely dispersed across the country. Few politicians are interested in military affairs, mainly because they assume that there are no votes in defense issues and because defense policy has been directed for so long by the politics of alliances. The media have an amateur approach to foreign and defence policy, and the "defense community" is small and often more concerned with the high politics of international security relations than with Canadian defense affairs.

Yet this disinterest--and some say neglect--in one of the basic policy responsibilities of a sovereign state masks a nice paradox in Canadian politics. Soldiers at times have taken advantage of the situation to fashion an armed forces structure and a national strategy that they prefer, and at times these professional choices have surprised and caused difficulties for politicians. In these circumstances, defense policy has figured prominently in several federal elections and in the agenda of governments. On those few occasions when the armed forces were of interest to politicians, they found that the armed forces had more influence than many had expected.

Defense policy and the relationship between politicians and the senior members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CF) is shaped by Canada's customs, traditions, and its unique strategic situation. The armed forces of Canada are situated in a Westminster tradition. Officers' assumption of the supremacy of Parliament is so strongly embedded in the traditions of the profession that it is not even a subject of staff-college lectures. Rather, civil-military relations in Canada circle about politicians' concerns about auditing the "expert" advice they receive from the military and soldiers' frustrations with politicians who seem content to ignore that advice. According to General Guy Simonds, an influential postwar officer who was never a raging democrat, the defense prob


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