Planning without Guidance: Canadian Defence Policy and Planning, 1993-2004

By Hartfiel, Robert Michael | Canadian Public Administration, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Planning without Guidance: Canadian Defence Policy and Planning, 1993-2004


Hartfiel, Robert Michael, Canadian Public Administration


"In Canada, the history of the civil-military relation in the context of commitments has been a history of unrelenting confusion and conflict between governments and military officer" (Douglas L. Bland 1995: 15).

The comments made by a senior Canadian Forces (CF) officer provided the motivation for this study. During the 1990s, he stated, the CF found itself "literally living day to day.... The day-to-day challenges were such that nobody thought beyond next week.... We gave up on strategic planning.... We had a failure of strategic leadership." The CF were initially ill-prepared and ill-equipped for the post-Cold War world, but--as militaries are expected to do--they adapted to new conditions.

The eleven years between the release of Canada's 1994 White Paper on Defence and its 2005 Canada International Policy Statement were years of crisis within the Forces. Its operational tempo increased significantly during this period, even as the defence budget was cut by a quarter. Defence policy decisions were often made "on the fly" and seemingly without regard to the government's declaratory defence policy. In Ottawa, defence issues were perceived to have very little profile, and military officers felt their concerns were not being heard. According to the officer, "The services ... learn[ed] to survive in the absence of guidance and it has only been very recently that we have provided our own guidance" (emphasis added).

Drawing on interviews with senior CF officers and Department of National Defence (DND) officials and the relevant literature in Canadian defence administration, this study evaluates the officer's contention that the CF learned "to survive in the absence of guidance" and indeed began to provide its "own guidance." The officer's statement suggests that the CF had adapted to a perceived lack of strategic guidance by developing its own planning processes--a case of what Colin Campbell has called "spontaneous adaptation" (Campbell 2006). (1)

This article begins with a discussion of the utility and importance of strategic defence policy and planning and how responsibility for this area is shared and divided. The second section presents an overview of the challenges faced by the CF during the eleven years between the 1994 white paper and the international policy statement in 2005. It summarizes the rapid changes in global security, the impact of dramatic budget cuts and frequent deployments on the CF's human and material resources, and the "incoherence" of defence policy guidance during this period. The third section will examine how the CF adapted to the absence of strategic guidance by pursuing ambitious internal reforms. This reform process centred on the adoption of strategic visioning and capabilities-based planning--a decisional methodology for resource allocation and mitigating risk. The article concludes with a discussion of the implications of these developments for civil--military relations in Canada and presents a case for institutional reform.

Defence policy and planning

The "mechanics" of defence management in Canada have been presented in detail elsewhere (Bland 1995, 1998; Bland and Maloney 2004; Middlemiss and Sokolsky 1989). According to Danford Middlemiss and Joel Sokolsky, the federal government is responsible for setting the "broad defence policy objectives," that is, "the commitments and role of the Canadian Forces that will reflect and serve them ... [and] provide the resources necessary to staff, train and equip [them]" (1989: 195). More simply, the government is meant to explain the purpose of the CF and what they should be able to do.

The government's policy objectives are formally expressed in Department of National Defence white papers--the government's official, declaratory defence policy. These have historically been updated on an ad hoc basis, often early in a new government's mandate. The government is not required to update them on a regular basis. …

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