Defence Requires Flexible Planning

September 1, 2001 by Legion Magazine

by David J. Bercuson



Lieutenant-Colonel Simon Hetherington (centre) discusses the work of the Provincial Reconstruction Team with rural leaders west of Kandahar.

Prussian General Helmuth von Moltke once declared: “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.” And yet the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence have devoted a considerable chunk of time over the past decade or so trying to come up with plans for the future of Canada’s military. Some of those plans had a relatively short shelf-life, others are still relevant. But it is probably not unfair to say that much of the planning was a manifestation of a strong inclination within the high command not to take chances–on anything. After all, planning and caution are two sides of one coin–both are intended as much to constrain free thinking and instinctive reaction as to establish coherent ways of doing things.

The nation will have yet another plan sometime this fall when the Department of National Defence releases the Strategic Capability Plan which will effectively become the bible for purchases, force structure, and force size for at least the next decade. Fundamentally the plan is supposed to replace what the military calls “threat-based” planning, or planning that tries to forecast CF evolution by assessing the threats that will face the nation in the future, with planning based on an evaluation of what capabilities the Canadian Forces must have to serve the mandate that the government lays out for it.

The hope is that this plan will put an end to the process of policy-making-on-the-fly that has dominated key decisions by government about Canadian defence for more than 10 years. If the plan has sufficient flexibility built into it, it may well do that. If it attempts to address too much, or to impose an iron straight jacket on the next decade of military thinking, it will fail.

Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote in his post-World War II memoir Crusade In Europe that war always comes as a shocking surprise to democracies. That is probably less true in this post-Sept. 11 period than it has ever been, but it does neatly summarize the gap between what people expect to happen and what does happen in the upside-down world of warfare.

Take the “3D” concept that emerged in foreign and defence policy-making circles in Ottawa in 2003-04. 3D is shorthand for “defence, diplomacy and development” which was supposed to combine the resources of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and other government agencies, with non-governmental aid organizations, to “fix” failed or failing states under the overall protection of the Canadian Forces.

3D, together with the notion that Canada’s most important military mission in the post-Cold War era would be to stabilize and help rebuild failed or failing states, was a neat and symmetrical package in theory. In practice, events have turned out differently.

First, apparently no one anticipated how very tough it would be for civilians, either in government, or working for non-governmental agencies, to accomplish much of anything in the middle of a low-intensity or asymmetric war such as Canada is now fighting in Afghanistan. The Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Team that is based in Kandahar, and which forms the backbone of the development and diplomacy effort in that region, is virtually all military. Since the killing by the Taliban of Canadian diplomat Glyn Berry last January, 3D in practice has become 1D–the CF is doing almost all the lifting on all three of the Ds. To say this is not to criticize the mission itself, which Canada is doing well at, and which is vital to Canadian national interests, but to observe that killing Taliban, or at least disrupting Taliban efforts to regain power, is essentially the real war being fought there.

Second, failed or failing states is as good a focus as any for purposes of operational or tactical planning, but no one should kid themselves that failed or failing states are the chief threat to Canadian security or Canadian national interests. North Korea and Iran are the greatest threats to global security today and they are most definitely not in the same category as a failing state such as Afghanistan.

Besides, what is a failed or failing state anyway? Canadians who are shocked at the mass atrocities being perpetrated in the Sudan might be excused for thinking that Sudan is a failed state, but the Sudanese government itself doesn’t think so and most certainly doesn’t want Canadians, Europeans or Americans entering the country to fix things. Nor does Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. And there are dozens of other examples around the globe that apply equally.

The lesson here is that the Defence Policy Statement of April 2005, which at least provided some focus for future Canadian Forces growth and development, contained some deep flaws and mistaken assumptions that are showing themselves already, not even two years after the plan was revealed.

For much of this spring and summer, there were frantic efforts in the high command to align the Canadian Forces’ view of its own future–largely enunciated in last year’s Defence Policy Statement–with the vision of defence laid out by the Conservative party during the January federal election.

Fundamentally the Tories wanted greater focus on domestic operations, strategic deployment, and if not heavy, then medium weight, capabilities while the Forces were sticking with the concept of lightness and mobility needed to carry out the 3D mission.

The major purchases announced last June were vitally needed no matter which direction the Forces were going to move. So it is the Defence Capability Plan which ought to give a better picture of how the Forces intend to evolve.

However, no one should be surprised if the planners find themselves back at the drawing board in far less than 10 years.

Last Post


Classified Ads

Get the 2020 Veterans Benefits Guide today!

The 2020 guide includes helpful, up-to-date information on eligibility, applying, coverage + much more!

​A value of $19.99 but the guide is 
FREE for all Canadian Armed Forces members, veterans, families of veterans and members of the RCMP. ​