Friday, April 08, 2005

Winds of change, or tilting at windmills?

Babble on.

It seems that Gen Rick Hillier, the new CDS, is shaking things up at The Puzzle Palace a little more than was first reported:

Canada's new defence chief wants to revamp the command structure of the Canadian Forces under a new "CanadaCom" banner that unites the army, navy and air force under leaner, more focused leadership similar to the U.S. military's approach.

The more I read about the U.S. unified command plan (UCP), the more I realize I’m unqualified to comment substantively about it. Moreover, I’m not entirely familiar with the org-chart at NDHQ. And until we know exactly what Gen Hillier is proposing, a proper analysis is impossible in any event.

Having said that, one aspect of this discussion seems clear to me: the current command structure in Ottawa hasn’t functioned particularly well, and it needs to change. As former VanDoo Dr. Sandy Cotton pointed out years ago to the CDA:

For three decades, Canadian defence institutions have been in turmoil. That's basically it. It has been a chronic state of crisis in the 1970s, a crisis of defence organization format. In the 1980s, there was the military ethos, the battle framed against the great abstract evil of "civilianization". And now, in the 1990s, the deepest and most protracted crisis, supposedly related to leadership and ethics. I think of these as episodes in a 30-year war over the nature of military culture in Canada.

The prizes of war have been the influence over policy directions, senior appointments, and a chance to define reality on terms compatible with tribal, regimental classification, corp agendas and element or kingdom agendas. [NDHQ] was and remains a locus of political intrigue open to abuse by the "dark side" of leadership and narcissistic personalities.

I really think the military, its elites, have been uncomfortable with the NDHQ format for three decades, even moderate reformers are uncomfortable with it. I really think there has never been a collective commitment to make it work, it has always been a battle ground rather than a structural element. (Babbler's bold)

As anyone familiar with the Canadian military knows, ‘leadership’ is valued by those in uniform, while ‘management’ is a dirty word. This semantic divide is symptomatic of the ongoing battle between those who believe military solutions to military challenges should come from longstanding, traditional military sources, and those who believe military structure should glean as much as possible from successful civilian organizational models and methods. This battle has deadlocked organizational reform within DND for years. (Personally, I believe the terms of this conflict are silly: military organizations are fundamentally different from civilian ones (unlimited liability, anyone?), but a good idea is a good idea – no matter where it comes from.)

Whether he intended to or not, Hillier may have found the perfect way around this chronic roadblock: a model for wide-ranging change from a proven military source. He still needs to overcome institutional inertia at DND, but at first blush, this angle of attack seems promising.

Babble off.


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