With the Minister of National Defence having announced a few weeks ago that the Canadian Armed Forces personnel plot was “in a death spiral”, a book that deals comprehensively with defence human resources – Regular Force, Reserve Force, civil servants and contractors – is welcome indeed.  In Total Defence Forces in the Twenty First Century editors Joakim Berndtsson, Irina Goldenberg and Stephanie von Hlatky have assembled 25 international authors to address key issues in 16 individual chapters.

The editors point out that the defence environment is of increasing complexity and that national security now includes natural disasters, internal security, counter terrorism, peacekeeping, stability operations and war.  The model of a Regular Force which vertically integrates the majority of a nation’s defence capability with some support from civilians and augmentation in numbers from Reserves is no longer viable.  Total Defence Forces addresses this problem at the level of the individual, or micro, level, the group, or meso level, and the level of national institutions, or macro level.  The chapter authors point to remarkably similar problems across countries.

For example, Louise Olsson and Chiara Ruffa in their chapter on Sweden’s retention problems across its total defence forces point to the existence of a model of the “right people” to retain – white, male, heterosexual – which makes the retention of minorities, maintenance of gender diversity, and the retention of critical civilian skills difficult.  They point to institutional resistance when perceived core values are challenged and argue that the need of the total force to retain “Institutional” values can only be achieved if “Occupational” needs of the parts of the defence force are met.  In their words “Vocation becomes occupation.”

Stephen R. Dalzell’s chapter on policy alternatives to enhance total force capabilities provides some concrete suggestions as how this can be done.  Looking at United States, British, French, Australian and Estonian forces he suggests that the geographical and temporal constraints on individual defence occupations be looked at closely to discover if the imposition of expectations of full-time, able-bodied defence employment is justified.  To acquire necessary skills he suggests that defence forces eliminate the requirement of deployability for all members, that “telereserves” be recruited who can perform tasks remotely or at least closer to home, that the defence force include “reserves on demand” emulating Upwork and TaskRabbit.  In addition, he proposes seasonal reserves, job sharing, industry sponsored reserves and non-commissioned chaplains as potential ways to expand to defence labour pool. 

Turning to the Reserves, Howard Coombs and Vincent Connelly examine the Canadian Forces reserves and those of the British Army respectively.  Coombs points out that the Canadian Defence Team has mistakenly assumed that the Canadian Armed Forces can be treated as a homogenous unit which has resulted in inability to deal with the specific needs of the Reserves in terms of service of human resource policy.  Both Coombs and Connelly demonstrate historic Regular Force biases against the Reserves and Connelly discusses the institutional tools used by the Regular component to protect its concept of the profession.  The Reserves constitute the clearest case of the impact of a narrow Regular Force model on the defence work force.

The three chapters that address the use of private military contractors primarily focus on the experience of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Michelle Jones takes the most pessimistic view, arguing that lack of appropriate governance structures and contractors’ focus on getting their contract fulfilled, even at the expense of wider diplomatic and military goals, has impaired their relations with their military clients, NGO’s and host populations.  She also notes a contractual race to the bottom chasing lower cost and availability at the expense of standards.  Whitney Grespin, on the other hand, offers hope by showing that there has been progress towards contractor standards in the International Code of Conduct Association and the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies.  Caroline Batka raises doubts as to whether private military contractors can or even should be integrated with state military forces as doing so undermines the state’s exclusive control of violence.  These three chapters raise considerable doubt as to how total “Total Defence” should be.

Finally, the editors have asked me to say a few words about my own chapter which addresses the relationship between senior civil servants and the senior military in Canada, Australia and New Zealand since 1970.  All three countries are, of course, former British colonies and have inherited both Britain’s constitutional structure and military culture.  All three have experienced allegations that civilian control of the military has turned into rule by the civil service.  My examination of this question resulted in three significant findings:

  • First, the senior civil service in all three countries only became more engaged with managing non-financial aspects of Defence at the behest of ministers.  Ministers in all three countries intervened and reorganized to give more power to civil servants when they believed the armed services were shirking policy direction:  in the case of Canada it was a combination of foot dragging withdrawal from NATO’s Central Front and the construction of the advanced and very expensive DDH 280 class destroyer in blatant disregard of Cabinet direction to build an economy ASW vessel; in Australia Prime Minister Gough Whitlam ordered Arthur Tange, the incumbent secretary, “to bring them into line” meaning the admirals and generals opposing the change in policy from “forward defence” to “defence of Australia”; and in New Zealand the crisis was brought on by the Labour government of David Lange’s anti-nuclear policy and a simultaneous financial crisis which opened the door to government-wide reorganization. 

Other than to implement government strategic policy, senior civil servants have been mostly helpful in assisting their armed service colleagues in obtaining financing from the Treasury and navigating capital city politics

  • Second, diarchy works (though imperfectly).  A constant complaint from some members of the armed services is that the ambiguous terms of reference between the senior civil servant and the chief of the defence force is both bad management and has allowed undue civilian interference in “military” matters.  My take is that, in the first place, in both Canada and Australia, the deputy head at the time prevented the politicians from totally subordinating the chief of defence force to the deputy head.  Secondly, all three countries have found that some level of merger between policy and operational staffs is necessary to manage the defence enterprise;
  • Third, there are structural problems that inhibit the military from operating a comprehensive national headquarters on their own.  Warfare is sufficiently complex that there is little time left over for officers to develop policy and strategic analysis skills.  Military personnel systems tend to stream their best officers to operational and tactical postings leaving many unprepared to deal with national-level issues.  A degreed officer corps will mitigate, but not eliminate, this structural problem and officers still complain that they have not been adequately prepared to work in a strategic headquarters.

Overall, the integration at the top of the total defence force has been reasonably successful, if still a work in progress for all three countries.