(here's some interesting reading ...)
The politicization of the officer corps
The Ottawa Citizen
When respected military publication Jane's Defence Weekly requested access to write a special report on the Canadian military, the magazine was told military leaders didn't want international attention drawn to Canada's equipment and funding problems.
It's a common complaint among soldiers and defence analysts that senior commanders put the political well-being of the Defence minister ahead of their troops.
It's not every day Jane's Defence Weekly comes calling to profile a country's military. In defence establishments around the world, it's considered an honour.
Everywhere, except in the Canadian Forces, it seems.
When the prestigious defence magazine requested access to write a special report on the Canadian military for a February issue, the publication faced almost six weeks of stonewalling and excuses: Senior officers declined interviews; one general, in a rare interview, told Jane's correspondent Sharon Hobson he couldn't discuss anything. The Canadian Forces eventually offered limited co-operation after Jane's informed it the report would be done, with or without, their input.
Jane's was later told that Canadian military leaders didn't want international attention drawn to Canada's equipment and funding problems for fear they would embarrass the Liberal government.
"It was truly unbelievable because in other countries their governments and militaries are quite willing to co-operate even if they have problems," says Ms. Hobson, who has reported on the Canadian Forces for the past 15 years. "They actually want to be profiled in Jane's so they can show what type of job they are doing."
Ms. Hobson ran smack into what some defence analysts call the politicization of the officer corps -- officers who put the well-being and political career of the Defence minister of the day ahead of the Armed Forces. The overriding concern of a politicized military leadership is to ensure, at any cost, the government and Defence minister are never embarrassed.
The problem, according to some analysts, materialized in the 1970s when the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau merged the civilian public service and military leadership into one headquarters in Ottawa. The traditional division between senior officers and public servants became blurred. Political considerations ruled the day even in the most mundane military matters.
Arguably, this politicization was at the heart of the Somalia coverup. Senior officers and public servants allegedly tried to protect the career of then -Defence minister Kim Campbell from the fallout of the torture and murder of Somali teenager Shidane Arone by Canadian paratroopers. In the end, it was the Armed Forces that paid the price as the Somalia debacle severely damaged its reputation.
Protecting the government from embarrassment, even after the Somalia scandal, continues to be on the minds of military leaders.
Navy officers rushed to hide malfunctions of new missiles because the problems could have been traced to government cuts in training budgets, according to defence analysts. Several months ago, news of the detainment and interrogation of two Canadian soldiers in the Congo by that government's secret police was withheld from the public and portrayed by officials as a "non-issue" not worthy of even a press release. Yet, at the same time, the Defence Department cranks out news releases on such items as Liberal MP Hec Clouthier's participation in a sod-turning ceremony at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa.
No issue, it seems, is too small when it comes to protecting the Defence minister and government from potential, or perceived, embarrassment. One employee of the Defence Department's Maple Leaf newspaper remembers being ordered to change the word "Airborne" in a headline above a story about paratroopers to "Geronimo" because it was feared Defence Minister Art Eggleton would be angry about a phrase with connotations to the regiment his government disbanded.
Earlier this year, military reports indicated the Canadian Forces almost ran out of smart bombs during the Kosovo air war, yet despite the official documents, the air force claims it wasn't on the verge of depleting its munitions stocks -- such an admission would shine a spotlight on the fact the government didn't provide adequate funding to purchase enough smart bombs in the first place.
Retired Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, who rose to international prominence while commanding United Nations troops in the former Yugoslavia, says suppressing such information hurts the Armed Forces in the long run. He talks from first-hand knowledge. When he played host to MPs and senators while in the field, Maj-Gen. MacKenzie made sure they saw only the best the military had to offer. Any problems were well-hidden. The parliamentarians left thinking all was well and Canadian troops needed nothing.
"Any problems or concerns I had would be put in written submissions, reasoned arguments, and sent to headquarters where very little, if anything, would be done about them," Maj.-Gen. MacKenzie says.
"As I discovered later in my career, what you really need is a sound bite on the six o'clock news. Then, you at least get results because the senior leadership can't ignore it."
Politicization runs throughout headquarters in Ottawa and has spread into key areas ranging from the senior ranks to the military's public affairs branch, according to analysts. "The problem is that your public affairs officers, even though they are in uniform, are not looking out for the sergeant or the NCOs," says Maj.-Gen. MacKenzie. "They are looking out for the minister. That's not right."
Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Maurice Baril acknowledges efforts to protect the government and the Armed Forces from embarrassment have taken place but he believes they are a thing of the past. He advocates a policy of transparency and openness and says those who can't abide by that should move on.
"I think it's behind the Canadian Forces but we have to be vigilant all the time," he says. "We're dealing with human beings and human beings don't like to be embarrassed. But I think the Canadian population has made it very clear they want us to be transparent. I think this is what they have been receiving."
According to senior public affairs officer Capt. Barry Frewer, the roadblocks Jane's magazine encountered weren't attempts by senior Defence officials to protect Mr. Eggleton from embarrassment but a failing on the part of the public affairs branch.
"Our co-ordination really lacked in the strength it should have had," he says. "So we did not do it well."
Other public affairs officers privately note that they are often caught between serving the Armed Forces and dealing with the minister's office, which wants to ensure that at, any cost, he is not embarrassed.
Those mea culpas don't stop retired officers such as Maj.-Gen. MacKenzie from calling for the separation of military and civilian personnel at National Defence headquarters, a move various governments have steadfastly refused.
But defence analyst Doug Bland says however headquarters is organized, the military is required to publicly support and follow the dictates of the government of the day and the Defence minister. "And informally the Chief of the Defence staff and senior officers understand that it is in the interests of the Armed Forces to be seen to be co-operative with the government, otherwise they will lose support in cabinet," says Mr. Bland, chair of the defence management studies program at Queen's University. "You can't change that by organizing the Armed Forces differently."
Ultimately, however, the victims of politicization are the military personnel who serve Canada.
In November 1998 when Mr. Eggleton found himself under attack in the Commons after news reports that Canadian troops in Croatia may have been exposed to toxic chemicals, military officials scrambled to defend their minister. In one e-mail obtained by the Citizen, a senior officer complained about the "five individuals that ambushed the Minister" outside the House of Commons.
Those five individuals were actually soldiers, who had all been wounded overseas. All had been abandoned by the Canadian Forces without proper medical support. Among them was Warrant Officer Tom Martineau, who is paralysed after being shot in the spine by a sniper, and Matt Stopford, who is seriously ill from ailments he attributes to exposure to toxic chemicals while he served in Croatia.
The men hadn't come to ambush the minister, as the senior officer claimed.
They simply wanted answers for the treatment they had endured after serving their country. That fact seems to have been lost on the officers who were more concerned with protecting Mr. Eggleton from a few barbs from opposition MPs in the Commons.
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