Book Review Essay
Forced to Change: Crisis and Reform in the Canadian Armed Forces
by Bernd Horn and Bill Bentley
Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2015
168 pages, $19.99 (PB)
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Reviewed by Daniel Gosselin
This book tells the story of the reforms in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the profession of arms in the late-1990s and early-2000s that were triggered by the events centred upon the deployment of the Canadian Airborne Regiment to Somalia as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission in 1992-1993, in particular the torture and killing of a Somali teenager in March 1993.1 The events in Somalia and the subsequent response of the senior leadership of the CAF and the Department of National Defence contributed to generate a serious crisis of civil-military relations in Canada and a loss of confidence by the government in the CAF, in particular, its officer corps.
Two competent authors provide the account and narrative in Forced to Change. Colonel Bernd Horn (now retired from the CAF Regular Force) and Dr. Bill Bentley both served as infantry officers, and spent well over a decade working on various aspects of professional development in the CAF. Both were involved from the beginning with initiating and implementing the reforms in the CAF starting in 1999 under then-Lieutenant-General, later Senator, Roméo Dallaire. In early 1999, Dallaire was appointed as the Special Advisor to the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) with respect to Officer Professional Development (OPD).
Both authors have remained actively engaged in officer and non-commissioned member (NCM) professional development after their initial work with the Office of the Special Advisor, mainly through the Canadian Forces Leadership Institute and the Canadian Defence Academy. Horn has edited and written several books on military affairs, history, Special Forces, and leadership, while Bentley has been an active contributor to Duty with Honour and other key CAF doctrinal leadership publications that were published in the early-2000s. For their remarkable contribution to CAF professional development, both have received the Meritorious Service Medal. In sum, they are well qualified to tell this story, having had an insider’s perspective of the path to the reforms since the late-1990s.
This is a reasonably well-structured book, consisting of six short chapters and a foreword by Senator Dallaire. It is well written, with conviction, and generally pleasant to read. However, there is some repetitiveness throughout the book, in particular with the first two chapters, as the story moves back and forth in time, making it confusing at times. The book contains a Selected Bibliography; however, for some curious reason, all the key relevant reviews, studies, and reports of the period, such as the Somalia Commission Report, Minister Young’s Report to the Prime Minister on the Leadership and Management in the CF and Canadian Officership in the 21st Century, to name just a few, are not included in the bibliography. Fortunately, for those readers interested in finding more about those documents, some of the key sources are listed in the endnotes.
In the first chapter, which sets the stage of the remainder of the book, Horn and Bentley discuss the events that led to the crisis, explained through the prism of leadership culture, ethics, and education. They conclude, as many others have, that the CAF in the early-1990s, was dominated by a culture of anti-intellectualism that constantly reinforced experience over education. As the authors highlight, this way of thinking fostered an inherently conservative and traditional frame of mind that contributed to a myopic view of the world, and created an officer corps that was largely intolerant of criticism, self-scrutiny, or wider intellectual stimulation. The foundation of the officer corps was based upon personal character rather than professional knowledge, limiting the ability of senior officers to develop the skills necessary to provide sound policy advice to government, or to stay connected with a society that was becoming better educated.2 The nature of the Cold War, with its relative simplicity and predictable operating environment for Western militaries, contributed much to shaping and reinforcing of the CAF culture and attitudes that existed by the early-1990s.
The solution – or “missing link,” as the authors identify it – to address this “crisis in culture” lies in the higher education of the officer corps (graduate and post graduate studies in liberal arts). It should not come as a surprise that the authors, two officers who have completed doctoral studies, would be strong advocates for the need of higher education to shape the mind and to improve critical thinking and maturity of judgment. To reinforce this point, the authors devote a complete chapter of the book to the merit of education – particularly graduate-level education, for senior officers.
The authors are highly critical of the officer corps of the period, in particular the chiefs of defence staff, head of the profession of arms in Canada, who were in office during the 1980s and early-1990s. General and flag officers were unable to see the inherent flaws in the organizational culture of the CAF, contend Horn and Bentley, and thus failed to prepare the CAF strategic leaders for their important role in dealing with government and in adapting to the myriad changes that swept Canadian society. Moreover, the CAF senior leadership also failed to uphold a healthy military ethos and high military professionalism, elements that were critical in contributing to the crisis of the early-and mid-1990s.
The main argument of the book is clearly evident in its title, Forced to Change. Since the government had, by the mid-1990s, lost faith in the profession of arms to self-regulate, and in officers to account for their actions, it had to act forcefully to reform both the profession and the CAF. Three key activities comprise the main interventions of the government into the profession of arms: the establishment in 1995 of the Somalia Inquiry, raising doubts with respect to the ability of the CAF to self-regulate and to account; Minister Doug Young’s 1997 Report to the Prime Minister on the Leadership and Management in the CF, which became, with its 65 recommendations the main engine to drive the CAF reforms, particularly with respect to education, leadership, and accountability; and the Minister’s Monitoring Committee (MMC) on Change in the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces, established in 1997 as an external mechanism to monitor the progress of the CAF in implementing the mandated reforms and initiatives. In addition to the MMC, new organizations were established to increase CAF and Defence accountability.3 In short, the crisis of civil-military relations forced the government to intervene quickly, and to “control” and “punish” the Canadian military, as the authors argue.
The research for the book is based largely upon the personal experiences of the two authors, who were active participants in the reform process, anchored by a detailed review of all key reports and studies conducted at the time. Many of the key and relevant recommendations of those studies, especially those elements dealing with education, accountability, leadership, and ethos, are repeated in the book for the benefit of the reader. To supplement those studies and reviews, the authors interviewed in 2010-2011 several principal decision makers who were intimately involved with the events, such as former ministers of national defence, chiefs of the defence staff, and deputy ministers. The result of those interviews is central to the development of the story in the book.
One of the main themes of the book, constantly repeated by those who were interviewed for the study, is that while many in the organization were speaking of change or pretending to support it, a number of senior officers were dead set against the changes, intransigent in accepting the new realities facing the CAF, and were stalling and bureaucratically resisting at every opportunity. Two key chapters of the book discuss the strong institutional resistance to change and the gradual implementation of reforms that took place between 1998 and 2003.
There are many crusaders and ‘heroes’ in those chapters, principally those who were interviewed by Horn and Bentley and who were trying to move the institution forward and initiate reforms, and there are many villains as well, who constantly resisted the changes and tried to slow down change through bureaucratic tactics. Unfortunately, the authors only interviewed the ‘heroes’ in this study, and, as a result, there are few if any counter-perspectives to the storyline portrayed therein. Moreover, the interviews were all conducted 10-15 years after the events, and no primary source research beyond the existing public reports and reviews, such as original letters and correspondence, statements in Parliament, speeches, and other public statements, was used to complement (confirm or refute) the story told by the key witnesses in this account. Consequently, a significant part of the story is still missing, and will need to be told by future historians when they get access to key documents and correspondence of the period.
To close the book, Horn and Bentley critically review what has occurred in the CAF since 2003. On the one hand, the authors contend that higher standard of ethics, new CAF leadership doctrine, a cohort of officers experienced with complex operations (mainly from CAF operations in the 1990s, such as those conducted in the Balkans), better intellectually-prepared officers (from their attendance at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto and increased graduate-level education), and the formation of the Canadian Defence Academy in 2003 as a centre of expertise to direct professional development in the CAF, all contributed to the CAF being able to deal effectively with operations in Afghanistan (largely devoid of scandals, criminal actions, and disreputable behaviour). As the authors highlight, the focused effort devoted in a few short years to attempt to change the culture of the officer corps of the CAF has indeed been remarkable.
Conversely, Horn and Bentley remain concerned with the ability of the CAF to sustain the remarkable change that took place in the decade 1997-2007, and argue that the war in Afghanistan has – again – put a premium on operational experience at the expense of higher education (especially for senior officers). They contend that there have been several “retrograde steps” in professional development since 2003, and the old culture of putting an excessive premium on training and operational experience over education is still present in many corners of the CAF. The “apparent underlying culture of discounting education runs deep [in the CAF],” lament the authors.
While it is true that at the height of the military campaign in Afghanistan, professional military education was not as ‘sexy’ as an operational tour in Afghanistan or elsewhere, the reality of today is that the new cohort of senior officers in the CAF is very well educated. Indeed, a large majority of senior officers have completed graduate studies – in liberal art – in the past decade, and all those who aspire to join the general and flag officer ranks must complete the 10-month National Security Studies Program in Toronto, or an equivalent program. These initiatives do not merely apply to senior officers: senior NCMs are also better educated. In short, the 2015 officer and senior NCM corps are both more experienced and better educated than those that were leading the CAF twenty-five years ago.
In the end, the authors close the book with some mild optimism based upon recent events and decisions, such as a CDS-initiated review in 2013 of senior officer professional development, and the implementation of the Leader Development Framework (LDF) within the CAF. The LDF is focused on intellectual development that provides a better balance between experience and education, contend the authors. Further, Horn and Bentley would be pleased to know that the new CDS, General Jonathan Vance, is planning a gathering of all his general and flag officers in late-spring 2016 to discuss exclusively the status of the profession of arms in Canada.
In summary, this book recounts a narrative with which many officers who served in the 1990s are very familiar. This is not an impartial account, however, as both authors have been part of the initial Officer Professional Development team and subsequent organizations mandated to advance and implement the reforms. It is clear that this book reflects the passion and the close involvement of the authors in their efforts over a decade to implement many of the reforms directed by the government, particularly those associated with improving the higher education of the officers of the CAF.
Despite the limitations discussed above, this is definitely a book worth reading with attention. For one, the book is the first focused effort to capture in one manuscript the steps taken by many in the profession of arms, the department, and the government to transform the CAF and to change the culture of the organization, particularly in the realms of higher education, accountability, leadership, and military professionalism.
But Forced to Change is important for two additional reasons. The story in this book is a glaring reminder of the unique, privileged, and demanding responsibility trusted upon the officer corps as a professional body, and especially the CDS as the leader of the profession of arms in Canada, to remain vigilant and dynamic in exercising the stewardship of the profession. More critically, the book highlights what can happen when the government loses faith with the ability of senior officers to manage their own profession. It can and will intervene, swiftly and powerfully, and force the CAF to change.
Major-General (Ret’d) Daniel Gosselin, CMM, CD, is a former Commandant of the Canadian Forces College and Commander of the Canadian Defence Academy. He also served as Director General International Security Policy in the Policy Group, and as a member of General Hillier’s Transformation Team. He is currently Team Leader of the CDS Commander’s Initiatives Group, and occasionally teaches and mentors senior officers and executives at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto.
- In the Introduction, the book incorrectly dates the killing of the Somali teenager to 1992.
- This is not a new argument. In fact, the authors are emphasizing the points that have been highlighted in many studies of the 1990s; this element is well discussed in the context of the Canadian Army by Peter Kasurak in his recent book A National Force: The Evolution of Canada’s Army, 1950-2000 (UBC Press, 2014).
- Some of these new organizations, in addition to the MMC, included: the Office of the Ombudsman, the Military Police Complaint Commission, and an Education Advisory Board – all reporting directly to the MND.