Tag Archives: Defence policy

The Conference of Defence Associations – Thinktank?

So I really wanted to write on Public Service Sector Renewal after last thursday speech – but it will have to wait a day or two because…

On Saturday I received my weekly email from the Conference of Defence Associations (CDA) with links to the week’s various defence related articles. Normally each article includes a link, a descriptive sentence and more rarely, a guide to the piece’s most relevant paragraphs or chapters. I was pleased to see that it included Taylor and I’s Embassy Magazine op-ed on the potential impact of aerial bombing on the insurgencies in Afghanistan.

I was displeasing however, to see that our article was the only one that included an editorial comment warning CDA members about or piece’s thesis. Below is a brief sample the suggested articles, ours is at the very end.

Much has been made in the media in the last week about reports that Canadian military personnel were ‘negotiating’ or ‘reaching out’ to the Taliban. Tara Brautigam for the Canadian Press reports Defence Minister’s Peter MacKay’s denial that Canadian soldiers were doing so, while Ryan Cormier for Canwest writes that Canadian soldiers’ outreach activities to Afghan civilians may have been misconstrued as negotiations with the Taliban.

Colin Freeze in the Globe and Mail reports on the issue of rules surrounding CSIS activities in Afghanistan.

James Travers in the Toronto Star explores the ability of individuals with “smarts and chutzpah,” such as General Rick Hillier and Auditor General Sheila Fraser, to “lever limited institutional authority into sweeping informal influence.”

Taylor Owen and David Eaves in Embassy draw parallels between the impact of aerial bombardment of Cambodia in the late 1960s and early 1970s and today in Afghanistan. The CDA urges its readers to not draw hasty parallels between two very different conflicts.

Glad to know that the CDA is there to inform their readers what to think.

This would conform with a larger trend however. I’ve noticed that the CDA tends to highlight articles that praise the Canadian military and more importantly, the mission in Afghanistan, rather than those that cast a critical eye. If it really is a clearing house for debate on the military you’d think that articles critical of the mission, and its execution, would more frequently find their way into its email list. While I haven’t done a statistical sampling, my anecdotal survey suggest they do not. When they do, they often include editorial comments from the Executive Director downplaying them.

If you are interested in this debate others have questioned the independence of the CDA, noting that it receives significant funding from the Department of National Defence (ay $100,000 a year at last check), and others have defended it.

For myself, both perspectives are correct. Although the CDA has been broadly supportive of the Afghan mission it has, at times, provided throughtful critiques. But I’m not concerned by the CDA’s discussions about how the war is prosecuted, this is at least a defence related issue. What I am concerned about is the CDA’s discussions about if the war should be prosecuted, as these are often political issues. A scan of the webpage of the CDA’s publications on Afghanistan reveals several letters and articles outlining why Canada should be in Afghanistan and why it shouldn’t pull out. Again, these are political decisions. It strikes me as problematic that an agency directly funded by the government echoes that government’s position (both Liberal and Conservative) while presenting itself to the press and public as independent.