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Dr. James R. McKay, Dr. H. Christian Breede, Dr. Ali Dizboni, and Dr. Pierre Jolicoeur – “Developing Strategic Lieutenants in the Canadian Army”

Released 27 April 2022.

This Canadian contribution to Parameters’ Strategic Lieutenant series shows how domestic context creates the conditions for professional military education reform to a greater extent than the global strategic context. The podcast assesses the junior officer education delivered by Canada’s military colleges and analyzes interviews with key stakeholders responsible for the formulation and implementation of reform at the military colleges.

Click here to read the article.

Keywords: education reform, strategic context, leadership, professional
military education

Episode Transcript 

Stephanie Crider (Host)

Welcome to Decisive Point, a US Army War College Press production featuring distinguished authors and contributors who get to the heart of the matter in national security affairs.

The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are those of the podcast guests and are not necessarily those of the Department of the Army, US Army War College, or any other agency of the US government.

The guests in speaking order on this episode are:

(Guest 1: James R. McKay)

(Guest 2: Ali Dizboni)

(Host)

Decisive Point welcomes Dr. James R. McKay and Dr. Ali Dizboni, who coauthored “Developing Strategic Lieutenants in the Canadian Army” with H. Christian Breede and Pierre Jolicoeur. The article was published in the spring 2022 issue of Parameters.

McKay is the current chair of war studies at the Royal Military College of Canada and was educated at Bishop’s University, the Royal Military College of Canada, and King’s College London.

Dizboni is an associate professor and the current chair of the Military and Strategic Studies program at the Royal Military College of Canada. He received his master of science degree and PhD from the Université de Montréal in the fields of political science and international relations. He’s fluent in Arabic, English, French, and Persian.

Breede is an associate professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada and the deputy director of the Centre for International and Defence Policy at Queen’s University as well as the associate chair of the Royal Military College’s public administration program. He holds a PhD in war studies from the Royal Military College of Canada and has published on the topics of foreign and security policy, with a research focus on societal cohesion and technology.

Jolicoeur is a professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada. A specialist of the conflicts in the former Soviet republics, he is currently writing a book on Russian foreign policy.

Thank you both for your contribution to Parameters and for joining me on this podcast today. The Parameters Strategic Lieutenant series asks what leads governments to reform entry-level officer professional military education: the global, strategic environment or the domestic, political environment? Your article says the Canadian answer tends toward the latter. So, let’s unpack this. Please tell us a little bit about the Canadian military education system.

(McKay)

The Canadian military education system for junior officers is oriented on a couple of sources.

You have those that enter the officer corps through the Canadian military colleges, which (like American military colleges) are degree-granting institutions. We have two of them, but they are ”triservice.” So what that means is, at the Canadian Armed Forces level, we’re primarily educating them and socializing them into the profession of arms.

The services handle the lion’s share of the training. And I say “lion’s share” because some of it does belong to the Canadian Armed Forces.

So they tend to be a four-year degree program with four pillars, which include physical fitness; second language, so everyone has to meet a certain standard of the other official language; the degree; and the military training they do receive at the college, which is triservice and tends to focus on general service requirements that would be applicable whether they’re a soldier, sailor, or aviator.

(Host)

What have been the drivers or sources of change within the Canadian Armed Forces?

(McKay)

I’m going to answer this by describing two games.

The first is the long game. And that’s the need for institutional reform that takes multiple years, straddles electoral cycles, straddles the crises that occur in the international system that necessitate responsive force.

The short game is how an armed force like the Canadian Armed Forces needs to be able to respond to the shifting domestic and international situations. The challenge with that is it can rob the long game of resources. The demands of the short game can be too great.

But having said that, the biggest driver for change, which creates the long game, was a concern in the immediate post-Cold War that the Canadian Armed Forces’ performance in international operations was not sufficiently reflective of Canadian values. We had an incident that became a national scandal, and public demand was significant for reform and that the armed forces operate in ways that Canadians would be comfortable with.

Now, this is unusual because, generally speaking, foreign and defense policy are not normally significant political issues—there’s been a rough, broad consensus. So, in that sense, when it comes election time, all politics tend to be local. So you might not win an election as one of our political parties from a foreign or defense policy issue. But you could lose one, which means they tend to focus on the domestic.

So we’ve had adjustments occur as the result of the short game, which can influence the ability of the institution to continue to focus on reform. But the real driver was public demands.

(Dizboni)

One point comes to my mind is the 1990s’ new generation of operation—peace operation. And that new generation of peace operation obviously required, as James was saying, the long-game thing—some skills beside the training—like, properly military training. And that generation of peace operation in the Balkans and other regions is a departure from the blue helmet and toward something new that Canadian Army and other NATO member countries needed to explore. So here comes in the long-game concept education component.

(Host)

What reforms have been carried out to date?

(McKay)

Most germane to the education of junior officers and the Strategic Lieutenant series, we’ve created a single headquarters to oversee education, which tends to be in the hands of the Canadian Armed Forces as opposed to each and every service. While they have their (professional military education or) PME institutions, the entry-level and the upper-year ones are equivalent of war colleges. And the senior staff colleges rest in the (Canadian Armed Forces’ or) CAF’s hands; services still have their own.

We went to an all-degreed officer corps. Minor exceptions . . . but right now, the expectation is commissioned officers will all have a university degree. We began to reform our publications that talk about the foundational material of Canadian civil-military relations and the foundational material of leadership—so, leadership manuals that lay out the doctrine, so to speak, for how we lead. And that was in the hands of the leadership institute hosted by the headquarters that oversees education.

We also—and it’s in the middle of a rewrite—created a publication that explains the profession of arms and that relationship between state, society, and its armed forces.

We also engaged in reform at the Canadian military colleges and created a core curriculum. Those familiar with postsecondary education will recognize this as the adoption of a liberal arts philosophy, which meant that we looked at what officers ought to know, translated across into academic courses, and then said, “Right, regardless of degree program, all officers should take—and there’s a variety of courses in history; political science; literature; that four-letter word for arts folks, math; science; and psychology.” And this is throughout the curriculum. And this is something that is also being refreshed within the college.

(Host)

Thank you, James and Ali. It was such a pleasure talking with you.

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Author information

Dr. James R. McKay is the current chair of war studies at the Royal Military College of Canada and was educated at Bishop’s University, the Royal Military College of Canada, and King’s College London.

Dr. H. Christian Breede is an associate professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada and the deputy director of the Centre for International and Defence Policy at Queen’s University, as well as the associate chair of the Royal Military College’s public administration program. He holds a PhD in war studies from the Royal Military College of Canada and has published on the topics of foreign and security policy with a research focus on societal cohesion and technology.

An associate professor and the current chair of the military and strategic studies program at the Royal Military College of Canada, Dr. Ali G. Dizboni received his master of science degree (1997) and PhD (2000) from the Université de Montréal in the fields of political science and international relations. He is fluent in Arabic, English, French, and Persian.

Dr. Pierre Jolicoeur is a professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada. A specialist of the conflicts in the former Soviet Union republics, he is currently writing a book on Russian foreign policy