Having been asked some weeks ago to prepare a blog, I have allowed myself to take in all manner of impressions in order to distil one or two issues that might be of interest. In truth there have been many themes which might have provided the basis of a commentary, but many seem to be linked with some constancy to the question of defining security agendas.
The first set of points that bears reporting is a short review I did of a number of papers presented last year at the University of Calgary’s ‘New Perspectives on the Second World War’ conference. The papers in question were all related to the prosecution of the Anglo/American air war in Europe and as I looked at them there emerged a clear sense of air forces as ‘learning organizations’. While the phrase seems a bit overworked these days there was no doubt that I was seeing leaders being obliged to deal with doctrines and equipment that were not performing as they had been expected to. As a result these officers were required to learn while doing. In some cases they developed policies, in others they adapted equipment, but in all cases they were clearly capable of learning and adapting.
In the second instance I was in the UK in mid September when that nation was in the throes of both fiscal and defence reviews. Many were the headlines, some so radical as to suggest that the Royal Air Force was done as an independent service. Naturally the counter argument was that there were certain functions which can only be achieved by air forces (although one could argue that it’s not an air force but the air vehicles which deliver on things like intercontinental transport … but I digress). But what I found more interesting was the apparent level of public debate on these issues; one evening there was an extensive round table discussion on the BBC prime network where analysts for defence, policing and health care each presented their concerns (and where significantly they were each able to consider the importance of the other two public functions). While it was Battle of Britain week, the coverage of this wartime event and national celebration was scant to nonexistent – the population was apparently more concerned with the present and the future.
Meanwhile, over the summer in Canada I had occasion to visit downtown Ottawa where I was not a little surprised and pleased to see signs that the nation recognizes and values its military – banners abounded marking the centenary of the Royal Canadian Navy and the sentries at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were very poignant. But at the same time the wrangling over things like the F 35 seem mired in politics and a real debate on national security after Afghanistan has yet to occur. And in the back of my mind was the reality that cuts were coming, even to the Security and Defence Forum which funds many of the activities of the LCMSDS.
And the Centre does much more than just put out blogs. It engages students both in and out of uniform (I did my PhD at WLU while wearing one) so that they can be both learners and also contributors to security policy formulation, and so that if serving in a public capacity, in the services or in the many government departments which contribute to national security and wellbeing, they will have the intellectual competencies to make good on national priorities. Beyond this service, as members of the public that they will have the wherewithal to precipitate meaningful public debates on matters of national importance.
Randall Wakelam is a professor of history and a research associate of the LCMSDS