Embassy magazine has what in most respects is a half-decent discussion of a key problem in the ongoing F-35 fighter saga: the Department of National Defence’s failure to disclose a summary of national needs which the F-35 (or any other fighter, for that matter) would have to meet. Instead, Canadians have been subjected to a relentless marketing campaign by the civilian government and by the military generals, who are, oddly, unencumbered by the usual restrictions on political advocacy by public servants. Even without holding a public competition for Canada’s largest military purchase ever, you’d think DND could at least identify what needs the F-35 is filling, and Embassy is right to rap them on the knuckles for it.
Where I have a problem with this article (yet again), though, is Embassy‘s failure to be genuinely inclusive. The “back and forth” method is cheap journalism, which is why it’s increasingly popular on everything from CBC to Fox News: introduce a topic, quote one person on one “side” of the issue, then someone from the other “side.” Seldom is the media so obvious in playing the role, as Noam Chomsky puts it, of defining the outer limits of “acceptable” or legitimate thought on an issue. The problem, in this case, is that both “experts” — Adam Chapnick and David J. Bercuson — are actually being paid by the military that wants to buy the jets in the first place. Chapnick actually says the military shouldn’t need to make public any need for fighter jets — every party should accept it in private and then present a done deal to the public. Embassy does not identify the potential for conflicts of interest here, or explain why it couldn’t find someone with an opinion who was independent from the military.
Once again, I have no trouble with people speaking their minds on an issue — but we have to know where they are coming from, and when their salary comes from producing and disseminating knowledge and opinion, it is important to know who pays that salary. The fact that Chapnick works at the Canadian Forces College and that Bercuson works at an academic research group that is funded by the Department of National Defence doesn’t mean either of them are sinister or deceptive people. But Carl Sagan once remarked that half the scientists in the country were working at least part-time for the military, and that this was a very serious problem. I’m not sure what the ratio is on the social sciences side, or in Canada compared to the United States, but international affairs programs are not immune, and this does have an impact — at the very least, because those people working in areas considered relevant by the military, and espousing opinions considered relevant by the military, are given more money to make their opinions known. At the same time they seldom, if ever, disclose the funding that makes their respectable academic positions possible when they submit op-eds, etc. (And reporters don’t ask, which is just as bad.)
Bercuson is a Conservative Party donor, incidentally, but what I’m more concerned with for the moment is the Security and Defence Forum. The next time someone from the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute or the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies (the University of Calgary’s twin international affairs centres) opens their mouth, I’ll have more to say on their murky funding arrangements. For now I’m more interested with the military’s relationship with political scientists.
In Canada, the principal military vehicle for funding academics is called the Security and Defence Forum. (The military also operates other grant programs, like the one that props up the military lobby group Conference of Defence Associations.) The SDF funnels money to research centres at thirteen universities, on the order of a little over $100,000 per year to each (the precise figure varies). In addition to Bercuson’s Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, the SDF’s recipients include Carleton University (the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs’s Centre for Security and Defence Studies), Queen’s University (Centre for International Studies), and the University of New Brunswick (Gregg Center for the Study of War and Society).
According to the last public annual report of the SDF (from 2009), it dispensed the following amounts to various political science groups:
|Centre for International Relations||University of British Columbia||$120,000|
|Centre for Military and Strategic Studies||University of Calgary||$140,000|
|Centre of Defence and Security Studies||University of Manitoba||$120,000|
|Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic and Disarmament Studies||Wilfrid Laurier University||$115,000|
|York Centre for International and Security Studies||York University||$100,000|
|Centre for Security and Defence Studies||Carleton University||$140,000|
|Centre for International Relations||Queen's University||$115,000|
|Centre d'Etudes des Politiques Etrangeres et de Securite||Universite de Quebec a Montreal||$110,000|
|Research Group in International Security||Universite de Montreal and McGill University||$120,000|
|Institut Quebecois des Hautes Etudes Internationales||Laval University||$115,000|
|Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society||University of New Brunswick||$120,000|
|Centre for Foreign Policy Studies||Dalhousie University||$140,000|
|Chair of Defence Management Studies||Queen's University||$165,000|
The SDF was created during the Cold War and now specifies that recipients conduct research in areas like terrorism, defence procurement, and other issues of interest to the military. Word has it that the SDF may be in financial trouble as the government searches for ways to save every spare penny in DND in preparation for the F-35 purchase. Naturally, the forum scholars — who line up to testify that the funding has no impact on their views on defence matters — nevertheless complained to a man that the SDF money was needed to keep their centres alive. We’ll find out over the next year what the fallout was, since the centres are due for a new five-year injection of defence cash.Tweet