A Response to Ken Hansen

I would not want to discourage the Canadian Forces, and indeed the Canadian population in general, from studying and understanding the maritime environment in the round. However, as an academic who remembers the days of a Commodore in the post of Commandant at The Royal Military College of Canada, upon being asked for more money for the library for the purchase of new books pointedly inquiring, “Why, have you read all the ones in there already?”, I do feel that the Canadian navy and their anti-intellectual ways are very much a bringer of their own misfortune when it comes to CF investment in academic studies.

More to the point though, with regard to the Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies, and Ken Hansen’s use of this organisation to illustrate the UK military’s forward thinking, there is a vital aspect he is missing with his analysis. It was not the Royal Navy, the Defence Academy United Kingdom, or the Joint Services Command and Staff College that acted as the catalyst for the formation of the Corbett Centre. This centre is the product of the academic vision of King’s College London staff members who believe that the study of Britain’s maritime security environment in the round is under-valued and under-done. The Centre is not a MoD asset. It is an academic centre belonging to one of the top 25 universities in the world, free to do, say and be what it wants, when it wants. To date the British MoD, and in particular the RN, have contributed no funds to the effort, just their good- will and best wishes, as evidenced by the First Sea Lord’s opening of the centre. And, because the bulk of the members of the centre are working at the Defence Studies Department of King’s College London, at the Joint Services Command and Staff College, that is why it is located where it is.

Therefore, if the CF, and more particularly the Canadian navy, is really worried about the use of the sort knowledge and experience such things as the Corbett Centre can do to help prepare itself for the future it should ask why it is that either:  A - it doesn’t do more with the civilian institutions that already exist in Canada that study maritime policy and the like, (or indeed international ones such as the Corbett Centre);  B - why is it in Canada civilian universities are not hiring and maintaining academics who do this sort of thing seriously; or C - why it is that places like RMC, CFC, and other thinking organs of the CF have let maritime issues slip silently into the academic night.

Long gone are the days of amateur-opinion on all things CF related, such as the Bercussons, Mortons, Maloneys, and Granatstein’s of this world. If the CF and Canada in general wants to know about maritime policy it needs to reinvest in those skills and not try to get “established” great thinkers to guess at these issues or hope that academics hired to do terrorism or asymmetric warfare will develop the skills in time. For too long these sorts of “Great Military Minds” of the Canadian establishment have delivered pap and dross that substitute for serious critical thinking. The result is the belief within the CF that this sort of gifted-amateurism is serious strategic or operational thought. It is not, and never has been. It is unfortunate that the CF is taking out its single-service component programmes because there is a need for that sort of dedicated study, even in a joint environment. However, coordinating those scholars already in Canada but not of the “established” ranks, which is one of the main roles of the Corbett Centre, to identify and include those not on the “usual suspects list,” might be a useful way ahead as the Canadian navy prepares itself intellectually for the 21st century. Ken Hansen is right to ask if the CF is out of step with its military education plans for the future and the overemphasis on all things Army, but his looking at the Corbett Centre as a way ahead, as part of the CF institutionally, is not.

Share