Overstretched staff and drastic cuts to travel and hospitality are compromising Canada’s defence diplomacy program, considered a crucial tool for advancing military and trade interests at a time of complex global insecurity, according to a new internal evaluation.
The report, completed more than six months ago but only recently released on the National Defence website, also warns of a lack of direction, co-ordination and resources required to meet objectives of the government’s global engagement strategy.
Program costs averaged a relatively flat $96.7 million a year between 2008-09 and 2011-12. But a budget squeeze has arisen because of rising costs for salaries and other areas such as translation, which skyrocketed by 64 per cent in just three years.
Demands are increasing, more complex
Social media and increasingly complex security issues are adding to the workload and costs, along with a deluge of requests from government, opposition parties and parliamentary committees.
'For the cost of one fighter jet, Canada can run its defence diplomacy program for years.' —Walter Dorn, Royal Military College of Canada
That means the volume of work and scope of responsibilities have ballooned with no extra staff to execute the work, according to the report.
Walter Dorn, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, said shortchanging diplomacy is detrimental to Canada’s contributions to the world and our reputation on the world stage.
“The military co-operation program does essential work in training and educating officers from abroad, particularly in peace operations,” he told CBC News. “Canada is no longer the prolific peacekeeper it once was. For the cost of one fighter jet, Canada can run its defence diplomacy program for years. The government is showing short-term thinking to the detriment of the country’s long-term contributions and reputation.”
Defence attaché workload doubled
During the last decade, each Canadian defence attaché who was formerly responsible for an average of two countries is now responsible for an average of four.
Defence diplomacy aims to advance Canada’s wider foreign and security agenda by partnering with foreign militaries on operational needs and key decisions. It’s considered valuable for gaining a deeper understanding of other countries’ perspectives and defence organizations and engaging in informal dialogue on what can develop into important formal agreements.
The evaluation notes that the program has filled “critical roles” for the federal government and military with analytical insight, advice and building international partnerships, but says cuts are putting that in jeopardy.
“Going forward, there is some concern that recent budget reductions may impact the ability of some of its components to continue to deliver their current high level of performance,” the report says.
Hospitality cut 'dramatically'
Hospitality expenditures have been slashed by about 60 per cent over two years, from $428,570 to $178,269. Major offices in Washington and London have had “dramatic” cuts.
“There are concerns ... that the reductions in travel and hospitality are beginning to impact the ability of the program to operate effectively,” the evaluation warns.
The protocol for hospitality is “very time consuming and difficult to manage,” requiring each attaché to make a request at least 10 weeks in advance for any hospitality expense that needs approval from the minister of defence.
Red tape for bureaucrats
For example, ministerial approval is required to pick up the tab for dinner at a restaurant where alcohol is served or if a spouse is attending.
“Sometimes, they have to cancel a military diplomatic event because they didn’t receive the approval in time,” the report reads. “The hospitality restrictions were seen to have negative effect on networking activities, especially when liaison officers from other countries are not subject to the same funding restrictions.”
On top of the financial and workload challenges, there is now much confusion over the focus and priorities for the program — whether it should be on military co-operation, promoting Canadian industries or providing perspective on civil, political and military climates around the world.
However, the Department of National Defence says the program continues to meet of all its objectives despite the budget constraints.
"DND takes its role as a strong steward of taxpayers' dollars very seriously and makes every effort to ensure sound financial management of taxpayer dollars," the department said in an email response to questions from CBC News.
"Reducing hospitality spending is a prudent alternative that helps protect core capabilities," it added.
In 1994, there were 28 Canadian defence attaché offices covering 55 countries. By 2013, there were 30 of the offices covering 138 countries.