Section 3: Fundamental Imperatives and the Professional Construct

The societal and functional imperatives create a dynamic tension between the fact that its unique function distinguishes the profession of arms from Canadian society and the need to simultaneously keep it securely integrated in that same society. Furthermore, the organizational structure of the profession must respond to the complex demands of modern conflict and is therefore differentiated internally in a number of ways. It is structured by environment, rank, occupation, specialty and various forms of accountability, all of which contribute to the skills necessary in today’s battlespace. These diverse structures must then be integrated to provide the synergy to realize the full effectiveness of the profession. A wide range of professional relationships — both externally with key constituencies and internally among members — arise out of this situation.

These forces of differentiation and integration between society and the military and within the profession itself profoundly affect the professional attributes of responsibility, expertise, identity and military ethos, and thus help explain how the profession of arms functions in Canada.


As noted, societal and functional imperatives give rise to two sets of responsibilities. The first set consists of those organizational responsibilities that remain external to the military profession and include obligations to Canadian society, to the Minister of National Defence and the Government of Canada, within the Department of National Defence and, internationally, to allies. The second set consists of professional responsibilities to maintain the highest standards of professional effectiveness on behalf of the Canadian people.

Essentially, organizational responsibilities are the “what” and professional responsibilities are the “how” in the profession of arms. Together, these two sets of responsibilities maintain the effectiveness of the forces as a whole by ensuring their responsiveness to civil authority while defining the nature of professional effectiveness.

Organizational Responsibilities

The conditions of military service give rise to a set of reciprocal expectations between the profession and society. CF members serve voluntarily and, as such, willingly accept the statutory authority of the chain of command to compel members to perform any lawful duty at any time. This includes accepting the risks to health and life of performing hazardous duties or being placed in harm’s way. Members are also subject to a much stricter degree of discipline than in civilian organizations and must accept limitations on their rights and freedoms to make public statements and engage in political activities as citizens.

The government and the people of Canada reciprocate by acknowledging certain formal obligations to service members. In lieu of the unwritten social contract that has traditionally existed between the military and the government, and, by extension, with the public at large, the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans AffairsFootnote 10  concluded that the “national commitment — in essence a moral commitment — ” to the Canadian Forces must be based on the following concrete principles:

  • “That the members of the Canadian Forces are fairly and equitably compensated for the services they perform and the skills they exercise in performance of their many duties. And that such compensation properly take into account the unique nature of military service.”
  • “That all members and their families are provided with ready access to suitable and affordable accommodation. Accommodation provided must conform to modern standards and the reasonable expectations of those living in today’s society.”
  • “That military personnel and their families be provided with access to a full and adequate range of support services, offered in both official languages, that will ensure their financial, physical and spiritual well-being.”
  • “That suitable recognition, care and compensation be provided to veterans and those injured in the service of Canada. Here the guiding principle must always be compassion.”
  •  “That members be assured reasonable career progression and that in their service they be treated with dignity and respect. In addition, they must be provided with the appropriate equipment and kit commensurate with their tasking.”

The government’s response to the report took note of the committee’s recommendations and reaffirmed its “commitment to the Canadian Forces as a national institution.” It went on to say, “The men and women of the Canadian Forces have made a tremendous contribution to their country. They deserve the respect and appreciation of their government and their fellow citizens.”Footnote 11

The profession meets its responsibility to communicate with the Canadian people in a number of important ways that help explain the requirements of military professionalism to Canadians and establish a high degree of transparency in what the profession is doing and how.

For example, different types of public conferences permit dialogue between military professionals and interested Canadians. Some of these forums are directly defence-related, such as the Conference of Defence Associations and the Security and Defence Forum. Others are more general and involve interaction with the business community, academia and various professional organizations. Ceremonial occasions remind everyone of the proud history, heritage and traditions of the Canadian military and bring military professionals and interested Canadians into close contact. The media also often act as a critical intermediary, informing Canadians of what the profession does, how it does it and why. And the presence of the primary reserve in communities across the country presents an important and powerful interactive relationship that enhances understanding of and support for the profession of arms in Canada.

Organizational responsibilities within the Department of National Defence and to the Government of Canada begin with the need to accept the imperative of civil control of the military in the Canadian democratic political system. Elected members of Parliament exercise this control on behalf of the Canadian people. Furthermore, this responsibility establishes standards of public accountability and transparency, as well as important relationships with a variety of government entities. These include Parliament and those of its committees responsible for defence matters, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Solicitor General, the Privy Council Office, the Treasury Board and the Office of the Auditor General. Additional organizational responsibilities are imposed by such legislation as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Human Rights Act, the Official Languages Act, the Employment Equity Act, the Privacy Act, the Access to Information Act, the Financial Administration Act, the Department of Justice Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, among others.

Providing professional military advice to the government on a wide range of issues that have military implications remains a further organizational responsibility. As noted, the CDS, who is responsible for military strategy, including plans and requirements, plays a key role in the policy process by providing advice on military requirements, capabilities and options. This advice includes when to commit military forces to help resolve a geopolitical problem, how these forces should be used, and above all, the possible consequences, positive and negative, of the use of such force. This advice must also include the consequences for professional effectiveness if the military is not provided with adequate resources.

At this political-strategic level, uncertainty and ambiguity are constant factors in decision-making. Military professionals recognize that defining clear political objectives in a timely manner is never easy; a complex mix of foreign and domestic considerations always plays a part in the process. Professional advice must take this into consideration, and the indispensable requirement for sound military advice in this context involves the highly developed capacity for risk assessment. The responsibility for providing such advice applies primarily to the more senior ranks of the profession.

Professional Responsibilities

Professional responsibilities coexist with organizational responsibilities. The pre-eminent professional responsibilities are those associated with maintaining operational effectiveness and the appropriate, successful generation and use of military force. Therefore, professionals must be extremely competent in the generation and application of armed force at sea, on land and in the air. Leaders at all levels need to ensure that everyone properly understands the need for the fighting spirit so central to the military ethos and success on operations. And they are accountable to both government and society for how they meet these serious obligations.

In discharging professional responsibilities, the CDS heads the profession of arms in Canada and is fully responsible to the government and Canadian people for its well-being. He is primarily assisted in this task by nine principal professional advisors: the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff (VCDS), the Chief of the Maritime Staff (CMS), the Chief of the Land Staff (CLS), the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Commander CEFCOM, Commander Canada COM, Commander CANOSCOM, Commander CANSOFCOM, and Chief of Military Personnel (CMP). The people in each of these positions have specific roles and responsibilities within the institutional and command structure of the Canadian Forces that account for the areas where their professional advice to the CDS is predominantly focused.

The VCDS is the CDS’s deputy, as stipulated in the National Defence Act, and provides advice across the full range of the Chief’s responsibilities. The three Environmental Chiefs of Staff (ECS) head the maritime, land and air commands and are responsible for generating and maintaining operationally ready forces and conducting routine operations. This responsibility includes working with the operational level commands to develop appropriate joint doctrine within each environment and providing the necessary training in joint operations. Thus, the three Environmental Chiefs of Staff provide the CDS with professional strategic advice on all aspects of their command including related environmental, technical, operational and personnel matters.

On behalf of the CDS, the operational level commanders (CEFCOM, Canada COM, CANOSCOM, CANSOFCOM) provide operational direction to and exercise command and control of forces employed on expeditionary operations and domestic operations. These roles make these commanders the CDS’s principal professional advisors for joint operational doctrine.

The CMP is the principal professional advisor for strategic guidance on military personnel matters and Canadian Forces compliance with related Government of Canada legislation.

Under the direction of the CDS, the senior leadership of the Canadian Forces, starting with members of the Armed Forces Council (AFC), and the CDS’s Command Council, is responsible for the overall health and stewardship of the profession, including the maintenance of a healthy military ethos. The ethos reconciles the functional and societal imperatives in ways that create trust and confidence in the minds of Canadians, and together with the mutual respect between military professionals and political authorities, this allows for a substantial degree of self-regulation. The Canadian Forces Chief Warrant Officer and the Command Chief Warrant Officer/Chief Petty Officer 1st Class for each of the environments share responsibility for the proper functioning of the profession, especially in respect to good order, discipline, and service customs and traditions.

The professional responsibilities of new members involve personal development and adherence to all the tenets of the profession; in other words, acting professionally on an individual basis. As members rise in experience and rank, so does their responsibility for the leadership, well-being and professional development of other members of the profession. They constantly strive to align the culture of the Canadian Forces with the profession’s ethos.

Leadership in this area also involves managing the evolution of the profession to meet future requirements. Therefore, beyond providing the resources for today’s needs, professional judgement is necessary to address the issues surrounding resources for emerging requirements. This includes reassessing the expertise required to execute changing roles and new tasks. Equally, such stewardship must anticipate, recognize and respond to changing social and cultural conditions while ensuring that fundamental values, both military and Canadian, are preserved.

Professional responsibilities to allies arise from membership in a number of international organizations and adherence to specific international treaties and agreements. These responsibilities, though of a lower order than those to Canada, are nonetheless important and involve responsiveness to commitments, interoperability and the evolution of combined operations. The respect accorded Canadian military professionals by colleagues serving in allied militaries in which they serve, through an extensive system of exchanges and liaison missions, is an important element of identity. These exchanges and liaison missions involve both officers and petty officers 2nd class/ sergeants and above attached to other national militaries, as well as a number of important international organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the United Nations (UN). Participation in a wide range of international exercises, practically on a continuous basis, directly improves professional competence and the ability to operate with allies.

Taken together, these professional responsibilities impose a particular and critical obligation on members of the profession of arms in Canada. Military members are at all times representatives of the Government of Canada in the broadest sense. Even in the absence of any other agent or source of Canadian authority, they must act to promote the country’s interest and well-being under all circumstances.


Much of the expertise claimed by the profession of arms uniquely separates the military professional from civilians. At the same time, the societal imperative requires that members of the profession understand the political structure, the rule of law and civil-military relations in their parent society. These subjects form part of the professional’s necessary expertise and assume increasing importance with higher rank so that the senior leadership can provide effective stewardship, as well as sound advice to civil authorities.

Internally, expertise is clearly differentiated and distributed throughout the profession. Because primacy is granted to operations, expertise is organized around a core of skills directly related to the application of military force and other types of knowledge. Support and specialized knowledge then permit the core body of knowledge to be most effectively applied.

Core Knowledge: The unique, theory-based knowledge at the core of the profession of arms is the General System of War and Conflict, comprising the tactical, operational, strategic and policy sub-systems nested one within the other in ascending order.  The General System of War and Conflict is depicted in Figure 3.3. 

Figure 3-3   General System of War & Conflict

This diagram displays the General System of War and Conflict. The largest to smallest elements of the system are policy, strategic, operational, and tactical.


This knowledge includes tactics and tactical doctrine, the broad and deep discipline of operational art, the operational, technological, logistical and social dimensions of strategy, civil-military relations, command and leadership theory and practice, and the theory and practice of military professionalism.

Imparting this core body of knowledge begins in the early socialization process and becomes increasingly more substantive as the member’s career progresses.

At the individual tactical level, the content of the core body of knowledge may be as different as the fighting skills of an infantry section commander compared to those of a navy destroyer’s captain or a CF-18’s pilot. Orchestrating the battle at higher tactical levels and leading these forces at the operational level, however, require different skills that have a great deal in common. At the strategic and politico-strategic levels, a sophisticated understanding of the two types of strategy described in Leading the Institution, the strategy of annihilation and the bi-polar strategy, is essential.

Increasingly, expertise related to joint, combined and inter-agency operations is also required. Whereas most core expertise in the past related directly to distinct maritime, land and air environments, and thus contributed in particular ways to differentiated identities, expertise in joint ventures will have a more integrative influence and will consequently affect the application of the military ethos in such areas as concepts of teamwork and leadership and the evolution of environmental cultures. The four operational level commanders and the three ECSs share responsibility for identifying precisely what this expertise is and how to incorporate it into CF and environment doctrine.

Supporting Knowledge: Supporting knowledge includes everything necessary to support a large organization whose primary function is to operate effectively across the spectrum of conflict, up to and including combat. This expertise is normally organized through highly differentiated systems of support, such as the communications, logistics, human resources, legal, and professional development systems.  Also in this category is a very wide range of expertise encompassed in such disciplines as Canadian history, military history, political science, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and management theory, among others.

The division of expertise between the core and supporting fields of knowledge characterizes the collective nature of the profession of arms. Only through the collective, professional application of all of the expertise at the organization’s disposal can operational effectiveness and mission success be achieved. Regardless of rank, role or technical speciality, each member makes an indispensable contribution to the collective whole. Each is a member of the profession of arms first and foremost.

Specialized Knowledge: The profession of arms in Canada is also characterized by the presence of groups whose expertise is not specific to the military, but organized in its own right by civilian professions. Doctors, lawyers, clergy, engineers and psychologists, to name but a few, belong to external professional associations and hold themselves responsible to a second professional ethic, as well as the military ethos. In effect, groups external to the military profession can legally discipline these professionals under certain circumstances.

As dual professionals, such people provide specialized advice and services to the chain of command on issues that relate to the well-being of individuals and on collective matters in support of the organization. Furthermore, leaders in turn require specialized assistance to deal effectively with the unique demands and burdens that military service imposes. Medical, legal, spiritual and a wide range of other personnel services are essential to the well-being of the individuals who collectively make up the organization and hence to the health of the organization itself.

Dual professionals are bound by the military ethos and their responsibility to the Canadian Forces to resolve circumstances where there is a conflict between operational imperatives and other professional considerations. They must understand and accept the commander’s overriding responsibility for mission accomplishment. Operating within the limits of their civilian professional expertise, they have an ethical duty to balance the needs of the individual against the needs of the group. They must, however, understand and conform to operational objectives and direction unless these are clearly unlawful. In turn, leaders throughout the chain of command must understand the importance of the services provided by dual professionals and carefully weigh the consequences to the individual and the organization when defining the operational imperative and seeking to accomplish the mission.

Military Identity

Members of the profession of arms are differentiated first by operational environment — traditionally, sea, land and air — and then by the support and/or specialist function they perform in operations. They are further differentiated in operations by specific roles within each of these functions. Finally, members of the profession are clearly differentiated according to rank. One fundamental distinction divides the commissioned officers and NCMs.  Officers are designated as junior, senior or Flag/General, while the non-commissioned are further differentiated as privates, non-commissioned officers and warrant officers (warrant officers, master warrant officers and chief warrant officers) and the naval equivalents (able seamen, leading seamen and master seamen, petty officers and chief petty officers). Each of these many distinctions accounts for part of the military professional’s identity.

These distinct identities coalesce, however, around the concept of loyalty to the rule of law and the government. In fact, this overriding loyalty is at the apex of a hierarchy of loyalties that operates, in descending order, from the law and government to the Canadian Forces and thereafter through individual environments to unit and branch. Consequently, military professionals in Canada are unified by a concept of loyalty to the Canadian Forces that transcends particular differentiation by environment or role.


The difference between members of the profession of arms and Canadian society is most clearly expressed in the military ethos, that is, through identifying the fundamental military values and the unique beliefs and expectations about military service. However, the inclusion of basic Canadian values, and the paramount importance of service to Canada before self, helps ensure that military professionals remain firmly linked to their parent society.

As indicated above, the military ethos also codifies certain beliefs and expectations about military service that bind all members. All accept that no one is exempt from being ordered into harm’s way. All accept the obligation to bear arms as required, except where a legal basis might make an exception, e.g., for chaplains. Finally, all understand that the core military values — duty, loyalty, integrity and courage — are at the heart of the profession of arms.

Duty is the first core military value and best exemplifies what it means to be a military professional. To do one’s duty means understanding and meeting all responsibilities with integrity and courage.

Members of the profession of arms in Canada also share a common loyalty to the Canadian Forces and support and promote policies that enhance the organizational effectiveness of this unified force.

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