Section 1: The Enduring Nature of the Profession of Arms


The Canadian profession of arms reflects the historical development of the country and its role on the international stage, which have been profoundly affected by both total war and more limited armed conflict over the past 100 years.

After the Second World War, and for the first time in Canadian history, large standing forces were maintained at a high level of operational readiness to prosecute the Cold War. During this period, the Canadian Forces undertook a wide range of missions, including a major role in international peacekeeping, each contributing to the distinctiveness of Canadian military professionalism. With the end of the Cold War, traditional peacekeeping evolved in response to changing conceptions of international security and stability and an emphasis on human rights and humanitarian concerns. This brought new, dangerous, morally complex and uniquely challenging missions that tested the profession to its core. Today, a smaller, multi-purpose force, determined to be inter-operable with allies, continues to execute a daunting array of tasks, including close combat on the land, at sea and in the air.

As always, the CF continues to operate according to the principles of collective security through an array of international organizations and allied coalitions. To remain successful, the profession of arms in Canada must continue to adapt to maintain the highest standards of professionalism as it performs its duty for Canadians.

A Coherent Strategy for the Future

How successfully the Canadian Forces meets the challenges of tomorrow will in part be determined by how the attributes of the profession evolve to respond to the changing environment and are shaped by the strategic guidance provided by senior leadership. Managing this change is a critical issue. The profession would be rendered irrelevant by responding too slowly. But acting precipitously, without careful thought and judgement, might take the profession down the wrong path and render it ineffective.

The CF can now operate effectively across a spectrum of conflict in concert with our allies, particularly the United States. Canadian defence policy and several strategic-level CF and DND documents such as the Integrated Capstone Concept (ICC) enunciate a strategy to ensure this capability in the future. Based on this guidance, a longterm program of professional development designed to enhance the professionalism of both officers and NCMs is well in progress.

To respond effectively to the external environment, the profession will need to continually develop a higher order of understanding and knowledge of new forms of conflict. This in turn will have direct consequences on the attributes of responsibility and expertise. The nature of the environment will require that the highest standards of professionalism be exhibited by all ranks.

This requirement is operative today and can be captured and explained by the concept of the “strategic corporal.” In effect, decisions and actions taken by leading seamen/corporals and above and their subordinates can, and often do, have consequences up to and including the strategic and political level as the changing nature of operations expands the roles and responsibilities of NCMs. These realities will raise issues surrounding responsibility, expertise, identity and ethos.

Analyses of long-term strategic defence have forecast potentially far-reaching changes in the environment of the future that may pose significant challenges for the profession of arms. These changes are concentrated in four categories: technology; geopolitics; government policy; and socio-cultural dynamics and demography in Canada. The challenges posed by such changes will impose special burdens on leadership at all levels, but particularly on those senior leaders responsible for the stewardship of the profession.

Forecasting the future operating environment is at best an uncertain venture, but these leaders must recognize the professional implications of these challenges and respond to them in a proactive and timely manner. As illustrated in the scenario-based planning approach adopted for departmental strategic planning, the key to future success is to rely less on the attempt to accurately predict the likely requirement and instead to prepare for a range of requirements in dynamic professional concepts, professional development and flexible force structures.

Principles to Guide the Evolution of the Profession of Arms

Carefully managing the evolution of the profession in light of the following principles is the only way to achieve the desired outcome— a professional, operationally effective military that enjoys the trust and confidence of Canadians.


Professions exist to provide an essential service to society. In the case of the military, the service entails defending the country and contributing to its security interests. The principle of relevance speaks to the need to ensure that the profession continues to meet Canadians’ expectations.

To do this, it must be demonstrably capable of succeeding across the full range of missions that could be assigned by the government. Furthermore, this operational capability must be maintained in the context of a military ethos that ensures that the profession as a whole conducts itself honourably. To be relevant, the profession must be accorded full legitimacy by Canadians because of its operational effectiveness, combat capability, reflection of Canadian values, and adherence to the core military values of duty, loyalty, integrity and courage. This legitimization is shown by the public support, trust and confidence bestowed on the profession of arms in Canada.


Professions are responsible for performing unique functions based on a systematic body of theory-based knowledge and practices. The principle of openness speaks to the profession’s need to ensure that professional knowledge and practices are current and germane. Consequently, the profession must incorporate a philosophy of openness to novel ideas and anticipate changes to meet future challenges. New responsibilities and different ways of doing things must be welcomed if they strengthen professionalism.  This is a key role of stewardship.

In effect, the profession must adopt the fundamental features of a learning organization, one that moves knowledge horizontally as much as vertically, values looking outside its own boundaries for information and knowledge, and dedicates effort to the generation, consideration and dissemination of new concepts within. Moving the profession as a whole to higher planes of effectiveness depends on this principle.


The profession of arms exists within a complex formal structure that requires that the attributes of responsibility, expertise and identity be differentiated and distributed within the profession, yet coordinated and synchronized to ensure effectiveness. The principle of consistency speaks to the need to ensure that assigned responsibilities, expertise and identity, as well as the manifestation of the military ethos across the profession, are integrated, coordinated and aligned so the Canadian Forces maintains its ability to achieve missions rapidly and decisively.

New responsibilities may be acquired, but the fundamental ones to country, government and professional colleagues will continue. Expertise will remain differentiated by rank and function, but integrated by mission requirements. Responsibilities and expertise will continue to differentiate identity among members of the profession, but these will continue to be integrated through the strength of the Canadian military ethos held in common and by retaining essential traditions.

Leadership and stewardship of the military profession must, therefore, be a primary concern of senior officers and chief petty officers 1st class/chief warrant officers to ensure that this complex combination of adaptation and integration guarantees operational success in the future.


The profession of arms serves society by exercising control over its assigned unique functions and over those members of society who volunteer to serve in the profession. The principle of reciprocity speaks to the need to ensure an appropriate, principle-based balance of the expectations and obligations both between the profession and Canadian society, and between the profession as a whole and its members.

Externally, the respect, legitimacy and self-regulation accorded the profession by Canadians indicates that the people trust and expect the CF will achieve assigned missions in a professional manner.

Internally, this principle addresses the responsibility for the care of all members, based on the recognition that membership will necessarily infringe on the full range of rights and freedoms enjoyed by other citizens and therefore incurs an added moral obligation to address members’ requirements. This obligation applies to all preparations before operations, the conduct of such operations, and the continued care of members and their families on return from operations. It also means that senior leaders have the implicit responsibility to advocate within professional boundaries for the resources to provide the necessary care and to allocate them effectively, in line with the mutual understanding between society, government and the profession of the moral commitment that binds the profession of arms and the country.

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