Section 2: Managing the Evolution of the Profession of Arms

Adapting the Attributes of the Profession

How these four principles can be applied to adapting the profession can be illustrated by examining the influence of technological, geopolitical, political and socio-cultural trends on the attributes of the professional construct. Although not exhaustive, these examples provide a broad view of the pressures that will affect the professional attributes and how the Canadian Forces must evolve both its organization and the practice of the profession. The principles of relevance, openness, consistency and reciprocity will guide the development of each of the attributes of military professionalism, but the relative weight will vary according to what change is being addressed and how it affects a particular attribute.

Mission and Roles: Operational Boundaries in the Profession of Arms

It is widely recognized that the emerging security environment can be characterised as a complex, adaptive system. Thus it is non-linear, unpredictable, and constantly changing in ways that cannot be precisely anticipated. Analytical, reductionist thinking will therefore be insufficient and should be supplemented by systems theory and systems thinking.  Systems thinking is just the type of discipline and tool set needed to encourage the recognition of inter-relationships rather than things, and for seeing patterns of change rather than static snapshots.

Taken together, the trends identified will result in changes to the types of missions assigned by political authority. The need to protect human rights on a global scale, to establish humanitarian regimes that bring peace and security to violent and insecure regions and states, and to prosecute the campaign on terrorism on a broad front to root out its fundamental causes is increasingly recognized by governments and societies around the world. This may have profound implications for the progress of international law and international governance.

The effects of these developments will go well beyond the UN and alter in significant ways how international organizations such as NATO, the European Union (EU) and other regional organizations operate. In addition to providing security in the traditional sense for their members, these organizations, in partnership with other international and NGOs, may increasingly be involved in securing stability beyond their borders through conflict resolution, preventive action, and humanitarian and human rights interventions even before conflict breaks out.

This broader approach to the practice of the profession of arms will not diminish the importance of maintaining a world-class combat capability, but it will involve a certain evolution to a more inclusive conception of military professionalism. It will be more internationalist, receptive to a wider range of missions, roles and tasks, and cognizant of the underlying causes of large-scale violence that often precipitate military action in many parts of the world.

The principle of openness will call for the profession to proactively seek an understanding of these changes, while the principle of consistency will require addressing an evolving response to changing missions and roles in a comprehensive and integrated way.


Geopolitical change and government policy are the most likely factors to have an impact on responsibility. Changes in missions and roles must be guided especially by the principles of relevance and openness to be sure the profession responds appropriately to government direction. It will also be important, however, to consider consistency in maintaining the core of professional effectiveness.

The profession of arms will remain anchored on two fundamental responsibilities. First, in accord with its raison d’être, it will be responsible for serving Canadians through their elected officials. Second, it must manage the profession’s evolution so that the Forces will continue to defend Canada and its interests. This will involve the ongoing alignment of the other attributes to meet possible future adjustments to new roles and missions. Such alignment may entail certain additional responsibilities as the government responds to changes in the international system.

This broader approach to security brings with it a set of responsibilities that expand those primary responsibilities to the nation-state. Military professionals will be responsible in part for the success of any multilateral and multinational operations the Government of Canada participates in. They will be responsible as well for maintaining effective relationships with a wider range of actors involved in conflict resolution, with all its implications for peace, security, prosperity and respect for human rights.


Both technology and geopolitical change are pre-eminent sources of change for expertise. Relevance and openness will be significant in making adequate responses, while consistency will ensure that the expertise resident in the profession of arms will remain focused on the primary function of providing for the ordered application of military force.

In the short term, the expertise resident in the profession of arms will remain distributed by environment and function. Some redistribution of expertise by rank is already occurring, however, and is likely to accelerate. In the longer term, redistribution by environment and the merging of functions may have a significant effect on the overall distribution of expertise within the profession.

This expertise will continue to include the skills directly related to operations and the necessary support, but all the factors of change will affect expertise to some extent. The impact of technology will likely be profound and require military professionals to become more knowledgeable about more topics. In addition, the greater complexity of joint, combined and comprehensive operations will demand different skill sets and competencies.

Geopolitical factors will always be significant and will often produce new and different types of operational demands, as well as new threats to counter. Deciding how to conduct these operations will certainly call for new conceptual models to help the profession redefine the new nature of conflict and security, broadly understood, as well as different kinds of knowledge and skill sets.

Asymmetrical, non-traditional threats and threats from non-state actors will also lead to increased collaboration with a range of different agencies, with the likelihood of overlapping responsibilities and function.

Defining, acquiring and maintaining the appropriate body of professional expertise in the face of these challenges will be a demanding and ongoing task. Areas that will require attention include joint concepts and doctrine; broader cultural awareness; understanding international law and governance; working with non-NATO militaries as UN partners; understanding multinational operations, including complex chains of command; and recognizing the role of the media as both a filter of information and an instrument to influence local and global opinion.

Military Identity

As the factors of change alter responsibility and expertise, they will inevitably shape identity. This process must be guided by the principle of consistency, above all to ensure that military professionals continue to see themselves as distinct from civil society, performing an essential and unique service to Canada while operating according to the principle of reciprocity.

Military identity must remain essentially defined by the primary function of applying force in the resolution of political problems. Thus, the CF will continue to see itself as the primary force in the defence of Canada, continuously prepared to act decisively and overwhelmingly to help create the conditions that allow for viable international relations.

As technology changes the battlespace, questions concerning who are the real operators and decision-makers will arise. Will military professionals be leading in the traditional sense, or will managing this battlespace become the most significant function? Geopolitical developments may also combine with these factors for more issues concerning identity. Long-range precision weapons, uninhabited weapons systems at sea, on land and in the air, the ubiquitous nature of information operations, and the presence in the conflict zone of a variety of actors, such as NGOs, paramilitaries and special operations personnel, may give rise to unusual ethical dilemmas and blur the distinction between the military professional and other combatants. In some circumstances, the question of whose expertise is the most relevant could affect the issue of professional military identity.

These pressures will exert themselves slowly and with a different impact on the three environments. Nonetheless, both the collective profession and individual members must adapt appropriately. In the final analysis, leadership and stewardship of the profession will always involve ensuring that all members have a clear understanding of who they are as Canadian military professionals.

Military Ethos

The military ethos must respond to the evolution of all the other attributes. To do so effectively, all the principles will come to bear: reciprocity, to ensure the well-being of members; relevance, to maintain the link with Canadian society; consistency, to retain the core military values crucial to a fighting force; and openness, to allow for necessary adaptation.

The military ethos must always perform its role as the unifying spirit, guiding the profession of arms and the military professional in an uncertain world — effectiveness and legitimacy demand it. Although the Canadian military ethos will remain the cornerstone of military professionalism, and resist change that could undermine professional effectiveness, it will need to adjust appropriately. Socio-cultural changes, for example, are ongoing in Canadian society, and the ethos must remain aligned with fundamental Canadian values while ensuring the profession’s ability to perform its function.

Geopolitical and technological changes that will affect responsibility and expertise must be reflected in the ethos in ways that strengthen professional identity instead of eroding it. For example, the growing ability to inflict massive damage to combatants and non-combatants alike, safely and from great distances, can pose peculiar ethical problems with regard to the basic concept of performing its tasks with humanity that underpins the Canadian military ethos.

The core military values will remain at the centre of the ethos, as will the concepts of unlimited liability, service before self and fighting spirit. Discipline and teamwork remain vital, and how these are achieved in the three environments may develop with evolving leadership theory and professional concepts. These latter developments will likely alter the way that this culture is aligned with the military ethos.

Managing the Internal Dynamics of the Profession of Arms

There are three main dynamics at play within the profession that must be carefully managed: maintaining effective civil-military relations; ensuring the right balance between the concept of the Canadian Forces and the three environments; and the evolution of the officer/NCM team. The principles for adapting the profession as a whole will also be useful in guiding how military professionals deal with issues that stem from those evolving relationships.

Civil-Military Relations: It is important to recognize that there are legitimate differences in emphasis and priorities when the political, bureaucratic and military domains overlap, and that a certain amount of professional tension is always inherent and healthy in the relationships of these groups. The overall objective, however, is a high degree of transparency and communication that lead to maximum collaboration.

The synergy achieved by mutual recognition that all are critical members of the same Canadian national security team is immense. The defence of Canada demands no less.

The Canadian Forces and the Three Environments: The unifying power inherent in the concept of the Canadian Forces must be balanced against the differentiation of the three environments, which is essential for readiness, generating force and sustaining a multipurpose, combat-capable force. Sound and efficient civil control of the military, as well as effective command and control of the armed forces of Canada, are enhanced by the unified structure of the Canadian Forces, led by the CDS. Both the development of a coherent military strategy in support of political objectives and the prosecution of joint operations profit from a force that is unified at the top and operates from an integrated National Defence Headquarters. Important economies of scale and cost-effective internal resource allocation are also obtained with this structure.

For the foreseeable future, however, and notwithstanding the impact of technology, the operating environments within which military forces will work, particularly at the tactical level, unilaterally as well as combined, will require maritime, land and air forces for the successful accomplishment of missions. This in turn means that all CF members must master the art of warfare in their own medium if they are to become true professionals in the joint, combined and interagency context that characterizes modern conflict. Expertise must be distributed according to the harsh demands of this environment, and the military ethos must accommodate the separate identities forged by combat at sea, on land and in the air.

Striking the right balance between these two organizing concepts will remain a major task for both military professionals and civil authorities.

Evolving the Officer and NCM Roles and Relationships: An outline of how the profession of arms may be described and practised in the future must also consider how it affects the men and women of the officer and NCM team. To one extent or another, the trends that influence the attributes of the profession also affect the officer and NCM roles and relationship.

The trends can be seen in influences that argue for both change and continuity in these roles and relationships. However, the dynamic between the forces of continuity and change may well be different in the three environments. These factors must also be viewed in terms of their impact in the near term and then in the more distant future.

The fact that the existing structure has been robust enough to face the many challenges of the recent past provides perhaps the most powerful argument for continuity in the differentiated roles and relationships of officers and NCMs. Although rigid adherence to the status quo will not successfully meet all future demands, this area’s history primarily teaches that the rationale for major change must be compelling.

Historically, the Canadian profession of arms stands out in terms of the roles NCMs have played. Generally, they have been assigned a greater scope of responsibility than their colleagues in many other militaries, and this characteristic of how the officer and NCM team has evolved in recent history will prevail into the future. Building effective, cohesive fighting teams instilled with the discipline and skill to prevail in all tasks will remain a primary role of master seamen/ master corporals and above. Leading such teams from the front and being responsible for the well-being of individual team members on a continuous basis must continue to shape their self-image.

Examples of factors that argue for change include technology’s effect on the battlespace; changes in social demographics; increasing levels of education and expectations within the NCM Corps; a greater need for a common and broad general knowledge base; adoption of a learning organization culture; and networked structures. By themselves, these factors suggest a significant change in the distribution and practice of responsibility and expertise between corps.

Since uncertainty, ambiguity and complexity will increasingly characterize most operations in all environments, the old paradigm that emphasized the decision-making role of the officer and the applied, technical role of the NCM has shifted. The profession will therefore not only continue to rely on NCMs to take on difficult challenges, but will in fact expect much more of them. Authority will be increasingly delegated and an even greater degree of responsibility assigned to NCMs to permit the officer/NCM team to dominate the operational theatre across great distances of time and space. In some cases, officers may share these authorities and responsibilities (i.e., some roles will increasingly overlap).

Such developments will lead to some redistribution in expertise and the need to develop ever-increasing levels of professional judgement at all ranks in leadership roles. Teamwork and collegiality will be emphasized over hierarchy. NCMs will exercise more responsibility and must increasingly engender the trust needed for superiors to allow them to make an indispensable contribution to mission accomplishment.

Professional development must anticipate and prepare members for change based on principles that map and anticipate the changing environment. At a macro level, these principles must take into account the changing division of responsibility and authority in operations, the growing requirement for the development of common intellectual competencies, and the increasing breadth and depth of specialist and generalist experience required within both corps. These changes will affect all members, at all ranks and in all operations. The division of responsibility and authority in operations will be driven by advanced concepts of command and control in both the human and technical domain. Well-developed critical and creative reasoning, systems thinking and the application of sound judgement will be required. There will also be a greater need for the application of generalist knowledge, as well as a greater demand for technical competence, both theoretical and applied. These trends strongly suggest the need for a growing convergence in the professional development of officers and NCMs.

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