By David Ng
After learning that Canada has signed an amendment to allow Norad to share information with the U.S. National Missile Defense program, I am reminded of the parable of the frog in the pot of boiling water. If you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water it will jump out, but if you increase the heat of the water incrementally the frog will get cooked.
Missile defense was one of the issues discussed at the recent Liberal caucus retreat in Ottawa, but the Canadian government may have already moved us closer to full participation. While the amendment that enables Norad to share real-time information about North American airspace with NMD does not indicate a radical change to Norad, it does bring Canada closer to supporting missile defense. With the first phase of the program set to be implemented in the fall with missile bases in Alaska and California, we are going to be, within the tiniest of increments, involved in the program.
The text amendment from the department of foreign affairs states:
“In consideration of the foregoing circumstances, our two governments agree that Norad’s aerospace warning mission for North America also shall include aerospace warning, as defined in Norad’s Terms of Reference, in support of the designated commands responsible for missile defense of North America.
“This decision is independent of any discussion on possible cooperation on missile defense.”
Our government’s position towards missile defense is decidedly vague. Canada will allow Norad to share information with the NMD, but this decision to co-operate is independent from any discussion on co-operation.
Since 1996, Norad has shared information with other commands, but there is something special about missile defense. It may result in the weaponization of space. This is the common argument against missile defense, but less semantic arguments are more pressing. Russia has stated that NMD could trigger another arms race by causing nations to create systems capable of eluding missile defense systems. The most serious consequence may be that it would allow the U.S. to pursue a terrifyingly free and robust foreign policy. The U.S. would no longer be restricted by the convention of mutually assured destruction, and nations that possess nuclear clout could now be potential targets for regime change.
These consequences come from a system that may be ineffective, and ignores more pressing issues of defense. Everyone was shocked and awed by the Patriot missile in the 1991 Gulf War, until it was later revealed that its abilities had been overstated. The Patriot missile wrongfully destroyed British planes in the most recent Gulf War, and many scientists are skeptical about the technological possibility of missile defense.
Feasible or not, since September 11, 2001 we know that a nation cannot build a high-tech wall to protect itself. It’s tough to defend against box cutters and plane tickets. The most serious threat to the West is our own imperialism, poverty, and the rising tide of discontent in the third world.
The need to defend ourselves from the accidental or intentional launch would be better to served by a strategy of non-proliferation in a world where pure deterrence may not apply. It seems that poorly guarded stockpiles of plutonium and uranium around the world are a greater threat.
Yet where does this leave Canada? The U.S. is intent on implementating NMD. It has withdrawn from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, and the NMD is the largest single item in the Pentagon’s budget at $53 billion. The question may not be what choice do we have, but at what point is our sovereignty undermined? Is it at the merger between Coors and Molson, at Target taking over the Bay, or at missile defense?
These questions can only be answered by Canadians. Canada’s role must be openly debated. Recently, Canada choose to go its own route and not enter into the coalition of willing. Considering the levels of political pressure it was a triumph for Canadian sovereignty, and it was a decision that reflected the will of the majority of Canadians. Paul Martin promised a government that would be more transparent, one that would listen to Canadians, but on missile defense the murky waters of co-operation are getting warmer without our consent.