Canada IS Participating in Missile Defence

Monday, February 13, 2006

Written by Scott Gilbert

"Space soon will be the fourth medium of warfare, it will not only bind all war fighting forces together but will also become strategically critical to the survival of warfighters...For future coalition warfare, space superiority will be fundamental." -Canadian Government Technology Investment Strategy (2000).

The Lib-Cons and Their Trickery

Most Canadians would say they are proud Canada did not join the US-led initiative to militarize space under the euphemistic banner of "Ballistic Missile Defence" (BMD). This is not surprising given that more than two thirds of Canadians are opposed to it. However, big business - a crucial constituent block for both the Liberals and the Conservatives - is very much in support of Canadian participation in BMD, evidenced by polls that show 85% of Canadian CEOs support it. One might ask why the clear disconnect between the views of CEOs and the general public. The answer is clear - money. With the total cumulative cost of the project estimated to surpass one trillion dollars, there are many extremely lucrative contracts to be won.

In early 2005 Paul Martin was in a predicament. Not only was the US increasing the pressure to "sign on" to BMD, but activist groups were stepping up their public opposition and reports were coming out almost regularly that criticized the project as flawed in almost all respects - numerous tests had failed miserably, the projected costs were soaring, and the effectiveness of it against an organized attack was continually being challenged (Russia responded by developing more advanced missiles and sophisticated decoy systems).

This was a tough situation for Martin that required a crafty solution. How could he satisfy the demands of big business and US officials while claiming to represent the interests of the Canadian public?

On February 24th, 2005 Martin announced Canada would say "no" to participation in BMD. This move was widely hailed as step towards protecting Canadian sovereignty and taking a stand against the military aggression of the Pentagon. The result was an immediate silencing of activist groups opposing BMD, and widespread praise for Martin. We have not heard much about it since.

During her 2006 re-election campaign, Liberal MP Brenda Chamberlain vocally played the "Liberals said no to missile defence" card in public debates as an example of how her government would stand up for the interests of Canadians. However, it is interesting to note that her election platform proudly featured quotes of praise from Thomas D'Quino, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives - Canada's primary corporate lobby group. Thomas D'Quino was so upset by Martin's "no" to BMD that went on a ten-city tour of the US apologizing for the Liberal "mistake" and promising to work hard to reverse the decision.

But the Liberals are not the only ones worthy of criticism. Stephen Harper said if the US makes a new BMD offer, he will bring it to a free vote in parliament, similar to his comments regarding same-sex marriage. The recent election campaign saw Guelph Federal Conservative candidate Brent Barr promising to vote the way his constituents wanted him to (determined by a "statistically accurate" poll) when the marriage issue came up in parliament, but would not make the same commitment for a vote on BMD. His reasoning was that he simply did not know enough about it.

How can someone run to become an MP for the Conservative Party yet not know enough about an issue that came up in almost every all candidates debate in Guelph? Missile defence has received a considerable amount of attention in the mainstream media over the past few years, has numerous books on the subject in print, is covered extensively throughout the internet and represents a crucial aspect of our defence policy? It should be noted that Barr served in the Armed Forces, so military issues are not unknown to him. It is then appropriate to ask if his unwillingness to commit to representing his constituents on this issue indicates where his allegiance lies - with the 85% of Canadian CEOs who support BMD, or with the 70% of Canadians who oppose it.

Canada's Involvement

But the real question at hand is this: When Martin declared Canada was "staying out", what did this really mean? Have you ever heard of any concrete steps taken by the Canadian government to live up to this promise? What are some of the moves you might expect such a statement to embody?

The truth is, Canada is very much involved in this project. In the year 2000, David Pratt, Canada's National Defence Minister at the time, wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to express Canada's willingness to work towards "increased government-to-government and industry-to-industry cooperation on missile defence." He went on to say that NORAD would provide a "mutually beneficial framework to ensure the closest possible involvement and insight for Canada, both government and industry, in the U.S. missile defence program."

On February 26th, 2005 Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew was interviewed on CBC Radio One. When asked about what the Liberal "no" to BMD really meant, he waffled, but uttered some telling statements. When asked "[Does this mean] the Canadian government will prohibit or ban Canadian companies from participating in building the system?" He replied: "No, we're not prohibiting the development of it…." He was then asked: "So if a company such as Montreal's ...CAE, which has a contract with Boeing to evaluate opportunities in missile defence [and] if we're going to be consistent with Canadian values, how do we let Canadian companies build a system which we do not favour?" He answered by saying: "No, I do not believe we should control Canadian business....I would be very pleased if Canadian business can contribute to the defense system of the United States....that's very good."

In fact, Canadian firms already under contract to assist in the development of BMD will be allowed to proceed with their work, and the government will not take any steps to block new contracts linked to BMD.

In addition to Canadian firms (as well as military-research scientists employed by the government) participating in the creation, design, research, development, testing, deployment, maintenance and operation of various aspects of BMD, Canada's air space is where these interceptions are scheduled to take place. In the words of the Washington, D.C. based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (2003):

"Having missiles intercepted overhead is something Canadians will simply have to live with. Missile debris will hit Canada...it's Canadians who will have to deal with the debris from destroyed enemy rockets raining down on them. The Pentagon needs little from Canada for its proposed missile shield -- except the air space in which to blast apart incoming missiles... Canada might want to request extra funding for hardhats, but there's not much else that can be done about it."

So why would our government tell us we are not participating, when in fact we are? Richard Sanders, Editor of Press for Conversion explains this by saying: "The American administration knows all-to well that their allies sometimes have to feign opposition to U.S. policies in order to gain or retain domestic political support. Such oppositional play-acting does not, therefore, undermine U.S. goals. On the contrary, because duplicitous trickery of this variety can strengthen the domestic standing of one's closest friends, such fakery is tolerated and even encouraged."

Aside from there being little if any actual steps made to distance Canada from the BMD project, the Liberal "no" resulted in a two-fold negative effect: one, the quashing of almost all criticisms of the Canadian government for even considering participation, and two, providing a reason for Canada to "bend over backwards" to make up for "disappointing" the US by committing to nearly double military spending - putting the total military budget at roughly $20 billion annually. It should be noted that this massive increase in military spending is not earmarked to increase Canada's traditional role in peacekeeping operations, but instead to restructure our forces to become more "interoperable" with US forces (in fact Canadian spending on UN-led peacekeeping operations has been reduced by over 80% in less than 15 years).

The Threats Are Many

At this point it should be stated clearly that BMD has little to do with defence, and much to do with securing military superiority over the last unoccupied battlefield - space. The euphemistic notion of a missile "defence" system, in the supposed "age of global terrorism", likely sways many to proclaim their support for such an initiative. With the US taking a lead in combating the "rogue terrorist threat", and offering to protect Canada and Mexico with a "North American Security Perimeter" (essentially in exchange for our natural resources, but this is kept low key), many view participation as a necessary step to protecting the well-being of the "free world". It is deeply upsetting that for the most part our media has not exposed the extent to which the safety of Canadians is put at risk by participating in BMD.

In an October 2004 letter to Defence Minister Bill Graham, Carolyn Parrish wrote "Make no mistake. BMD is about the weaponization of space. BMD is about offensive first-strike capability. BMD is fundamentally destabilizing and will be viewed as an act of overt aggression by fragile and emerging democracies."

Aside from being extremely costly, dangerous and unpopular, the BMD program would be largely ineffective. It does nothing to address the very real threat of crude "dirty bombs" (much easier for terrorists to develop and use than intercontinental ballistic missiles), the roughly 100 suitcase sized nuclear weapons that Russia has "lost" (which could easily be smuggled into any country), or attacks that require minimal technological expertise, such as flying an airliner into a chemical or nuclear power plant.

Addin Context, Moving Forward

What would make a widely hated country safer: spending a trillion dollars on a project that is likely to cause a new arms race with nuclear states, or taking a leadership role in global disarmament and spending a trillion dollars to improve the standard of living of the 50% of the planet living on less than $2 per day? A trillion dollars can go a long way to address issues like poverty, disease or basic education for the poor of the world.

Canada urgently needs an independent foreign policy based on peace and disarmament - not one that aligns itself with US foreign policy interests, wars of aggression and dangerous multi-billion dollar weapons projects. If Paul Martin could not achieve this, then the chances of Stephen Harper moving in this direction are slim at best. We must confront the misinformation that our leaders constantly throw at us by speaking out publicly, writing critically, and exposing the corruption and deceit of our government and military so that in the next federal election Canadians will make a better choice about who should run their country.

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