Should Canada join the US in its quest to arm space?
It case you might have forgotten, what with all the great news on softwood lumber and Caledonia, the Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) debate is still open in Canada. During the last election, Stephen Harper pledged to reopen talks if they were requested by the Bush administration, and to bring any agreement before Parliament for a free vote. Defence Minister, Gordon O'Connor, was reported on 23 February to have been willing to reopen the controversial debate if the United States were to extend another invitation. This will bring out the loonies on both side of the issue.
The pro-BMD side will promote solidarity with our southern neighbours. The anti-BMD side will promote that it attacks our sovereignty - “Canada for Canadians”.
They are both right but they have both missed the point with respect to BMD.
Canada should not join the BMD. Not because we hate Americans – we don’t - and not because it will lead to the “weaponization” of space – it won’t. Canada should not join because the BMD is already obsolete.
Space is already weaponized. There are satellites that monitor movement (Keyhole Satellites were first launched over 30 years ago!) all around the world, communication satellites and GPS satellites. These satellites can be used to analyse situations in real-time and direct assets on the ground. Surely they can be considered space-based weapons. There are ICBMs that use suborbital trajectories. There are the space station and NASA shuttles that could be fitted to launch attacks on enemy assets in space or on the ground. There is land-based radar that can tell the location of every “enemy” satellite (and piece of space garbage) in orbit.
Too late, space is already weaponized. The best that BMD can offer is an early warning of missile launches. But you can do that with current satellites.
The worst that Canada’s participation in the BMD could do is to force us to re-establish our sovereignty in the North by replacing the early warning systems that we took out a few years back. The best that could happen is that we have a seat at the table discussing the long-term security of North America.
Making a decision that is in the best interest of Canadians is a smart decision, so long as the logic behind the decision is founded in fact and not emotion. Americans understand political realities much more, I think, than do Canadians. Canadians don’t hate Americans and they don’t hate us. They make decisions on their best interest and so should we.
Ballistic Missile Defence has been described as trying to hit a speeding bullet with another speeding bullet. There have been many reports of failed attempts to counter test missile launches. There is no doubt that eventually the military will get it right (It is possible that they got it right on a September 2, 2006 test but the reports are sketchy at best. It also seems that the scheduled test on September 1 was postponed due to cloudiness over Alaska.) and they will be able to defend against rogue-state missiles. But who are those rogue states? China? They are not so dumb as to bite the economic hand that feeds them. Iran? If they attack anything with a missile it certainly won’t be the US or Canada. North Korea? By the time the BMD actual works, the North Korean dictator will be long gone. Ballistic missiles that have a range to reach Canada or the US must be fired from a fixed launch facility. Terrorists, who depend on mobility and stealth, will not threaten us with these missiles.
The current threat is not a ballistic missile; it is an international shipping container in which a bomb is contained. It is small and portable weapons that will be very hard to detect, such as, suitcases of biotoxins and packages containing dirty bombs. What is the defence against these weapons? For sure, not BMD.
If we examine our own Canadian past we will discover that this is not the first time we have been have been pushed into a military solution to the wrong problem. Back in the 1960s, during the height of the Cold War, Canada was in the forefront of interceptor aircraft development with the, now cult-status, AVRO ARROW, the CF-105. This was a state-of-the-art aircraft that, some would say, could still be flying today. Our friends, the Americans, convinced our Conservative government of the day that the age of the interceptor aircraft was nearly over when ICBMs were developed by Russia. The government scrapped, literally and figuratively, the ARROW in favour of the nuclear-tipped BOMARC missile. The BOMARC lasted for all of 10 years in Canada, finally being phased out in 1972 in favour of… wait for it… an American-deigned interceptor aircraft, the CF 101 Voodoo. The ultimate indignity of the whole ARROW/Bomarc affair was that the missiles were being phased out of the US arsenal at the same time that we were bringing them into Canada.
Canadians have been led around by the nose for so long that we, often, do not even think for ourselves. We went through the Cold War of the 1950's and 60's believing that the imminent threat was atomic bombs dropping on us. They did not. We are now being told that if we don’t join the BMD not only will our sovereignty be compromised (that happened years ago when we adopted NAFTA) but also our trade with the US is toast (even though we have NAFTA). The fact is that billions of dollars in trade irritants existed long before BMD. Our decision on BMD will not significantly alter anything, as our decision not to go with the US into Vietnam, did not alter anything at that time.
Oh, I hear the cry of softwood lumber, cattle exports and all the other current trade issues. But before you blame cattle and wood issues on Canadian decisions to support, or not support, various US initiatives, make sure that you understand how decision making in the US differs from Canada. A single farmer can convince a single judge in Montana and that judge can create all the havoc that he or she wants with no recall on the action. BMD non-participation by Canada and our decision on non-participation in IRAQ are not the driving force in the US trade picture. The driving force is purely special interests and money.
Having said that, the truth is that some influential Americans have create a politically motivated linkage between BMD, IRAQ, meat, lumber and whole host of other items. If Canada wants to "fight" back, we need to negotiate the same way as the Americans. If you don't want our meat and lumber, and then you can't have our oil and natural gas. Do you think that the home heaters of the north eastern US and the SUV owners in California and Florida have more or less political clout than the cattle processors of Montana? Anyway, think about it, does it make sense to export live cattle to slaughter houses in the US when we could, if we built a few more slaughter houses, process them in Canada and raise the per pound value of the export and the number of skilled Canadian jobs. If you slaughter and process in Canada, you also have a simpler task of screening for Mad Cow, which eliminates the core of the issue.
I am not an apologist for the former federal government. The Liberal’s handling of the BMD file was amateurish at best. But, on the other hand, the current Conservative government is running the risk of committing Canada to something that we do not need and cannot use.
On September 11, 2001, we entered into Cold War II with the World Trade Centre attack in New York. The Russians are no longer our only enemy. Our new enemies share an ideology rather than a politic. Are we sliding into this Cold War with the same naiveté as we did back in the 50s and 60s?
Canadians are now more educated and worldlier than we were during Cold War I. Let’s not make the same mistakes again in Cold War II.