This article is based on a presentation made by the author to the Senate National Security and Defence Committee.
When stormy weather threatens, prudent people carry an umbrella. It is time for Canada to find shelter under the umbrella of ballistic missile defence (BMD).
The threats to Canadians are real. North Korea has developed a road-mobile ballistic missile capability that’s intended to target the U.S. but — given its wonky aim — could just as easily hit Canada. Iran has an arsenal of ballistic missiles. And what if Pakistan, with its missiles and nuclear weapons, were to go rogue?
Risk assessments conclude that in the coming years we will see more bad actors with access to warheads, intercontinental missiles and weapons of mass destruction — nuclear, chemical and biological.
Missile defence has been embraced already by our 27 partners in NATO and our friends and allies in the Indo-Pacific: Australia, Japan and South Korea.
We share information in early warning and attack assessment with the United States through our participation in NORAD. But when it comes time to make the critical launch decisions, our officials literally have to leave the room.
The algorithms developed by U.S. Northern Command to protect the American homeland do not include Canadian cities like Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto or Montreal.
The core principle of our Canada First Defence Strategy is the protection of Canadians. Membership in BMD means we are full partners in the conversation on defending North America, including Canada. This is why we need to join BMD.
Critics of BMD say it doesn’t work. They describe it as a latter-day Maginot Line: unreliable, costly and provocative. NORAD, they argue, provides sufficient defence — but they’re forgetting that, at the critical moment, we must leave the room.
BMD is not Ronald Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ initiative, with its improbable futuristic weapons and enormous cost. The current system has no space-based weapons. Instead, it uses kinetic energy to stop warheads.
New technology, research and constant testing have made BMD a reasonable shield. The Israelis’ Iron Dome demonstrates the worth of anti-missile technology.
With the system essentially in place, participation does not come with an admission charge. Any future costs can be scaled and shared within the alliance.
Foes of BMD also claim that it makes us too reliant on the United States. It’s the same, tiresome old argument typically applied to questions of trade and commerce — but who would argue that free trade has not been good for Canada?
The whole point of collective security is to contribute according to our capacity for our mutual security and protection. Protecting Canadians (and Americans) was the logic of the original DEW line and NORAD, the bi-national aerospace defence agreement which has served us since 1958 and now includes aspects of maritime warning. Shouldn’t Canada have a say in the development of the North American BMD architecture before the emergence of a combined ICBM/nuclear threat?
During the cruise missile debate, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau remarked that some Canadians “are eager to take refuge under the U.S. umbrella — but don’t want to help hold it.” The other NATO partners have signed on to missile defence. So have Australia, Japan and South Korea.
Some critics suggest BMD is somehow morally wrong. But we’re living in the world, not Elysium. We can’t be sure that a missile aimed at the United States isn’t going to strike Canada. Reframe the moral argument and ask yourself: Why doesn’t the Government of Canada have a voice in how BMD may be used? One could argue that it is a moral imperative for the government to have such a say when the target could a Canadian city.
BMD is part of the continuum of capabilities that contributes to the Alliance and protects Canadians. Taking part in BMD surveillance could save Canadian lives in the event of a missile attack, and provide early warning to the rest of the Alliance.
By being part of the defensive shield, we strengthen the deterrent effect of BMD. This could include missile defence capacity in our new warship, or using our submarines to track potentially hostile attack subs.
Participation in BMD is both an insurance policy for our homeland and a renewed commitment to contemporary collective defence. Canada has benefitted greatly from that collective defence, with marginal premiums. Collective defence means preparation and commitment. “Only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt,” observed John F. Kennedy, “can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.”
Changed circumstances, Alliance solidarity, and self-preservation oblige us to revise our policy. BMD must now be incorporated within our ‘Canada First’ defence strategy.