Canada should join ballistic missile defence system, but it will cost us: experts
The Canadian government must consider paying up to join the U.S. ballistic missile defence program, say a former diplomat and a former NORAD commander.
In a panel discussion on The West Block with Vassy Kapelos, former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson and retired Lt-Gen. George Macdonald agreed that the time has come to take steps to actively protect Canada in the event of a ballistic missile strike like the ones being threatened by North Korea.Related
At the moment, Canada has no means to defend itself against such a strike should a missile be aimed at us, or veer off course after being aimed at a U.S. city.
“I think that the NORAD mission, which has been aerospace warning and defence for almost 60 years now, always included ballistic missile warning, but a natural extension of (missile) defence was not agreed to by the Canadian government in 2005,” said Macdonald, a former deputy commander-in-chief at NORAD.
That decision came as a surprise to many within the joint defence organization, he noted.
WATCH: U.S. won’t defend Canada from North Korea attack
But the U.S. ballistic missile defence program (BMD) suffered from a great deal of bad press a decade ago, Macdonald said.
At the time, there were concerns that it was destabilizing from a global military perspective, that the costs were too high and that it simply it didn’t work (the complexity of stopping a nuclear-armed missile mid-flight has been compared to hitting a bullet with another bullet).
“In the 10 or 12 years that have passed since then, the system has evolved,” Macdonald told Kapelos. “There is more confidence in the ability to defend against a ballistic missile attack … I think it’s topical now to revisit the situation.”
Robertson said Canada will need to go in with “eyes open,” however, especially as the Americans have no real motivation to bring us into the fold. Ottawa will need to commit resources, and money, to the endeavour. So far, there have not been any signals that the government is preparing to change its position.
“I think if we want in now we’re going to have to pay for it,” Robertson said.
“There is a piece in the (Canadian Armed Forces) defence policy review which says that we will be looking with the Americans at all threats to North America, so this would give the government the political cover they need to take a look at this.”
Prepared Remarks before House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence on ‘Canada’s Abilities to Defend Itself and our Allies in the Event of an Attack by North Korea on the North American Continent’, Thursday, September 14, 2017
My remarks draw on 33 years of experience in the Canadian Foreign Service and, since then, my work as a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. I spent a week earlier this year in Seoul, as the guest of the Korea Foundation, meeting with Korean scholars and senior Korean defence and security officials.
Let me address three questions:
- Canadian participation in Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD)?
- Our policy towards North Korea?
- How can Canada contribute to nuclear non-proliferation?
Ballistic Missile Defence
It is time for Canada to participate in BMD as an insurance policy to shield Canadians should missiles come our way. Our European allies and Pacific partners employ it. So should we.
The Government dodged consideration of BMD in the recent Defence Policy Review (DPR). When I asked at the technical briefing at the launch of the DPR last May, I was told that the Government was staying with the policy adopted by the Martin and then Harper governments that we will not participate in BMD, but that the government is discussing defending North America against ‘all threats’ with the American government. That would have to include BMD.
From discussions around the 2005 decision I understand that at that time the Government could not get adequate answers to three questions:
- Does it work and how would BMD protect Canada?
- How much participation would Canada have in what is essentially a US managed system?
- How much would it cost?
These are still good questions and the current Government should get these answers and share them with Canadians.
That said, based on the evidence presented to it, the Senate National Defence Committee unanimously recommended in June 2014 that Canada participate in BMD.
Since then there is abundant evidence of North Korea’s improved capacity to both miniaturize a nuclear warhead and then project it by ballistic missile across continents. As then President George W Bush reportedly asked then Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2006: ‘but what happens if a North Korean missile aimed at Los Angeles or Seattle winds up heading towards Calgary or Vancouver…don’t you want protection?’
While the US may protect a Canadian target near to a US city, there can be no guarantee since the US system is limited in size and the North Korean ICBM force of uncertain number. Unless we are inside the system – and making a contribution – we have no assurances even if the US commander would wish to protect a Canadian target that is remote from a US asset – think Edmonton or Calgary.
Consideration of Canadian engagement on BMD should cover all possible initiatives beyond the simply positioning of anti-missiles in Canada. These would range from a Government declaration that we acknowledge the missile threat to North America, to allocating additional Canadian Forces resources to NORAD, to equipping our naval assets with appropriate gear to detect missiles, to radar arrays in Canada, to writing a cheque to support research. In each case it will require more attention to security in Canada’s North.
The US is not asking us to join BMD. They did in 2005 and we said no. My sense is that if we were to ask now to included they would probably agree but it will oblige them to make changes to a system in which they have invested billions. There would be a cost to Canada. So if we decide to join, we do it because it serves Canadian interests and protects Canadians, not because, as some suggest, we are doing the Americans a favour. On the contrary, they would be doing us a service having made the initial and ongoing investment.
Joining BMD would likely bring the continental BMD defence function under NORAD and NORTHCOM. Canada has participated in NORAD’s missile warning function for many years, and bringing BMD into it would strengthen the bi-national institution at the heart of Canada-US relations and the defence relationship in particular.
I believe that the Government, as part of its commitment to active internationalism, needs to reconsider its current policy approach to North Korea. Diplomatic relations are not a seal of good housekeeping but rather the means by which advance Canadian interests and protect Canadians. Relations also allow us to bring insight, intelligence and a Canadian perspective to the diplomatic table.
The current policy of controlled engagement was adopted by the Harper Government in 2010 after a North Korean submarine torpedoed a South Korean warship in blatant disregard of its international obligations.
This policy limits engagement to discussion of (1) regional security concerns; (2) the human rights and humanitarian situation in North Korea; (3) inter-Korean relations; and (4) consular issues and this latter provision was how National Security Advisor Daniel Jean negotiated the recent exit from North Korea of Pastor Lim.
The Lim episode aside, it has meant we have virtually no contact with the Kim regime. There has not been an Ambassadorial visit to North Korea since 2010. In fact, no Canadian Ambassador has been accredited to North Korea since 2011. This contrasts with like-minded embassies in Seoul whose Ambassadors have regularly travelled to North Korea in the last 7 years. Seven EU countries also have resident Embassies in North Korea. Our current policy helps no one, hinders communication, particularly at times when we most need it, and puts us at an information disadvantage with, and lessens our value to our closest allies.
The authoritarian regime of Kim Jong-Un, continues to break international nuclear non-proliferation norms, despite repeated Security Council resolutions.
My view is that while any role for Canada would likely be limited, it would serve our interests to engage the North Koreans, thus enabling us to bring some intelligence or niche capacity to the table. My former foreign service colleague James Trottier who made 4 official visits to North Korea in 2015 and 2016 recently wrote an informed and useful piece in the Ottawa Citizen arguing for a combination of negotiations, incentives, sanctions and strengthened missile defence.
First, South Korea is our friend, fellow middle-power and the only nation in Asia with which we have a free trade agreement. It’s a country that we should cultivate, keeping in mind that they respect understand and respect toughness in trade negotiations.
South Korea has lived under the threat of bombardment by North Korea since the Armistice in 1953. Seoul, a city of ten million people, is 60 kilometers from the border and within easy range of conventional bombardment. After meeting with a very senior official in March he walked me to the elevator where I saw what I thought were a bunch of goggles. He looked at me and said “That’s for a chemical or biological gas attack. I don’t fear a nuclear bomb because what we have created in South Korea is just too valuable for Kim Jong-Un to destroy. He’d rather eliminate us so he can put his own people here.”
Second observation, Kim Jong-Un is ruthless, acting like something out of Game of Thrones, but his behaviour is rational and based on self-preservation.
For him and the 200,000 or so senior officials who benefit from his autocracy, a nuclear bomb is their insurance policy against the fate of Muammar Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein. Kim will not give up his weapons.
Third, we will have to live with a nuclear North Korea. We need to establish a new equilibrium and accept the least offensive outcome if we are to realize objectives under the failed ‘strategic patience’ policy.
The time for a military intervention, if it ever existed, has probably passed, short of some sort of extraordinary intervention by the Chinese, the only power with real leverage in this situation. But, for now, China does not want a failed regime and the migrants it would bring.
So we must live with the situation. An engaged Canada could perhaps be helpful. We used our convening capacity in the lead-up to President Obama’s opening to Cuba. President Trump has said he would consider meeting Kim Jong-Un. Throw in Dennis Rodman and a Raptors game and Niagara Falls and who knows what would happen. The point is that to contain North Korea we have to think outside-of-the-box.
The fundamental issue with North Korea is nuclear proliferation. As part of our commitment to active internationalism, Canada should re-dedicate itself to the cause of nuclear non-proliferation.
For Canada, one of the world’s biggest producers of uranium, there is an important role to play in helping to secure the materials needed to make a nuclear bomb.
Canada, Australia and Kazakhstan account for more than two-thirds of global production. What if the three agreed to become permanent stewards of used uranium products?
We would permanently “own” our uranium and ensure that its waste, including radioactive and fissible material, was properly disposed of, perhaps in mines no longer in production. While this doesn’t solve the problem of existing nuclear waste, it would control most new supply.
The International Atomic Energy Agency would provide on-site accounting oversight and supervise the transportation of all uranium. Rates would reflect risks to make it commercially and politically viable.
Given their secure geography, Canada and Australia would have to take the lead in long-term global disposal. This will require leadership and explanation to persuade Canadians to take on this responsibility.
Saskatchewan is home to Canada’s uranium mines and the industry is one of the largest employers of indigenous people. People in Saskatchewan strongly support their industry. They recognize the value of nuclear medicine research, but they oppose nuclear waste storage. They will need to be convinced aboåut the safety, security and economic returns of long-term stewardship.
Nuclear energy, which emits no carbon, is also a key piece of the solution to climate-change mitigation. China is betting heavily on nuclear energy in its migration from coal. France derives about 75 per cent of its electricity from nuclear energy. Nuclear power supplies half of Ontario’s electricity.
The nuclear genie is out of the bottle. We must do a better job of handling its waste and curbing nuclear proliferation. As both a producer and user, Canada can take the lead in the control and containment of our own uranium.
We live in a world in disarray but we are not without assets and opportunities. I recommend that we look hard at ballistic missile defence as an insurance shield for Canadians, engage with North Korea to see if we can be helpful, and take a leadership role in controlling nuclear materials.