Ballistic Missile Offense

Prime Minister Paul Martin wants Canada to join the American Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system, a proposed "shield" of land- and space-based defenses that would protect America from missile attacks. Setting aside the probability that BMD is unworkable, this plan sets a dangerous precedent and will likely increase global instability without making North America safe from foreign attack.

In the past two years, the United States, Canada's largest trading partner and closest ally, has abandoned all pretext of responsible global citizenship and retreated into the most venal politics of self-interest.

By launching an unprovoked war against a long-suffering people, straining international relations and the structures of international law to the breaking point, and rejecting nearly every humane treaty that might constrain its exploits, the US government has alienated most of the planet.

Last year Canada found itself at a crossroads whether to support its neighbour or follow its principles and rightly, if belatedly, chose the latter. We should all be proud of that principled stance.

Now we find ourselves at a similar crossroads, once again under pressure to follow our southern neighbour on a dangerous course. BMD has little to do with defense, and much to do with projecting power around the globe.

America's legacy nuclear arsenal is effectively self-deterring. The 2002 US Nuclear Posture Review advocates developing "flexible yield" tactical nuclear weapons for battlefield use, and reserves the right to strike first with nuclear weapons.

In January 2003, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld confirmed that America is amalgamating its conventional and nuclear forces under US Strategic Command, blurring distinctions between the two.

The US Air Force Space Command is more ominous. Its mandate, outlined in Strategic Master Plan FY06 and Beyond, is to develop America's dominance of space into an offensive launching pad, by "target[ing] resources toward fielding and deploying space and missile combat forces in depth, allowing us to take the fight to any adversary in, from, and through space, on-demand."

USAF Space Command regards BMD as an essential component of American full-spectrum dominance of space. It plans to integrate Command and Control "for all the current and projected NORAD mission and USSTRATCOM [US Strategic Command] space operations and missile defense missions into a single functional system."

Prime Minister Martin claims to oppose the weaponization of space. If so, then he must confront the fact that the BMD is an early step toward America's long-term goal of controlling the "ultimate high ground of US military operations" to develop "a viable, prompt global strike capability" towards "instant engagement anywhere in the world."

Other nations perceive BMD as an effort to hide America under an umbrella of invulnerability, from behind which it can launch offensive strikes without fear of retaliation. As America has officially adopted a policy of preemption and has already acted on that policy, other nations will surely pursue offensive systems that can penetrate BMD to neutralize America's offensive advantage, provoking a new arms race and increasing global instability.

Former deputy Prime Minister John Manley has stated that BMD "is an aspect of continental security that will be deployed and therefore we should be part of it." That is, Canada should support BMD simply because it's going to happen whether we like it or not.

This ludicrous argument matches the colonial thinking of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, which works behind the scenes to strong-arm Canada into deeper integration with the United States, from common trade negotiation to unified defense planning and security. The CCCE dismiss concerns that BMD will spark a new arms race by stating that "the United States already has decided to proceed" with the program.

"[I]f Canada wishes to have any say in its future development," the CCCE warns in a recent discussion paper, "it is in our interest to be an active partner."

We heard the same naive and fatalistic arguments in the lead-up to the Iraq war: America is going to invade anyway, so Canada should stop gnashing its teeth and fall in line.

It was bad advice then, as subsequent events have demonstrated, and it's bad advice now. These organizations would trade Canada's sovereignty and integrity for a share in military contracts and the false hope of currying favour for better trade relations.

According to a March 31 Ipsos-Reid poll, 69 percent of Canadians oppose Canadian support for BND by hosting missile launchers or committing military resources. The poll also notes that 77 percent of Canadians want to see Canada's military enhanced for peacekeeping and conflict resolution, rather than "heavy combat alongside US forces."

Canadians already recognize both the dangers of militarism and the opportunities of principled internationalism. This is not mere idealism, as Martin's recent guest, the Dalai Lama, has demonstrated through a lifetime of dedication to active nonviolence. Martin praised the Dalai Lama's dedication to human rights and said that Canadians should listen to his message of peace and justice.

In its fourth year, this century is already shaken by violence and aggression. Instead of trying to hide from the realities of an unstable world, Canada should seize the opportunity to be a world leader in promoting and demonstrating peaceful means of resolving conflicts.

Ryan McGreal
April 30, 2004

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