Wednesday, 10 April 2013



Given the events in Korea and with articles in the BC press with headlines like, “B.C. could get caught in the middle of a missile-firing war between North Korean and the U.S.” I think it is time to revisit the issue of Ballistic Missile Defence. (1)

Even though the possibility is remote, UBC Prof. Michael Byers points out that B.C.’s exposure in such a conflict is worth contemplating. The province lies along the route that long-range missiles from North Korea would have to take to hit the American West.

Any North Korean missile headed for places like Seattle and Los Angeles would go directly over B.C.,” said Byers, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law.

I don’t think B.C. is likely to be an intended target, but it could be hit accidentally,” he said.

SFU Prof. Douglas Ross is quoted as saying, “The Americans would love to have anti-missile sites here. But Liberal governments going back to the 1960s didn’t want to encourage our biggest ally to build an anti-missile system which the Russians couldn’t match. They didn’t want the Russians to become itchy on the trigger finger as a result. Plus, getting into anti-missile technology is really expensive,

Colin Robertson points out that “Canadian prime ministers have three files with a permanent place on their desks: national security, national unity and the U.S. relationship. When those files intersect, they require special attention(2)

He goes on to write that, “Incorporating our satellite and land-based tracking facilities into Ballistic Missile Defence could make a difference in shielding Canadians should the missiles be launched. A Senate report in 2006 concluded that an effective BMD “could save hundreds of thousands of Canadian lives.”

Protecting Canadians (and Americans) was the logic of the original DEW line and NORAD, our bi-national aerospace defence agreement that has served us since 1958 and now includes aspects of maritime defence.”

It has been reported that last summer Ministers John Baird and Peter McKay prepared a memorandum for Mr. Harper presenting Ballistic Missile Defence options. The Prime Minister decided” the timing was not right”. (3)

It should be noted that at this point the Canadian National Defence department refers questions about missile defence to the Canadian Foreign Affairs department who do not reply. This response is common to all the participants in this “debate”. In fact there is no debate as no one in a position to do anything or even those who aspire to be in such a position will even talk about it.

As far as can be determined the resistance to missile defence for Canada is rooted in fears that a missile defence would somehow negate the policies of Mutually Assured Destruction (“If you kill us, we’ll kill you”) which appeared to be successful during the cold war.

In a somewhat different context, but with complete relevance is this from Information Dissemination. (4)

Throughout the duration of the cold war, mutually assured destruction is often credited for deterring nuclear war. While the debate over mutually assured destruction still exists today regarding the wisdom of the policy; the bottom line is MAD worked. Ballistic missile defense, in theory, adds a new strategic option for the United States in dealing with nuclear powers like North Korea that have limited capabilities. For the first time in human history, the United States is fielding a fully mature and developed ballistic missile defense shield to protect US allies and territories from an announced threat of nuclear attack.

One of the key strategic differences between ballistic missile defense as a deterrent and mutually assured destruction as a deterrent is that the United States is basically saying the enemy can shoot first, and if the attack is a nuclear attack but is also successfully defended against, then the United States reserves the option of responding without using nuclear weapons. This is a critical point critics of ballistic missile defense apparently don't believe is important, because a successful nuclear attack against US allies or territories requires a nuclear response. The option of not having to respond to a nuclear attack with nuclear weapons is the value of successful ballistic missile defense, and why smart investment and stewardship of ballistic missile defense is in the best interests of the United States.”

It is odd to find so many worthy bodies, The Canadian Council of Churches, the NDP, the Young Liberals among others, all so determined that the United States maintain a world destroying force of nuclear armed missiles to protect us. To be fair, the last attempt to interest Canada in taking part in our own defence against missiles was by that awful President Bush, perhaps an appeal by that nice President Obama would be more successful.

Canadian Defence Matters will try yet again to find any federal political party with a position on missile defence. If one assumes that, at this time, they are all opposed to Canada taking part in defending itself from missiles we will try to determine what those objections are. Canada has in the past successfully followed a strategy of leveraging our role in various alliances to defend ourselves. The strategy involves bringing just enough to the table to be allowed a place at that table when decisions that affect us are being made. 

Right now decisions that could determine the fate of our country are being made in a context where we could, in fact have been invited to, have some input, but we have chosen not to. It would be interesting to know why the major political parties have opted not to be involved.

(1)  B.C. beware: North Korean missiles aimed at western U.S. would pass directly over this province

(2) North Korea’s threats show that Canada needs to be part of U.S. missile defence pact

(3) The case for ballistic missile defence

(4) From the PACOM Playbook to PACOM's Plan B(MD)