Amidst the sturm und drang of the Liberal leadership race, inasmuch as it is a race at all, the discussion of Canada’s signing up to the US National Missile Defence scheme has taken on the typically shrill tones that have come to characterize considerations of our complex defence, foreign and national security relation- ship with our neighbours to the south. One alarmist view, trumpeted loudly by Lloyd Axworthy, Sheila Copps and others, casts the NMD program, and any Canadian participation in it, as undermining the arms control and disarmament agenda that they see as the foundation for international peace and security. They, and their adherents, see in the NMD scheme a radically destabi- lizing and potentially dangerous devel- opment, reflective of the earlier Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI). In their view, NMD will bring back the darkest days of the Cold War era, with the atomic clock moving inexorably toward midnight. The other view, one that cannot be so readily ascribed to one or two individuals, holds that a decision by Canada to exempt itself from the US plan to deploy a missile defence shield will result in the end of the long record of Canada-US co- operation in attempting to secure the North American continent.

That such an important debate has been reduced to these simplistic levels and shrill exchanges is both pre- dictable and alarming. Predictable in that the past two years have swept our complacent view of a smoothly operat- ing multilateralist world into the dust- bin of history, a fact that some are only now beginning to appreciate, and many have yet to grasp. Alarming, in the sense that Canada, like many other nations, is being forced to adjust to evolving developments on the interna- tional stage without the public policy framework to develop a measured response. Inasmuch as this is a fair characterization of the present situa- tion, it may be worth stepping back to consider the recent context within which the US National Missile Defense program has re-emerged, what it is directed against, how it might operate, and lastly, what implications it holds for Canada. Absent this, the public policy debate will remain an ill- informed dialogue of the deaf between two hostile camps.

The NMD program began to take shape as far back as the late 1980s during the tenure of the first President George Bush. As a result of the end of the Cold War, and the search for a ”œnew world order,” the administration of President Bush undertook a review of US strategic require- ments, including the Strategic Defense Initiative. According to Donald R. Baucom, a staff histo- rian with the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, this review, which was completed in March of 1990, concluded with chilling accuracy, it seems, that 

the waning of the Cold War would bring a new strategic environment in which the United States would be increas- ingly threatened by acts of ter- rorism and by missile attacks that were limited and unautho- rized. At the same time, deployed US forces would face growing threats from shorter- ranged theater missiles as the technology of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruc- tion proliferated. To prepare for these new realities, [the review] recommended SDI change its focus from preparing for an attack by thousands of Soviet warheads to developing theater missile defences and a national missile defence to protect the US from limited missile attacks.

After a period of prevarication dur- ing the Clinton years, NMD re-emerged with the election of President George W. Bush. Upon entering office, the Bush administration made it clear that it intended to have NMD as one of the cornerstones of its defence strategy. In the face of some strident opposition from the arms control community, some of its NATO allies, and from Russia and China, the United States announced its unilateral abrogation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which advocates have long held to be the cornerstone of nuclear stabil- ity. In doing so, the United States sig- nalled its intention to attempt to deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction via an active defence ”” that is an NMD system designed to provide a limited capability against a limited missile attack.

While the visibility of the NMD program receded in the after- math of September 11, 2001, and sub- sequent events including the on-going campaign in Afghanistan, the Homeland Defense initiative, the war in Iraq, and most recently, the postur- ing on the Korean Peninsula, NMD nonetheless proceeded apace. In December 2002, President Bush announced that deployment of a limit- ed national missile defence system would commence in 2004. This first step will include ground-based inter- ceptors (in Alaska and California) sea- based interceptors, additional Patriot (PAC-3) units and a system of sensors based on land, at sea and in space. This system should, all things being equal, be operational in 2004-05. In his announcement, President Bush also noted the importance of working with allies. He stated: ”œBecause the threats of the 21st century also endanger our friends and allies around the world, it is essential that we work together to defend them. The Defense Department will develop and deploy missile defences capable of protecting not only the United States and our deployed forces, but also our friends and allies.”

With Bush’s announcement, Canada found itself confronted with the need to get off the fence. No longer was it possible to adhere to the long-standing policy of successive Canadian governments, namely, that a decision could be put off until some future date when the United States actually began to deploy such a system. Well, that time has come, and it is neces- sary for the government to take a decision. No longer will it be possible to justify the lack of a decision by arguing that this was a hypothetical question.

This fact, coupled with other recent stresses in the bilateral Canada-US rela- tionship, raises some interesting and potentially challenging questions for future Canadian defence and foreign policy directions, and for Canada’s national interests more broadly defined. The manner in which Canada resolves its own approach to the US NMD program may have a profound effect on the larger Canada-US rela- tionship and on Canadian sovereignty.

To date, the debate in Canadian circles has generated more heat than light, and has often resulted in the opposing camps digging in and engag- ing in a ”œyes it will! ”” no it won’t!” type of dialogue. This is unfortunate, given that the resolution of this debate and a negative Canadian response to NMD has the potential to profoundly alter our traditionally close defence relationship with the United States and raises some serious concerns regarding Canadian sovereignty. It may also, to some extent, affect how the United States shapes its approach to continuing global engagement in the years ahead. A major US defence initiative that has the potential to seri- ously affect Canadian defence policy, Canadian foreign policy, and Canada- US relations on a broad front merits a more serious and considered discus- sion than seems possible in the throes of a leadership race.

The US NMD program is not Star Wars, much as vocal opponents delight in casting it as such. Rather, it is a scheme intended to deal with a limited threat to the US homeland, to US forces deployed abroad, to US inter- ests abroad, and, all else being equal, to US friends and allies. At the risk of oversimplifying what will be a massive technological undertaking, the NMD system will encompass a complex, multicomponent defensive weapon system involving technologies and sys- tems ranging in maturity from Patriot missiles to directed energy weapons (lasers) and kinetic energy intercept concepts (hit-to-kill technology) from space-based satellites.

While it poses some immense research and development chal- lenges and will require the expenditure of considerable sums of money, NMD, as currently envisaged, will not seek to pur- sue the vision of a shield against a mas- sive nuclear assault on the North American continent. It will, instead, pro- vide a limited defence against a small- scale attack. As presently conceived, the NMD system will, at the outset, consist of twenty land-based interceptors, (deployed at Fort Greely Alaska and at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California) designed to counter long-range ballistic missiles and up to twenty sea-based interceptors (deployed on US Navy Aegis class ships) designed to defend against short- and medium-range missiles. The actual intercept capability will be sup- ported by surveillance, tracking and command and control facilities. These will include radar and guidance systems built around a restructured Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS), and a Command and Control, Battle Management and Communications (C2BMC) architecture.

All of this, of course, begs the ques- tion of what country possesses the wherewithal to attack the United States, and by extension, the possibility of putting Canada at risk. According to the US State Department, the number of countries either possessing ballistic missiles, or pursuing missile technolo- gy is growing. ”œAt least 27 countries now possess ”” or are in the process of acquiring and developing ”” ballistic missiles,” the State Department esti- mates. ”œMore than a dozen states, including several hostile to the United States, our allies and friends, are pursu- ing offensive biological and chemical warfare capabilities.” Publicly available US intelligence estimates suggest that during the next 15 years, new inter- continental ballistic missile threats will most likely emerge from North Korea, and probably from Iran. The funda- mental rationale for NMD is to address these and emerging threats. NMD will be part of a layered defence designed to defend the US homeland, to provide the US freedom to act in support of its interests abroad, and to extend protec- tion via Theatre Missile Defence (TMD) to US friends and allies in regions of potential conflict.

Critics of NMD often point to the limitations ”” both numerical and tech- nological ”” of the missile arsenals of emerging powers. While there is no doubt that the arsenals are small, and the technology may not be nearly as advanced as those of the ”œBig Five” nuclear powers, this should not be taken to mean that they pose no threat. Recent CIA estimates of North Korean missile programs suggest that the multiple-stage Taepo Dong-2 will be capable of reaching parts of the United States with a nuclear- weapon-sized payload. The CIA also estimates that North Korea is probably working on improvements to its current design, and that a Taepo Dong-2, in a two-stage ballistic missile configuration, could deliver a several-hundred-kg pay- load up to 10,000 kilometres, sufficient to strike Alaska, Hawaii and parts of the continental United States. If the North Koreans were successful in adding a third stage, then the Taepo Dong-2 could deliver a several-hundred-kg pay- load up to 15,000 km ”” sufficient to strike all of North America. North America then, far from being a fireproof house, will be vulnerable in the future.

If one accepts that this is the case, then the question is, what to do about it? For the United States one answer is to deploy a NMD system. This raises a series of follow-on questions. First and foremost among these is whether an NMD system is technically feasible. While easy to ask, this question is dif- ficult to answer. Critics argue that it will not be feasible, or at the very least, will not be one hundred percent effec- tive, and that as a result, should not be attempted. In one sense, they are cor- rect. The scientific and engineering challenges confronting National Missile Defense are significant and daunting. Supporters of NMD, on the other hand, while acknowledging the scientific and technological obstacles, assume that with time and money, these can be overcome.

Assuming that the scientific and technological hurdles can be over- come, and it would appear that the US is confident that they can, what are some of the other consequences that might ensue? The following questions should receive attention in the debate:

  • Will US deployment of an NMD system serve to heighten interna- tional tensions, stimulate arms races and decrease international stability?

  • Will NMD will defend the US (and by extension, Canada) from the more likely threats?

  • Will and to what extent might or might not NMD foster an isola- tionist and unilateralist strain in the United States?

  • Will Canadian support for or partic- ipation in NMD affect Canada’s for- eign policy towards other countries, and if so, how?

  • Will a Canadian decision to oppose NMD affect Canada’s relationship with the US in the realms of defence co- operation, foreign policy and economic and trade pol- icy, and if so, how?

Critics of NMD claim, with breathless urgency, that it will under- mine existing arms control regimes, stimulate a new arms race and general- ly promote international instability. Is this the case, or are the critics guilty of hubris? As David Tanks wrote in a comprehensive yet accessible overview of the policy and technological issues surrounding NMD, ”œmany of the lega- cy arms control treaties of the Cold War era are crumbling.” Whether this is a result of the end of the Cold War or of long-held US musings about bal- listic missile defences is impossible to untangle. Perhaps historians will be able to come to some appreciation for cause and effect, but that will be decades down the road.

Cause and effect aside, one of the curious aspects of this endless and arcane discussion of the fate of the arms control regimes and treaties is that they survived so long after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. More to the point, one could also argue that the non- proliferation regime so near and dear to the arms control community has consistently failed to prevent prolifera- tion on a growing scale. Therefore, to tie one’s future security to a failed complex of arms control and disarma- ment treaties is folly. Deployment of a limited missile defence capability seems to be the height of a rational national security policy.

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Will NMD stimulate an arms race? Again, there can be no simple answer to this, even though both critics and sup- porters of NMD tend to argue vigorous- ly on one side or the other. The real issue should not be whether or not NMD will initiate an arms race, for arguably, there has always been an arms race. Proliferation efforts by numerous states have been ongoing for years, despite the best efforts of the arms con- trol community. Rather, the real issue is whether NMD will serve to defuse or blunt the effect of these arms races by building US security against the poten- tial of a limited attack by an opponent with a limited arsenal. If NMD remains a limited system against limited attack, then it may contribute, not to an arms race, but to the end of the efforts of some nations to pursue weapons of mass destruction. Would this not be a result that we should all embrace?

The question of international sta- bility (or instability) and NMD is equally problematic, and again, ration- al debate is often overwhelmed by the shrill tone of the exchanges. Critics argue that NMD will undermine Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), the decades old concept of deterrence that evolved during the Cold War. This is a simplistic and reductionist portray- al. Instability (or stability) in the inter- national system does not derive solely from the weapons systems and pos- tures of major powers. Instead weapons systems and doctrinal pos- tures reflect the dynamics of the international system. During the Cold War, the existence of two fundamentally opposed powers led each to pursue nuclear weapons systems and doc- trines that, after a point, settled into a situation where deterrence, based on MAD, seemed to be the least threaten- ing course of action. The end of the Cold War, some conclude, should have brought an end to MAD, although it managed to hang on well past the point at which it served as a realistic doctrine on which to base national security. Keith Payne, in a tightly argued case in favour of NMD, claims that deterrence theory needed to be dethroned. He has suggested that ”œdeterrence certainly has no place now that the challengers confronting Washington are so various, unfamiliar and possibly fanatical, at least by Washington’s standards … [and] given the rogues’ relatively unfamiliar goals and values, deterrence cannot be pre- dictable and may indeed simply fail.” More bluntly, the nonpartisan, inde- pendent US Commission on National Security concluded that ”œdeterrence will not work as it once did; in many cases it will not work at all.”

For Payne, ”œthe answer is that few today still challenge the fact of an emerging rogue missile danger, the fact that a sufficiently modest NMD system is practicable and affordable, the fact that deterrence is just not reliable, and the fact that NMD can help to main- tain American freedom of action even in the face of coercive missile threats from otherwise second-rate regional powers.” If these judgments are indeed correct, then the case for NMD, if not unassailable, is at least a reasonable course of action in seeking to secure North America.

National Missile Defense will be but one element of US security, and given the immutable dictates of geography, of Canadian security as well. As currently conceived, the NMD system is designed to defeat limited attacks or unintentional launches. Is this sufficient? Yes and no. It is suffi- cient in the sense that it will meet one form of threat. It is not sufficient in that it will not meet all threats to the North American continent, as the ter- rorist attacks of September 11, 2001 demonstrated. However, no one ever argued that NMD was the be all and end all. This suggests that other defence and security measures will need to be implemented for North America. Whether this means imple- menting a Fortress North America strategy, pursuing a doctrine of pre- emptive defence or some other approach to the challenges of the 21st century is a much larger question.

For the US, NMD is instrumental. For Canada, the issue has been made somewhat more complicated, even if needlessly so. Throughout the long watch of the Cold War, Canada was the beneficiary of the US extended defence umbrella. Under the auspices of NORAD, to which Canada contributed for decades, we managed to derive the disproportionate benefit of continen- tal defence for a relatively minor cost. For the better part of the past ten years, however, we have obfuscated about NMD. The time has now come where we face a major decision. The US is in the process of building the NMD inter- ceptor sites in Alaska and California. The Defense Department has revised the Unified Command Plan to create NORTHCOM, which has been desig- nated as the command responsible for the defence of the North American continent.

Where NMD will finally nest with- in the US command and control sys- tem is still difficult to ascertain. Much depends on the inevitable pulling and hauling in the Pentagon. Whatever decisions are finally implemented, they will likely affect the future role of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which has the potential to profoundly alter Canada’s approach to defence and security issues. Since its formation in 1958, NORAD has been the mainstay of Canada’s aerospace defence and control capability. First conceived to deal with the strategic bomber threat of the Cold War, NORAD has evolved to track and warn of attack against North America by aircraft, missiles, space vehicles and asymmetric threats. While NORAD has no direct role in the interception of ballistic missiles, there is, however, significant overlap between NORAD’s threat tracking and assessment mission and the missile defence mission.

What is not difficult to appreci- ate, however, is the fate of NORAD, and the potential conse- quences to Canada. According to a recent report by the Council on Canadian Security in the 21st Century (CCS21), ”œNORAD is the institutional centrepiece of Canada’s defence and security relationship with the United States. Its benefits to Canada are sub- stantial and extend far beyond co- operation in the aerospace defence of Canada. NORAD’s highly favourable, multifaceted arrangements significant- ly support Canada’s ability to protect its sovereignty from illicit offshore activities aimed at the penetration of Canada’s borders.” The CCS21 con- cludes that:

Canada confronts marginaliza- tion in NORAD once again as a result of one issue ”” ballistic missile defence … NORAD’s fate ”” and the multiplicity of benefits it provides to Canadians ”” will depend on Canadian participation in any US ballistic missile defence (BMD) programme. … The US will place command and control of the BMD system in the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center, under either NORAD or US Space Command. If the US chooses the latter option, as it surely will if Canada does not participate, NORAD will be marginalized. Conversely, if Canada does agree to participate, command and control will likely be vested in NORAD, giving it a higher priority in the US command structure.

Clearly then, the recent musings by the Government and the candidates for the leadership of the Liberal Party regarding NMD are critical, if some- what late in coming. In addition, the debate will be carried out in something of a muddled policy making environ- ment. Under the best of circumstances, the range of national security, defence and foreign policy issues that confronts the nation is complex, making deci- sions difficult. Moreover, the mecha- nism for identifying and resolving the complex and competing problems on the national security agenda appear to be absent, making the process of arriv- ing at a coherent policy difficult, to say the least. On a superficial level, there has been an alarming tendency to engage in visceral anti-Americanism that is distinctly unhelpful. More sig- nificant, however, is the lack of a national security policy-making appa- ratus that can address the complexity of the situation.

Don Macnamara and Ann Fitz- Gerald have addressed this issue recently in a thorough overview of national security policy making in ”œA National Security Framework for Canada,” published in IRPP’s series, Policy Matters. While it is far too late to incorporate the process that Macnamara and Fitz-Gerald recom- mend, at least for the purposes of reaching a decision on NMD, Ottawa should endeavour to adhere to the spirit of their recommendations. In that regard, the first task will be to confront the following questions:

  • What are the important decisions ahead for Canada (i.e. what one or two critical strategic decisions are on the immediate horizon? The next horizon?)

  • What are the constraints under which such decisions will be taken?

  • What are the obstacles?

  • Are there systemic obstacles to getting to the desired end?

The second step would be to seek clarification on critical uncertainties. In other words, what do we not know that is critical to devising a coherent policy approach?

  • What aren’t we paying attention to that requires attention with respect to Canada’s national interests?

  • What are the most important driving issues?

  • Are we able to see the dynamics?

Such an approach would permit decision makers to explore the areas deemed of greatest importance and direct their efforts towards policies designed to reduce uncertainty. The aim is to gain insight into the specifics of the NMD initiative and how to think about these in the context of Canadian interests. What are the key issues? How should they be addressed? Most importantly, what will be the impact of any final Canadian decision on participation or support for US NMD on Canada’s national interests?

Canada confronts an uncomfort- able situation with regard to National Missile Defense. We find ourselves standing at one of those proverbial forks in the road. How we reached this point is less important than decisions we face about the direction we must now take. Sadly, it is not clear that Canada ”” as a nation, as a people and as a government ”” is able to make a clear and forthright decision on the best direction to take and how we will get there. The inability to consider something as funda- mentally important as our strategic interests is a reflection of a lack of or immaturity in strategic culture that has plagued this nation for much of the past decade, if not longer. The reasons for this, while important, are best left to historians of future decades, who will have both the perspective and the context to allow for dispassionate judgment. For the time being, however, we will be forced to grapple with the conse- quences and implications of this lack of a mature strategic culture. This may prove difficult but it must be faced, for arguably the post-Cold War era has ended, and we stand at the beginning of a new ”” and not necessarily comfort- able ”” security environment, the con- tours of which have begun to emerge and portend significant implications for our long-term strategic interests.

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