For seven years Canadian policy on a limited ballistic missile defence for North America has not changed significantly. Following the Clinton administration’s acceptance of the notion that new, exotic technologies such as lasers, particle beams and their basing modes were con- strained by Articles II and V of the ABM Treaty, Ottawa’s 1994 White Paper established the policy of consultation and opened the door for possible Canadian participation in such defences. Since then and in response to critics in Canada on both sides of the debate, Canadian government officials have repeated a regular refrain: the architecture is unspeci- fied, there has been no U.S. decision to deploy; there has been no invitation to Canada to participate, and thus there is nothing to decide. Until the United States moves forward, the policy of consultation or ”œwait-and-see” is effectively the only option for Canada.

Following the election of George W. Bush, however, it quickly began to appear that Ottawa would be forced off the fence sooner rather than later. During the presidential elec- tion campaign Governor Bush and the Republicans had unequivocally committed themselves to deploy a ballistic missile defence system for North America and to make it a more extensive system than the Clinton administration had planned. After the election, evidence began to mount that the new administration would move by the end of 2001, even though its restructured missile defence program emphasized only an aggressive research and development program. If Russia refused proposed amendments to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty that would permit the American programs to move forward, Canada, the other Western allies and Russia would confront the possibility that the United States would announce its withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. Canada, in particular, faced the possibility of having to make a stark choice between its commitment to arms control and the treaty and its vital strategic defence relationship with the United States.

In most readings of events, however, this possibility was postponed as a result of the events of September 11. Missile defence moved from a major priority on the Bush agenda to the back burner, at least for the short term. The political pressures surrounding the creation and maintenance of the international coalition against terrorism appeared to elimi- nate the likelihood that the administration would ignore international opposition and move forward quickly. Specifically, both full Russian support for the U.S.-led war against terrorism and a more positive Russian policy posture toward the West generally ensured that the Bush Administration would not act soon on the ABM Treaty. Thus, Canada could once again rest easy: the new political environ- ment had resuscitated Canada’s wait-and-see pol- icy. The political environment surrounding mis- sile defence had thus apparently returned to the state it had been in during the Clinton years, albeit for different reasons. But the death of bal- listic missile defence did not last long. In fact, in retrospect it is clear that September 11 eliminat- ed any doubts, if there really were any following the election of George Bush, that missile defence would proceed. And, sure enough, on Dec. 13 the U.S. gave notice of its intention to withdraw from the ABM Treaty.

In the wake of Washington’s decision, it is beginning to become clear that the true danger of September 11 for Canadian policy-makers is that it will lead them to assume that the vital role Canada will play in North American ”œhomeland security” will enable the country to sidestep the missile defence question entirely without damag- ing its strategic relationship with the United States. In effect, ”œwait-and-see” will be translated into ”œit no longer matters.”

But it does matter. If Canada fails to move forward with the United States on ballistic missile defence, our strategic relationship with the U.S. will be damaged. We will continue to drift into a relatively marginalized niche function in North American security and defence, not dissimilar to the reality of our role on the wider international stage. There will also be significant costs, espe- cially for Canada’s interest in outer space, which is independent of missile defence, but depends directly upon the strategic relationship with the United States. No doubt the rhetoric between Washington and Ottawa will remain that of vital allies, but the reality will increasingly be that Ottawa is perceived in Washington as an unreli- able partner.

Before September 11, the strategic and political implications of National Missile Defense (NMD) for Canada looked like forcing an early decision on Canadian policy-makers. Proponents of Canadian participation in a limited missile defence for North America certainly believed mis- sile defence was the most important strategic issue facing Canada. At the core of this belief was the implication for the future of NORAD if Canada chose not to participate. Command and control/battle management would likely be assigned to U.S. Space Command and NORAD relegated to the minor role of air defence””in an environment where the air-breathing threat to North America was near zero. Canadian positions in the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (especial- ly the position of Command Director) the Missile Warning Operations (which would be trans- formed to include missile defence) and Space Control Operations Centers would disappear. NORAD would become marginalized with the real prospect of withering on the vine, and Canada’s outer-space strategy of leveraging limited invest- ments through the NORAD-Space Command link (the Joint Space Project) would become bankrupt. Beyond that, other elements of the defence rela- tionship that Canada sees as vital would also be significantly damaged, if not destroyed, including Canadian access to U.S. classified information and influence over U.S. defence planning in North America. Above all else, doors would close for Canadians, and the close, personal relations among U.S. and Canadian counterparts that are at the core of the two countries’ complicated, multi- faceted defence relationship would be seriously damaged.

Fears that non-participation would not only marginalize NORAD, but also do significant dam- age to other elements of cooperation were rein- forced by concerns about the effects on the politi- cal relationship between Ottawa and Washington, especially as it would be interpreted by a Republican administration. Since the election of the Chrétien government in 1993, Canadian ini- tiatives have caused various irritants in the securi- ty and defence relationship. Thus Canada unilat- erally cancelled the cruise missile testing agree- ment, ignored American concerns about the anti- personnel land mines treaty, pushed the issue of non-first-use of nuclear weapons in the lead-up to the Washington Summit of NATO, and raised the issue of child soldiers internationally. Further fric- tion in the relationship was evident in the American decision to eliminate the Canadian exemption to the U.S. International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITARs), which set in motion intense negotiations that have not yet been fully complet- ed. Explanations for the U.S. decision are varied, but it has been suggested that U.S. annoyance with Foreign Minister Axworthy’s various policy initiatives was a contributing factor. In addition, both the former and current U.S. ambassadors have publicly called on Canada to reinvest in defence. Although Ambassador Blanchard’s speech in Montreal in 2000 emphasized the importance of having both Canada and the U.S. invest more in defence, Ambassador Cellucci’s speech in Whistler in August 2001 pointed directly at Canada alone. Finally, Ambassador Raymond Chrétien’s public expression of a Canadian preference for Al Gore during the U.S. presidential campaign also indi- cates a degree of concern about the future of the relationship with a Republican in office.

It was not just the strategic importance of NMD and the question of how the new adminis- tration would perceive the relationship with Canada, however, which indicated the impor- tance of a final Canadian decision on participa- tion. It was also the lineage of many of the key players in the Bush defence team, who had links directly back to the Reagan administration and the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). During the period leading up to the Mulroney government’s decision that Canada would participate in SDI, announced on September 7, 1985, Canadian offi- cials strongly believed that the Reagan defence team, led by Secretary of Defence Weinberger, would interpret allied positions on the SDI in rigid Cold War ideological terms, and as a loyalty test. There would thus be a significant price to pay in saying no to the U.S. on SDI. With the Bush administration fully committed to an expanded, integrated missile defence program, Ottawa may well anticipate a similar approach from Washington.

On balance, by the summer of 2001 Ottawa confronted a much different political environ- ment in calculating the benefits and costs of a Canadian decision. Even though the restructur- ing of the U.S. missile defence program favoured the Canadian policy of wait-and-see, with the actual architecture for a limited missile defence for North America becoming more ambiguous than it had been during the Clinton administra- tion, evidence was mounting that Washington would move quickly to break the ABM Treaty bar- rier. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said as much in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in July. With that marker set down, a watershed seemed to be approaching. The most likely occasion was sometime around the Bush-Putin summit, scheduled for Texas in November. Either the U.S. would announce its withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, as allowed under Article XV, or a joint statement would, at a minimum, agree in principle to revise the Treaty and permit the planned U.S. testing envelope to proceed. Movement also likely would occur in the area of offensive strategic weapons. Either the U.S. notice of withdrawal would be accompanied by an announcement of a unilateral cut in U.S. strategic forces below planned START III levels or the joint statement would restructure the bilater- al arms control process through a merger of offensive and defensive strategic systems. In the event, at Crawford President Bush announced a unilateral reduction of U.S. strategic forces to a level between 1750 and 2200, while President Putin responded by indicating that Russia would reduce its forces as well.

From Ottawa’s perspective, neither outcome would have forced an answer to the question of Canada’s participation in North American Missile Defence. Wait-and-see would remain operative. Ottawa would have to say something, of course: a response to the summit’s outcome would be expected. A U.S. notice of withdrawal would cause the greatest problem for the government. Even if the statement attempted to continue ”œwait-and-see” by balancing objections to death of the ABM Treaty and U.S. unilateralism with a recognition of legitimate U.S. security concerns and the U.S. legal right to withdraw, anything said would likely have been interpreted as a clear indication of the final Canadian position on mis- sile defence. Anything short of a full and unequivocal condemnation of the U.S. decision would likely be interpreted as indicating support for missile defence and laying the groundwork for a future decision to participate, especially the response was delivered by the Prime Minister or Foreign Minister.

For its part, a U.S.-Russian deal on missile defence would have provided Canadian policy- makers with the option of staying on the fence or in fact making a positive signal. Doing little more than supporting the deal would be in the tradition of Canadian policy-makers, though given the cli- mate in Washington Canada might well have moved forward with a positive signal since the Russians would be on board and the ABM Treaty intact, albeit in a new form. Unless the govern- ment suddenly decided to develop its own inde- pendent position on ABM and arms control, it could readily move forward without contradicting earlier policy. European opposition likely would have evaporated, though the Chinese would still be opposed to any missile defence system and the left wing of the Liberal party would likely contin- ue to voice opposition to Canadian participation. Thus, even a positive signal under these favourable political conditions would be constrained.

As it turned out, President Bush’s Dec. 13 notice that the United States would withdraw from the ABM Treaty was met with near-deafen- ing silence in Canada. Neither the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister nor the Defence Minister issued a public statement; nor did the media pay much more than cursory attention. The only major response, which actually amounted to no response, was by Foreign Minister Manley during Question Period.

This relative silence””in Canada and else- where””may be attributed to one event: September 11. Interestingly, the U.S. decision to withdraw, which followed a successful intercept test of the NMD system, ran contrary to initial expectations about what the impact of September 11 would be. In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks it was thought they would put an end to the momentum, if not the entire future, of missile defence for North America. At a mini- mum, NMD would no longer be the number one priority on the adminstration’s national security agenda. The attacks seemed to confirm a long- standing criticism of missile defence, namely that the most likely threats to North America were from terrorists. In the absence of a long-range ballistic missile threat from rogue states, invest- ment in missile defence made no sense (except for U.S. theatre missile defence programs for for- ward deployed forces, against which almost no criticism had been forthcoming). It was also widely believed that coalition-building to prose- cute the war on terrorism provided another rea- son why missile defence would be stalled or abandoned. Surely the administration would not jeopardize the rejuvenated relationship with Russia, especially in view of the importance of Moscow’s support for the war in Afghanistan.

As it turned out, the critics were wrong on almost all counts. Missile defence is now farther down the political agenda, as witnessed by the restrained response to Bush’s announcement. But investment levels have not declined. In fact, the critics forgot that missile defence for the United States has always been part of the Homeland Security agenda (though before September 11 it was known as ”œHomeland Defence”). Moreover, the terrorist attacks have served to confirm the belief that once terrorists and rogue states do acquire long-range ballistic missiles, they will not be deterred from using them. September 11 has also made Congressional attacks on missile defence politically dangerous. Congressional opponents of missile defence opponents may criticize the specifics of the Bush program, but they are unlike- ly to question the importance of proceeding.

Finally, the Russian response to the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty has been muted. In announcing their agreement to disagree on mis- sile defence and the ABM Treaty both Presidents suggested this would not damage the bilateral relationship. Similarly, in a recent meeting between Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and the Russian Defence Minister Ivanov the issue of ABM was downplayed.

In Canadian eyes, September 11 also served to remove missile defence from public debate”” thus apparently confirming the wisdom of Canada’s wait-and-see policy. Instead of dealing with the political fallout from an early decision on participation, Canada could once again avoid the issue, in hopes that time would reduce the political significance of whatever the final Canadian decision turned out to be. September 11 may thus have created political conditions that would allow Canada to move forward in step with the evolution of the new strategic relation- ship between Russia and the United States. As Russian and American strategic nuclear forces continue to be reduced and American missile defence technology develops, Canadian policy can react as required.

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In fact, September 11 has had a big impact on Canadian political considerations concerning participation in some form of a North American Missile Defence system (NAMD). It did postpone the necessity of making a nightmare choice between Canada’s security relationship with the United States and its commitment to arms con- trol and disarmament. But it has transformed the strategic landscape for Canada. It has ensured the future of NORAD, and thus the range of benefits that Canada obtains from it, whether or not at the end of the day Canada decides to participate in NAMD.

As suggested earlier, before September 11 a Canadian decision not to participate would have relegated NORAD to an air surveillence and defence role only. Its terms of reference would have had to be changed from aerospace defence to air defence. It would have been downgraded in the U.S. Unified Command Plan, and the involvement of Canadians in the space components in Cheyenne Mountain, including the ballistic mis- sile early warning centre would have come to an end. As a result, NORAD likely would have with- ered on the vine, Canada’s entry into military space would have collapsed, and the entire conti- nental defence relationship would have been re- structured, with unforseeable consequences.

But now NORAD has been rejuvenated. It is a central part of Canada-U.S. defence cooperation for Homeland Security. Air surveillance and defence cooperation, as demonstrated on September 11 itself, have again become impor- tant to both parties. Earlier concerns about the threat of cruise missile attacks from terrorists and/or rogue states employing offshore transport ships as launch platforms now have resonance in both Canada and the U.S. NORAD’s role in infor- mation operations or computer-network warfare has also gained in importance. In sum, September 11 has once again made Canada strategically significant in American security.

This has produced a dilemma for Canadian policy-makers. Ottawa can more readily say yes to participation in NAMD because of the changed political optics concerning ABM and Russia, but it can also, with relatively little dam- age to the relationship, say no to participation, especially as it concerns the future of NORAD. This is not to suggest that Canada should, or will say no. Significant issues are still at stake, including Canadian input into the NAMD inter- cept strategy, the future status of NORAD with- in a restructured U.S. command hierarchy, the relationship of NORAD to Space Command, Canadian industrial involvement, and most importantly Canada’s military (and to a lesser degree civilian) space strategy. But Ottawa has more options in making its decision than it did before September 11.

All sides in the Canadian policy debate have taken for granted that the United States needs, or seeks Canadian participation. The 1994 White Paper reads as if an invitation to partici- pate is expected. Yet, the public evidence suggest- ing that a U.S. invitation will in fact be forth- coming is rather limited. In August 1996, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff reportedly identified NORAD as the preferred location for NMD command and control and battle management (C2/BM), if Canada agreed. The 1996 NORAD renewal opened the door for new missions without the need for a formal revision of the agreement. In 1999, the U.S. agreed to establish a liaison posi- tion in the Ballistic Missile Defence Ogranization (now renamed the Missile Defense Agency) for a Canadian officer.

Yet, the U.S. has never publicly””nor appar- ently even privately””suggested a specific or possible Canadian contribution. The idea of Canada making a contribution to NMD, identi- fied as a contribution to the U.S. Space Surveillance Network, originated in Canada, specifically within Canada-NORAD. Neither the old NMD architecture nor the current restruc- tured program is premised on a Canadian con- tribution. It is designed to work without Canadian territory or involvement, notwith- standing the NORAD link. Only if Denmark and Great Britain refuse the U.S. request to upgrade their respective Ballistic Missile Early Warning (BMEW) sites would Canadian territory be vital. But once Space-Based Infrared High and Low are deployed, especially the satellites in high ellipti- cal polar orbit, the importance of BMEWS declines from a primary function to a secondary or redundant one.

Being able to operate on Canadian territory would make any limited missile defence system for North America more effective, especially given the trajectories of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) targeted against North America from locations across the Eurasian landmass. Forward-deployed interceptors in the northeast- ern part of Canada would be much more effective against ICBMs launched from the Middle East than interceptors deployed only in Alaska, while damage assessment tracking radar in a central Northern Canadian location would facilitate bat- tle management.

There is also a political argument for Canadian participation. It would provide politi- cal legitimacy to the U.S. system, not least because of Canadian arms control and disarma- ment credentials. But again this argument is most often made by Canadians, not Americans. While it may have had some salience during the Clinton administration, it is hard to believe the Republicans are deeply concerned with obtaining ”œlegitimacy” of this sort.

In the end, a U.S. invitation to Canada might reasonably be expected to emerge as a result of decades-long North American defence cooperation centered upon NORAD. The U.S. has always worked with Canada on continental defence and would take for granted a coopera- tive approach to the new mission of NAMD. Missile defence is a logical extension of the NORAD mission, and restructuring the relation- ship of NORAD to Space Command, while entirely possible, may be expensive. The U.S. may also not wish to damage the bilateral rela- tionship by ignoring Canada, nor pay the addi- tional costs of doing so. Thus, the U.S. may seek Canadian participation, but also recognize that the issue is politically difficult for the current government in Ottawa. The policy of wait-and- see may therefore suit Washington as well.

Unfortunately, these arguments mainly reflect the view from within NORAD itself””both its Canadian and American components. But pol- icy in Ottawa and Washington is not made in NORAD. And there is a precedent for missile defence being separated from NORAD. In the 1968 NORAD renewal, a missile defence exclu- sion clause was agreed to in the context of U.S. plans to deploy the Sentinel ABM system (which eventually became ”œSafeguard”). In the lead-up to this agreement, the central question in Ottawa was not participation, but rather whether the U.S. needed or sought Canadian involvement. When Robert McNamara, then Secretary of Defense, informed Canadian officials in the spring of 1967 that the U.S. did not need and would not seek Canadian participation, the ABM exclusion clause was easily negotiated and the NORAD relationship was unaffected.

Of course, the strategic and political environ- ment was much different in 1967 than it is today. Still, the assumption that the U.S. needs or wants Canadian participation may be as ill-founded now as it was then. Wait-and-see is based on the expectation that an invitation will be forthcom- ing. But if the Bush administration is ambivalent, or has decided it neither needs nor wants Canada, then not only is the Canadian debate irrelevant, but in order for Canada to participate (assuming it is in Canada’s interests to do so), Ottawa will have to make a case to the United States showing why it should be allowed to participate.

Thus, for example, Canada would likely have to offer a significant contribution to the NAMD itself. If so, then wait-and-see is counter- productive. It reinforces a belief in Washington that the issue is too great a problem for Canada and therefore not worth the effort. In effect, wait-and-see encourages the U.S. to proceed on its own, an option which also gains favour as a result of the new post-September 11 political environment surrounding NORAD. To the extent that the virtual disappearance of missile defence from the public policy agenda, and the elimination of the ABM Treaty and effective Russian opposition have created an expectation of a positive public signal from Ottawa, the absence of such a signal may cause the adminis- tration to give up on Canada as far as missile defence is concerned. In sum, the impact of September 11 and the earlier restructuring of the U.S. missile defence research and development program, far from justifying wait-and-see as the optimal policy strategy for the some time to come, may undermine that strategy. Canada needs to move quickly in order to keep open the option of participation.

The need to provide a positive signal is all the greater in view of imminent U.S. decisions about missile defence command and the status and rela- tionship of NORAD within the Pentagon’s contin- uing Unified Command Plan review. Unless the U.S. is confident that Canada will participate in NAMD, it presumably will proceed on the basis of a U.S.-only missile defence system.

For the time being, the events of September 11 eliminated the need for the Canadian government to make a choice between its vital, cost-effective continental defence relationship with the U.S. and its long-standing commitment to the ABM Treaty and arms control. Canadian policy on NAMD no longer possesses the strate- gic importance it had when the future of NORAD was at issue: post-September 11, NORAD is alive and well. It does not follow, however, that Ottawa has the luxury of waiting for U.S. missile defence research and development to reach maturity, the NAMD architecture to be specified, and a formal U.S. deployment decision to be made. On the contrary, the government needs to move sooner, rather than later, if it wishes to keep the option of participation open. The longer it delays, the more likely the U.S. is to assume the issue is not important to Canada and proceed on its own. For opponents of Canadian participation, wait-and-see is therefore an ideal strategy. For proponents, however, it is now counter-productive.

Of course, Ottawa may already have given Washington private assurances of its final poli- cy preference. But if this preference is to partic- ipate, then a public announcement should be expected soon: political conditions have sel- dom been more favourable. The absence of such an announcement suggests the govern- ment has not yet made up its mind on partici- pation. If so, the conditions for a repeat of 1967 are present. The U.S. may proceed on its own and inform the Canadian government that it neither needs nor wants Canadian participa- tion. Consistent with our tradition, Canadian policy will be decided by others by default, rather than by Canadians’ own careful exami- nation of what is in their own country’s best interests.

James Fergusson
James Fergusson is the director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba.

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