The flare-up over Canadian non-participation in North American missile defence is now fading. Shortly, it will be just another memorably unpleas- ant chapter in recent politico-military bilateral relationship between the United States and Canada.

A decade ago, on the eve of US Defence Secretary William Perry’s maiden visit to Ottawa, the Chrétien gov- ernment cancelled the 1983 bilateral agreement to test US cruise missiles over Alberta. Jean Chrétien’s government maintained that a resolution by Young Liberals against cruise testing forced them to end the arrangement, and without any consultation with the US government. Interestingly, there was a strong echo in 2005 when a Liberal youth resolution opposing ballistic missile defence was clearly one reason for the Martin government announc- ing its decision, as a pre-emptive takeout at the end of February, before the Liberal policy convention at the begin- ning of March. In both instances, national security policy appeared to be dictated by the kids in the hall.

What leaves Americans puzzled is the relentlessly mal- adroit manner in which Prime Minister Martin and the Liberals address what is supposedly their most important foreign poli- cy topic: the bilateral relationship with the United States.

It is not that George W. Bush is insensitive to the oper- ative political realities in Canada. The first chore of any gov- ernment is to get itself re-elected. Operating with a minority government, the Liberals’ imperatives in this regard are more stringent than usual. Thus, for whatever combination of mismanagement and dithering, the Martin Liberals found themselves fac- ing a decision on a policy that had become increasing unpopular with their base ”” left-of-centre voters and Quebecers who must be wooed and won if ever there is to be a Liberal majority government again. So the answer was clear ”” jettison the unpopular policy and brazen it out.

The straightforward way to handle such a problem is to pick up the phone and speak with the president. Here is how Martin could have, and should have, presented his decision: ”œGeorge, I can’t do missile defence. It is highly unpopular here; my party would fracture over a vote. I’d drive Quebecers further into the arms of the separatists. I could lose the election on an issue that does neither of us any real good. So, I’m going to stand up in Parliament and say so, but I wanted you to know in advance.”

One can hardly believe that Bush would have been thrilled by such a conversation. After all, it was clearly an important issue for the president and it was emphasized during his visit to Ottawa last November 30. Indeed, it looked as if the US had made it easy for Canada to say yes: no Canadian funds; no request for basing or testing missiles in Canada; no near-term ”œweaponization” of space; and an opting out clause in the basic NORAD agreement if Canadians believed their reservations were not being hon- oured. Basic ”œmotherhood,” with the US doing all of the heavy lifting. Also it looked from the long list of Martin statements that the prime minister realized the utility in such a nominal Canadian commitment on an issue that was important to the US admin- istration and trivial for Canada. On the very day he assumed the Liberal leadership in November 2003, Martin said: ”œIf you’re talking about the defence of North America, Canada has to be at the table.”

But what really happened? Who told what to whom and when? Unfortunately, the more the story has unfolded, the less professional it has appeared. US Ambassador Paul Cellucci commented in early January that Canada would commit to missile defence in March, perhaps as the equivalent of a going away present for the departing American envoy. However, after Prime Minister Martin announced Canadian non-participa- tion, a question arose. How could Cellucci, a canny politician in his own right and, after four years as ambassador, a knowledgeable diplo- mat, have made such a mistake? Who gave him what he clearly regarded as a commitment? Almost two weeks later, Cellucci made it clear without saying so directly that Martin had given him assurances that a normal listener would have interpreted as a Canadian commitment. Not a ”œsigned in blood” document, but certainly agreement in principle.

Nevertheless, there was a chronol- ogy of subsequent opportunities at which Liberal officials failed to give a clear signal that BMD wasn’t going to happen. During the NATO Summit on February 21, where Martin and Bush were in the same room and at the same table for an entire day, the prime min- ister said nothing. He missed an important opportunity to take Bush aside and inform him, as a courtesy, of Canada’s decision.

Then in his testimony to Parlia- ment on February 22, Ambassador- designate McKenna stated the obvious: that Canada was part of mis- sile defence because of the expanded NORAD agreement in August 2004 that permitted BMD information to flow through NORAD command sys- tems. But somehow the obvious had now become unacceptable, and McKenna was pitifully out of the loop ”” because Mar- tin had by then decided to reject the participation he had previously accepted. That very night, travelling back to Ottawa from Brus- sels, the Martin entourage leaked it to Radio-Canada’s Patrice Roy that Canada had decided against partic- ipation in BMD.

But still the United States didn’t know of the Canadian decision. Indeed, Washington didn’t know that Canadian participation in missile defence was in serious jeopardy until the media reports appeared. To be sure, senior Canadians then scrambled to inform their US counterparts. In effect they said, the media leak was correct.

Watching all of the above unfold has illustrated to Americans how Canadians pretzel their policies. We are bemused that Canadians have become so driven by ideological anti- Bush sentiment directed against the current administration that they have done the equivalent of cutting off their nose to spite their face. That would be regrettable at the best of times; and these are not the best of bilateral times.

Still, had it ended there, Ottawa would have been left in the position of sparking perhaps some US sympathy for ostensibly wanting to do the right thing, but fearful of losing the govern- ment on a peripheral issue.

But even more astonishing were the subsequent statements by the prime minister and Foreign Minister Pettigrew. Following his non- participation announcement, Martin added one of those bombastic state- ments that reflected pathos rather than reality. ”œCanada,” he declared, ”œis a sovereign nation and we would expect and insist on being consulted on any intrusion into our space.”

Indeed? A reality check is in order. Although missile defence technology is postulated on interception in space and far from Canada, one might con- ceive of circumstances in which a mis- sile is detected heading for the US with a trajectory that would pass over Canada. Is there a serious expectation by Martin that, absent a protocol addressing these specific scenarios, the United States ”” with reaction time limited to minutes ”” would seek to consult with Ottawa? And not react if Canada didn’t respond? Or not react if Canada said, ”œno”? One sincerely hopes that Mr. Martin knows he isn’t fooling anybody with such a com- ment (and Americans sincerely hope that he isn’t fooling himself about ”œconsultation”).

Likewise, the whistling-in-the- dark statement by Foreign Minister Pettigrew that ”œI would be very pleased if Canadian business can contribute to the defence system of the United States” leaves a smile of amusement. I’m sure he would be happy to see Canadian companies get BMD con- tracts, but I’m equally confident that Canadian aerospace and information technology companies are not holding their breath awaiting Pentagon tele- phone calls.

The BMD decision, including the bungled process, was bad enough; however, it was just another in a series of decisions that have perplexed or dis- appointed Washington. Nations move past disagreements on substance; bureaucrats recognize that nations have different perceptions of their interests and different perceptions of what other nations’ interests should be. However, what is essential in bilat- eral relationship is trust. And Prime Minister Martin has left the impression that he is not trustworthy. He cannot be relied upon ”” and he does not have the courage to inform directly those that he has misinformed. It was not a fit of absent-mindedness that it took Bush nine days, until March 5, to return Martin’s call of February 24.

So if President Bush has concluded that Prime Minister Martin misled Ambassador Cellucci (and Cellucci is Bush’s personal friend), Canada has a problem that goes past the nine-days between the time Martin placed the call on February 24 and Bush returned it on March 5, or whether the ”œthree amigos””” Bush, Martin and Mexico’s Vicente Fox ”” had an ostensibly posi- tive grip-‘n-grin encounter later in March at the Bush ranch in Texas. It is a problem that starts at the top and redounds throughout our bilateral rela- tionship. Canada does not have that basic element in foreign relations: an interlocutor valable. For his part, Ambassador McKenna has demonstrated that he is not part of Martin’s inner circle; he was reversed on his BMD parliamentary testi- mony before he arrived in Washington and then reversed again when, in his initial remarks, he suggested that US attitudes on BSE and softwood lumber were linked to the Canadian decision on missile defence. US officials listening to McKenna’s future statements and commitments will season them with considerable salt.

Canada is fortunate that Ambassador Cellucci has departed. Having been misled at the highest level, his willingness to believe anything communicat- ed by the government presumably would have declined. The new US ambassador, still to be named at this writing, will be fresh meat for the Ottawa grinder; albeit without invidi- ous contrary experience, he may be more credulous than a done-to-a-cin- der Cellucci would have been.

An analyst reaches a point where he stops recalling when things were worse and just hopes they will not deteriorate further.

Historically, from all appearances, Pierre Trudeau and Richard Nixon sincerely loathed each other. John F. Kennedy and John Diefenbaker shared vituperative assessments of each other. Lyndon Johnson virtually throt- tled Lester Pearson over his Vietnam speech. Jean Chrétien seemed to have a special predilection for not only dis- agreeing with, but being disagreeable to, the second President Bush as well as sneering at President Clinton behind has back. At least Bush and Martin have no record of public animosity.

From 1939 until 1989, the US and Canada largely shared a common threat perception. First fascism and then communism needed to be coun- tered. One could debate when, where, and how, but the need for reasonably coordinated effort against these chal- lenges was accepted. During the Second World War, Canada put one million of its citizens into uniform and built an armed force that stood fourth in the world in combat power on land, sea, and in the air. Canada indeed punched above its weight, as it did into the 1950s when, at the time of the Korean War, half of Canada’s federal budget and 7.5 percent of its GDP were devoted to defence. It has been mostly downhill from there; today Canada’s defence spending is about 10 percent of the federal budget and barely more than 1 percent of GDP. Just since the first Gulf War, Canada’s armed forces have declined by more than one-third, from 90,000 in uniform to fewer than 60,000; only a badly misguided Canadian can think that in politico- military terms, it is anywhere near its previous ”œweight.” Nevertheless, until the end of the Cold War, the United States could be confident that Canada would at least devote some serious effort to defence and put well-trained professionals with good equipment into the field.

This is no longer the case. Stacks of studies have recounted the decline ”” past, present, and projected ”” of the Canadian armed forces. The con- clusion is relentless. Without dramatic infusions of funding, the Canadian military will be good for nothing beyond light peacekeeping and shovel- ing Toronto streets in snowstorms.

But what about those new billions for defence as announced in the February budget? Unfortunately, the $12.8 billion looks like a ”œmore hat than cattle” exercise; it is a sop to Cerberus rather than a commitment to serious military rebuilding. Funding is back-end loaded over a five-year fiscal window and, according to analysis, $10.2 billion of the $12.8 billion won’t arrive until 2008-10. It would be a sanguine soul indeed who would bet on the armed forces seeing any sig- nificant percentage of that amount, given its dependence on continued economic good times and a Liberal re-election. In the first two years, there is no new money for significant combat equipment. Nothing, for example, for upgrading long-distance cargo aircraft. The CF-18s will be reduced in numbers and retooled, but there is no commitment to follow on aircraft.

Ostensibly, Ottawa is awaiting the result of its foreign policy and defence reviews prior to making more spend- ing commitments. The inability of the government to produce these studies is remarkable. Various Liberals have pri- vately indicated that the 1994 defence study was outdated from its inception; they believed that during Martin’s year as leader-in-waiting, a comprehensive defence study would be completed.

Likewise, a succession of defence min- isters were supposedly so engaged. But nothing; the mountain has laboured so long that even a mouse would be appreciated. Nevertheless, if the past is prologue, nothing should be anticipat- ed. And when something does emerge, a skeptic would anticipate protracted public ”œstudy” of the options that would lead nowhere.

Some of those dismayed by Canada’s BMD non-participation have now adopted the ”œlet’s move on” approach. Reminiscent of the Monty Python hero who dismissed his shattered and dis- membered body as merely scratched, they want to put BMD behind them and concentrate inter alia on upgrading NORAD. Indeed, NORAD, which is due for renewal in 2006, could usefully be expanded to cover other continental defence elements, reorganized to incor- porate the Binational Planning Group, and extended indefinitely rather than renegotiated every few years. Such an approach is so rational and logical that it sounds like the reasoning to justify Canadian participation in BMD, that is to say, the logic is irrelevant. To be sure, there are bureaucratic tangles and resource commitments that would need resolution for a significant NORAD upgrading and reorganization. But the problem is more basic: NORAD is no longer a defence/security arrangement but a political football.

Although serious people do serious work at NORAD with the objec- tive of securing North America against a wide variety of threat from states rogue and regular to airborne terrorists, in Ottawa the issues are politics- rather than security-related. Ottawa ”œsends messages” with the length of the NORAD Treaty renewal; it exercises ”œleverage” with picky- point revisions of treaty language. Instead of being able to use the impetus of a positive BMD participa- tion decision to modernize the NORAD agreement, the sides will be redrawing their line-and-block organization charts to see just how Canada fits and what ”œneed to know” restrictions will limit the par- ticipation of Canadian personnel.

The fact that we share a 3,500 mile, 5,500 kilometre, undefended cliché is less and less relevant to our current defence relationship. For the indefinite future, the United States will believe that it is threatened by militant, clan- destine terrorism. Or, in the vernacular, ”œsecurity trumps trade.” And while Canadians may appreciate this concern in the abstract, they give an excellent imitation of indifference. Prime Minister Martin has just demonstrated that politics trumps security. Indeed, if one believes the media, Canadians appear more worried that they may be discomfited for 10 minutes by new bor- der procedures than by any concern that terrorists may be using Canada as a home base. Essentially, Canadians do not feel threatened by terrorism.

This attitude, reflected in steadily ris- ing anti-Americanism in public opinion polls, will eventually be repli- cated in comparable anti-Canadian commentary in the United States. Canadians should have no illusions that Americans will indefinitely consider them as simply those polite people up north who drive to Florida for winter vacations. Those Americans who deal with Canadians professionally are well aware of the hostility from the chatter- ing classes; they are more inclined to respond with a ”œTrudeau salute” than with apologies for US policies.

Still, one must admit Canadians are getting the defence establishment they desire. Polls repeatedly report that while there is a vague general desire to commit more money to the armed forces, it ranks far below most other public priorities, starting with health, education, transportation, etc.

Instead, Canadians, by their defence funding choices, are making it harder and harder for the US to cooperate with them in military terms. US technology continues to advance; American forces in 2005 are quanta ahead of the forces that fought in the first Gulf War. Even when we desire to cooperate, it is becom- ing more difficult every year to do so.

And the US defence establishment is on the verge of giving up on Canada. For more than a decade, our military has attempted to keep its Canadian counterparts up to speed and maintain their technological and tactical profi- ciency. It has been hard slogging. In the first Gulf War, a senior US air force officer said all that Canadian pilots contributed was to ”œbore holes in the sky.” Little has been accomplished that would reverse that judgment. There is a point where patching Sea King helicop- ters, extending the life of C-130s, and reducing CF-18 numbers to upgrade the remaining few aircraft becomes not just inefficient but counterproductive.

In another example, Canadians have obsessed over the death of a sin- gle sailor in a smoke inhalation acci- dent on the submarine Chicoutimi. The investigation has dry-docked the entire submarine fleet, with devastat- ing effect on training and readiness. In contrast, a US nuclear submarine hit a hidden reef while submerged; there were many injuries, and a seaman died. While the consequences for the submarine commander will be profes- sionally dire, the submarine fleet con- tinues to operate normally.

It has been decades since Canada has contributed to defence/security in terms comparable to its GDP. There is a point, as with the shiftless brother-in- law, when you know that he will never pull his weight and you just ”œbear it.” Canada simply assumes that the United States will defend it against any significant threat because such a threat would also endanger the United States. Hardly heroic, but cheaper at the price. And Canadians continue to assume that the US will remain benign, and the essential elements of their sovereignty will remain intact.

Reportedly President Bush, in private conversation with the prime minister, noted that some day a US president (not himself, to be sure) might wonder why we were defend- ing a Canada that didn’t do its share. Now major US media have raised the same point. Probably the question will subside as it has for decades, but there is a residual resentment that Canadians should be aware of.

And it is clear that the Canadian population doesn’t want to cooperate militarily with the United States. It does- n’t matter what the Canadian military might prefer (and indeed, there remains considerable professional respect by US personnel for Canadian competence and concern over the vicissitudes that their counterparts are enduring). However, their political masters are moving steadily to make cooperation improbable, if not impossible. By making it more and more difficult to find ways to cooperate, such as with missile defence, the Canadian government discourages further military-to-military initiatives. Cooperation doesn’t have to be killed directly; it can wither from lack of and inability to exercise, train, and share technology, tactical thinking, and intelligence. After all, indirect confrontation is the Canadian way.

There is a parallel for NORAD in the US defence rela- tionship with the Philippines. For decades, we maintained huge military bases at Subic Bay (navy) and Clark (air force). They were frequently regarded as absolutely vital lynchpins for US force presence and projection in the Pacific. And then our bilateral relationship deteriorated; the Filipinos became more and more politically difficult. And our need for the defence basing moved from ”œvital” to ”œnice to have” to ”œwe can get along without them.” NORAD could follow the same path ”” not today or tomor- row, but as the US armed forces plan to assure they can pro- tect the United States, they now have to start considering how to do so without NORAD.

The United States has bilateral relationships in which there is no trust. There are states that, if their leader declared the sun had just risen in the east, we would immediately verify the point. During the Cold War, in arms control nego- tiations with Soviet diplomats, they lied. We knew they lied; they knew we knew they were lying. But still they lied. Thus trust is not required for discussion, negotiation, or even agreement. At the signature of the US-Soviet treaty to elim- inate medium- and short-range ground-based missiles, President Reagan offered ”œtrust but verify” as the sobriquet to describe our bilateral relationship.

For the United States and Canada, at the opening of Gulf War II, with Ottawa electing to be ”œunwilling,” Ambassador Cellucci said Canadians and Americans are ”œfamily” and should face such challenges together. Rather testily, a Canadian journalist retorted that we were not ”œfamily” and, indeed, not even friends. That, too, was a use- ful reminder that nations do not have genetically linked bloodlines and economic partners need not be friends.

A mutual reality check is long overdue.

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