Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Canada Should Stay Out Of Missile Defence

(This article was originally written in 2003)

Liberal leadership front runner Paul Martin and his followers are trying to sell Canadians on two propositions with respect to George W. Bush’s proposed missile defence system. The first is that the system is defensive in nature and therefore does not pose a threat to global stability. The second is that Canadian participation in the scheme will give us a meaningful say in its design and use.

They are mistaken on both counts.

The distinction between defensive and offensive weapons is a phony one. That is because the deployment of a defensive weapon that negates a potential foe’s offensive weapons, upsets the military balance and can trigger an arms race. What the Bush administration has in mind with missile defence is precisely to change the military balance in its favour.

The Bush administration believes that if the United States is successful in developing and deploying a system that can reliably shoot down approaching enemy missiles, it will protect the U.S. from attack. But it will do much more than that. A workable missile shield would liberate the United States to do what no power has been willing to do since the last days of the Second World War---use nuclear weapons as a viable policy in certain extreme circumstances.

In March 2002, the details of a secret Pentagon report were revealed on the front page of the New York Times. In its Nuclear Posture Review, the Pentagon pointed to the need to produce new nuclear weapons with a lower yield than strategic nuclear weapons, weapons that would produce less radioactive fallout. The Review spelled out the possible use of nuclear weapons by the United States against non-nuclear powers, such as Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya, all of them signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. What made this so shocking is that the Review countenanced an explicit violation of the treaty, which was signed by 182 countries, including Canada.

In 1978, to give nations an incentive to sign the non-proliferation treaty, the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain formally pledged never to launch a nuclear attack on signatories to the treaty, except in a case where a non-nuclear state attacked a nuclear state in tandem with another nuclear state. Again in 1995, France and China joined these three states (with Russia in place of the Soviet Union) in reiterating this pledge. As former U.S. Defence Secretary Robert McNamara and Thomas Graham Jr. wrote in a newspaper column "the Pentagon plan undermines the credibility of that pledge, which underpins the Nonproliferation Treaty. To strike directly at this pledge of nonuse is to strike at the treaty itself." "If another country were planning to develop a new nuclear weapon," said the New York Times in an editorial "and contemplating preemptive strikes against a list of non-nuclear powers, Washington would rightly label that nation a dangerous rogue state."

To develop new nuclear weapons that can be used with impunity behind the protection of the missile shield is the reason the Bush administration opposes the U.S. signing on to the nuclear test ban treaty. Make no mistake about it----the deployment of a missile defence system is being done largely for offensive, not defensive, reasons.

The second proposition, that Canada needs to have a seat at the table on missile defence, is equally specious. The idea is that if Canada participates in the scheme, most likely through NORAD, Ottawa could influence U.S. behaviour in a future high stakes showdown, with say North Korea over that country’s possession of nuclear weapons, or China over the Taiwan issue.

One of the lessons of the Iraq crisis, is that no one, including Britain’s Tony Blair, exercised any influence over Washington’s decision to launch a military assault on Iraq. About all having a seat at the table got Blair was an invitation to Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. No serious person could argue that participating in missile defence would give Canada any influence over whether the Bush administration decided to go to war against a potential foe. Instead we would become bound and blind folded passengers on an American rocket. America’s foes would automatically become our foes. In an age when American military doctrine features the right to launch pre-emptive assaults on other countries---without United Nations authorization, if necessary---that would make Canada more, not less, vulnerable to terror or state sponsored attacks.

Finally, it would make it much harder in the not unlikely event of a future American military adventure, to stand aside as we did in the case of Iraq. Apparently Paul Martin has decided to begin his career at the nation’s helm by embroiling Canada in a scheme of military deep integration with the United States that will limit our sovereignty and thereby lesson our capacity to play an autonomous role on the global stage. He ought to reconsider.

No comments: