Missile Defence?

In May Canada's former Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy delivered a submission to the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs concerning the possible involvement of Canada with the systems of missile defence now being advanced within the United States. This article summarizes his main argument

By Lloyd Axworthy

Since September 11th, pressure groups, the arms industry, certain editorialists, senior military officials, the US ambassador, and certain federal ministers have been lobbying for Canada to go along with US missile defence plans, whatever they might be. It is necessary to consider the implications of Ottawa's decision -- whether it refuses or agrees to participate.

The pursuit of missile defence is likely to be detrimental to international peace and security. There are international agreements now that limit US freedom to test or deploy certain weapons, and these treaty regimes are likely to be undermined, with deleterious effects on arms control across the board. Canada has long promoted non-proliferation and multilateral regulation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction. The United States, on the other hand, has adopted a confrontational model based on counter-proliferation and pre-emption by overwhelming military force. With such an approach, missile defence deployment may provoke a spiral of offence-defence responses -- probably not reproducing the arms race of the Cold War, but nevertheless prompting other countries to develop "deterrence" capabilities and a proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Suppose US missiles hit, but do not totally destroy and incinerate the warheads on incoming missiles over Canada. The debris could kill people and contaminate Canadian territory. Canada has commercial and intelligence assets in space, which could be threatened by the transit of US weapons in and from space. Support of missile defence would involve a deeper integration of Canadian armed forces into US military structures, diverting expenditures from needed equipment, such as long-range search and rescue helicopters and heavy-lift aircraft for transporting troops and equipment.

Washington's offer to Canada is not an invitation to join America under a protective shield, but it presents a global security doctrine that violates Canadian values on many levels. Before deciding whether to support missile defence, Canada should set very clear conditions, such as these:

There should be an uncompromising commitment to preventing the placement of weapons in space.

Ottawa needs to use the discussions to persuade Washington that its threats of use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states is counter-productive. It should end research on new nuclear warheads and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Canada should remind Washington that missile defence will be powerless to neutralize the threat. If only a fraction of the capable states actually chose to build intercontinental ballistic missiles, missile defences would be easily overwhelmed.

The United States needs to cut its own excessive intercontinental ballistic arsenal. Along with Russia, it should take existing arsenals off their current status of hair-trigger alert.

If Canada decides to enter missile defence negotiations, it should demand greater transparency. Canadians have the right to know what they are getting into.

Canada should remain committed to the rule of law and work in a preventative peacekeeping role. An alternative is a greatly enhanced capacity to counter terrorism.

Instead of worrying that NORAD may be threatened if we don't join a missile defence program, we should be working to amend the role of NORAD, which needs an updated mission for cooperative continental security.

Peace Magazine Jul-Sep 2003

Peace Magazine Jul-Sep 2003, page 24. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Lloyd Axworthy here

Peace Magazine homepage