Allies in Wonderland: Canada, the U.S., and Star Wars

By Simon Rosenblum | 1985-12-01 12:00:00

The Parliamentary SDI Hearings

The disarmament movement actively participated in the cross-country SDI hearings of the special parliamentary committee on International Relations. The overall quality of these presentations was extremely high - easily on a par with those of the strategic studies "experts". A summary of the peace movement's arguments may be useful.

The general consensus within the scientific community is tnat a 100 percent leakproof umbrella is not possible. "A defence that was 95 percent effective could result in 60 million deaths and a 98 percent effective defence could cause 40 million deaths," according to a report from the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

A prominent Pentagon fallback position is that even a partially effective defence would introduce a vital element of uncertainty into Soviet attack plans and would thereby enhance deterrence. Yet even President Reagan's own Scowcroft Commission found that America's strategic triad (land-based ballistic missiles, sea-based ballistic missiles, and bombers) is not vulnerable to a Soviet first-strike and consequently the U.S. retaliatory capacity is not in doubt.

Even the development of a perfect SDI defence would, in fact, be dangerous - for as the U.S. or the USSR approaches the point where its anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system seems about to become operative, the risks of conflict could increase dramatically. As progress toward SDI deployment is most unlikely to be symmetrical, the disadvantaged side may well feel driven to do something radical to prevent its own vulnerability. Such pre-emption could likely trigger a nuclear war.

SDI will further destabilize nuclear deterrence, as it will increasingly place the nuclear arsenals on a hair4rigger. Again, as the IISS has noted: "When deployed, some elements of the defences have to be programmed to react within a very few minutes, thus decreasing time for human judgment to influence the firing process." The crucial boost phase in a missile's launching - during which detection is easiest - can be shortened to approximately one minute.

With a strategic defence system in place, a first-strike in the context of a deep crisis situation becomes a genuine option. A first strike is not dependent on a 100 percent leak-proof umbrella. Even if the defence system is only partially effective, it still might be useful in waging nuclear war. That is, such a defence would collapse under a full scale Russian attack, but might cope adequately with the depleted Soviet forces that had survived a U.S. first-strike. The strategic defence forces would then have a credible chance of intercepting the reduced Soviet retaliatory attack and of bringing the damage down to "acceptable" levels. A country that can protect itself (that is, a country that can deny its adversary a credible second-strike capacity) is much more likely to strike preemptively in a crisis. Dr. Robert M. Bowman, formerly the director of the U.S. Air Force's Star Wars programmes and assigned to head-up the anti-SDI Institute for Space and Security Studies, turned against Star Wars largely because of its first-strike potential:

There is a way that one might make a Star Wars system militarily effective. All you have to do is add one more layer - I call it the "Pre-Boost Phase Defensive Layer". It amounts to destroying enemy ICBM's in their silos before they're launched. We have the technology to do that: it's called MX, Pershing II, and Trident II. Get 90 percent or so that way and there's a chance that a Star Wars system might actually be of some use against the few that remain. Of course, some people think that sounds like defence at all - it sounds like first-strike. And they're right!

Needless to say, the disarmament movement was disappointed that the parliamentary committee did not make a recommendation on SDI. It would seem that a majority of the Special Committee was indeed opposed to Canadian government participation in SDI and that four Conservative members of the committee shared this view with the Liberal and New Democratic members. However, partisan politics - most likely an agreement among the Conservatives to take a united position caused three of the dissenting Conservatives to vote along with the majority of their fellow caucus members. If a free vote had taken place, the result would probably have been a recommendation to turn down the U.S. offer.

Canada Says 'No' but Means 'Yes'

Prime Minister Mulroney's qualified no" to Star Wars is in fact a three-fold "yes". The statement of the Prime Minister not only (1) endorses the U.S. SDI program but also (2) paves the way for direet Canadian involvement with (3) government assistance. Canadian firms are being encouraged to bid on SDI research through the facilities of the Canada-U.S. Defence Development and Production Sharing Arrangement (DDPSA). Furthermore, such activities can be subsidized with public monies through the Defence Industry Productivity Program.

The disarmament movement welcomed the Prime Minister's decision to decline formal participation in SDI on a government to government basis. However, we are deeply disappointed that Ottawa has seen fit to endorse the American SDI initiative and to facilitate Canadian private sector involvement in the U.S. program. The ostensible "no" becomes, under closer observation, a thinly disguised "yes". Prime Minister Mulroney has indicated that his government will encourage the Canadian private sector to participate in the U.S. SDI program. The infrastructure for this involvement - with government subsidy - is already in place and the Canadian Commercial Corporation (a federal crown corporation) will facilitate SDI contracts for Canadian firms. The Defence Programs Branch of External Affairs will likely search out Star Wars work for Canadian industry and Defence Minister Erik Nielsen has acknowledged that the government would not prohibit the National Research Council from entering joint ventures with private firms on SDI contracts. All of this surely amounts to direct Canadian government involvement with Star Wars - a 'yes" through the back door. The Canadian arms industry claims that the Government's formal "no" to the US offer will severely jeopardize their ability to get the SDI contracts. Supposedly, classified research work will now be denied to Canadian firms. Canadian business may now get a smaller slice of the SDI pie, but Canada would have in any case received very little in the way of Star Wars research contracts and, as the Canadian Centre for Arms Control and Disarmament has shown, the number of potential SDI-related jobs in Canada was very small regardless of the Government's decision.

While formally declining the American offer, the Prime Minister went out of his way to clearly support the U.S. Star Wars initiative as a "prudent" response to Soviet anti-ballistic misile (ABM) research activities. Pentagon and White House representatives routinely repeat the Chicken Little warning that the Soviet Union is miles ahead of the United States in ballistic missile defence. After disposing earlier of a fictitious bomber and missile gap, the U.S. now faces a suppoed anti-missile gap. The gap is real - the U.S. is a decade ahead of the Soviets in crucial SDI technology. A 1983 internal Pentagon report showed that the U.S. is equal to the Soviet Union in directed energy technology, but "superior in virtually every other technology needed to fashion a working ABM system, includmg computers, optics, automated control, electro-optical sensors, micro-electronics, propulsions, radar, signal processing, software, communications, and guidance systems." Before the declaration of the SDI initiative, Washington was spending sufficient dollars (approximately $1 billion a year) on BMD research to act as a hedge against Soviet ABM breakout.

Contrary to Mr~ Mutroney's portrayal, the U.S. SDI program is not a modest effort intended merely to keep abreast of Soviet advances - it is a crash program which aims at an American breakthrough. The announcement that U.S. tests of aiming and tracking devices for defensive weapons will be accelerated by two years reveals that the U.S. has no intention of living up to the 1972 ABM treaty. The American Star Wars program is not confined to research. President Reagan mandated the Department of Defence to "demonstrate" defensive weapons technology. Under standard U.S. military practice, demonstration entails activities that go well beyond the stages of research and clearly involve the display of weapons prototypes.

The Canadian government has clearly affirmed Reagan's Star Wars initiative. The Canadian decision of a disguised "yes" was made to simultaneously placate strong disarmament feelings throughout the country without offending Washington. The government couldn't afford to give a clear 'yes": our movement has become too strong. However, Ottawa's loyalty remains with the Reagan administration. Liberal MP Warren Allmand complained that Mulroney's decision was an attempt to play both sides of the fence at the same time:

"The Prime Minister's decision reminds me of Pontius Pilate, who washed his hands and said he would not condemn Christ to death but left the mob free to do so."

Defence of the ABM Treaty

In the final analysis, the real issue is not whether Canada will participate in SDI. The fundamental question is what this country can do to persuade the U.S. not to continue its full-fledged SDI program. This is not an impossible task considering that a majority of Americans oppose Star Wars.

Star Wars is by no means a fait accompli. Reagan's $26 billion SDI program is but a drop in the bucket considering that a full-fledged Star Wars "defence" could cost up to one trillion dollars. However, a project of this magnitude, once started, becomes more difficult to stop the longer it rolls on. Yet, if pushed by strong public opinion the U.S. Congress can reduce SDI allotments. Opposition to Star Wars by Western nations can have a marked effect on both U.S. public opinion and politicians. It is not inconceivable that Star Wars could be rolled back in the 1988 presidential elections.

The protection of the ABM Treaty will be a major test. Within a couple of years, U.S. SDI tests will have shattered the agreement unless major campaigns preserve it. The Canadian disarmament movement should demand that our Government join the effort to save it. Spurgeon Keeny Jr. (Deputy Direetor of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency from 1977 to 1981) has recently stated:

"If the U.S. decides to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, the death knell will have sounded for arms control for the foreseeable future."

The Canadian North and Star Wars

I f the United States is successful in developing a Star Wars defence against ballistic missiles, it will have a major impact on the military importance of the Canadian Arctic, and especially on the new radar warning and surveillance system being developed with the United States. The link could come if the satellite-based defence system envisaged in the SDI program can effectively neutralize the Soviet ballistic missile threat. The Soviets would then likely shift their emphasis to cruise missiles targetted to go through the "back door" in Canada's North, increasing the importance of the North WarningSystem and its related defences.

Canada is in a unique position of influence and responsibility with regard to the development of a first-strike option for the U.S. Moves have begun to effective cruise missile defence and two Canadian firms have received Canadian defence contracts of $900,000 each to study the feasibility of space-based radar surveillance systems to detect cruise missiles and bombers. Two contracts, by Spar Aerospace Ltd., of Toronto, and Canadian Astronautics of Ottawa, will explore means of detecting bombers earlier - before they have launched their missiles.

When ~he original NORAD pact was drawn up it contained a paragraph explicitly excluding Canadian involvement in missile defence. This limited Canadian involvement to bomber defence. However, in 1981 this paragraph was removed from the pact with the excuse that the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty between the superpowers had made the paragraph obsolete. This excuse does not ring true. The ABM Treaty was signed in 1972 and the paragraph was left in during the 1973 and 1975 reviews of the NORAD pact. More critical observers, including Allan McKinnon, former Tory defence minister in 1979-80, believe that government officials knew in 1981 that space-based defensive systems were on the horizon and wanted to keep their policy options open, possibly with respect to an upgraded DEW line. If the United States deployed a ballistic missile defence system, NORAD would be involved and the United States might request permission to deploy some parts of the system in Canada.

Could Canada continue to participate in NORAD's early warning system without becoming involved in ballistic missile defence if the United States deployed such a system? Missile early warning devices would, in the case of a deployed ballistic missile defence system, become targetting devices. They would be particularly important to those ballistic missile defence systems which sought to destroy attacking missiles in their initial "boost" phase. There have been clear indications that Canadian links with the U.S. SDI will be significant. In his Senate testimony, Dr. George Lindsay, Chief of the Department of National Defence's Operational Research and Analysis Establishment, provocatively stated:

The defence against air attack, includmg cruise missiles, will be the responsibility of NORAD. Canada will be involved in the planning and execution and Canadian air space will be a primary area ... Should ballistic missile defence be deployed, it would be operationally desirable to place it under the operational control of NORAD. In general, it seems likely that a boost-phase intercept system would be based in space and a terminal-phase intercept system in the United States. For mid-course interception, it is possible that it would be desirable, perhaps even essential, to locate certain sensors, read-out stations or launchers in Canada.

Critics charge that the North Warning System accord could lead to Canada's eventual participation in U.S. offensive military strategy. Crisis provisions allow eight Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes on Canadian territory in an emergency. As well, the agreement paves the way for the upgrading of a dozen landing strips across the Canadian Arctic for the forward deployment of U.S. F-15 fighter-interceptors in the event of a North American Air Defence Command (NORAD) alert. F-15's are also armed with anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons. According to U.S. nuclear critic William Arkin, "Canadians clearly don't have access to our war plans. The Canadian government clearly doesn't know what we have up our sleeve. It's another aspect of the way Canada is a nuclear colony of the United States."

The danger is that Canada will be called upon to go well beyond early warning to provide Canadian territory and facilities to develop the capacity to shoot down Soviet bombers and cruise missiles. It is important to note that the projected modernization of the North Warning System does not yet provide for the essentials of a modern active air defence. That would involve far more interceptor aircraft (with full anti-cruise capabilities), far more early warning sensors (land- and air-based), far more AWACS-type aircraft, dramatically-improved command and control facilities, surface-to-air-missile batteries, and, to help deal with the threat from submarine-launched cruise missiles, dramatically-improved anti-submarine warfare capabilities. What is of concern now is the forward linkages that might permit northern surveillance to become a foot in the door for large numbers of interceptor aircraft.

Such a development would undermine deterrence. It is important to recognize that comprehensive northern air defence operations in Canada would not be there to protect America nuclear second-strike deterrent weapons from Soviet preemptive strikes. Rather, like the deployment of first-strike capable systems such as the MX or the Trident D-S missiles, comprehensive northern air defence is designed to limit Soviet retaliatory capacity; in other words, American strategic defence, whether space-based or airborne, is intended to undermine the Soviet deterrent and to enhance American war-fighting options (Soviet strategic defence initiatives are destabilizing in the same way).

The world cannot afford the risk of undermining deterrence, unless and until we create the conditions where it is no longer necessary. Consequently, the upgrading of northern surveillance in Canada must be decoupled from SDI. Canada has a leadership role to play in the question of Star Wars. What happens in the Canadian north will have a direct, material effect on U.S. strategic defence, and, by extension, on U.S. first-strike objectives.

The NORAD agreement is up for renewal in 1986, and public hearings will occur this fall. NORAD is presently being integrated with SDI under a program called "Strategic Defence Architecture 2000". This new U.S. Space Command is heading toward a single overall command for both offensive and defensive strategic forces. NORAD is now up to its neck in both Star Wars and U.S. nuclear war-fighting strategies. The Canadian disarmament movement must campaign against these developments.

In the wake of his Star Wars decision, Prime Minister Mulroney said that an "overwhelming majority" of Canadians supported Canadian participation in SDI. Indeed, a widely publicized Globe and Mail poll (which was extremely biased in its workings), released in August, showed 57% of Canadians backed goverment involvement in SDI, and that figure increased to 65% if there were perceived economic benefits. However, the release of subsequent polling information by Southam, Decima, and University of Lethbridge indicates that Canadian public opinion of Star Wars is split right down the middle, with some polls showing a narrow majority in favor of SDI, and others showing a narrow majority against. The battle for Canadian public opinion on Star Wars must be continued, as it would be suicidal to forget that majority public opinion is about the only trump card the disarmament movement currently holds.

Peace Magazine December 1985

Peace Magazine December 1985, page 14. Some rights reserved.

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