Missile defence: What, again?

The Conservative government may be quietly revisiting a decade-old decision not to join the U.S. ballistic missile defence (BMD) program (Steven Chase, “Ottawa examines merits of U.S. missile defence program,” Globe and Mail, 12 May 2014).

Although little noticed by the public, two parliamentary committees have been holding a series of discussions with rocket scientists, military brass, and missile defence enthusiasts about Canada joining the U.S. system.

When Paul Martin’s government looked at the issue back in 2004/05, it decided not to sign on for a variety of reasons—chiefly that the system wouldn’t work, would cost too much, would provide little to no benefit to Canadian security, and, probably most important, was opposed by many Canadians—but some observers suspect this time might be different.

“You can just get a sense from the questioning that this is something that the government wants to consider,” said NDP defence critic Jack Harris (Vassy Kapelos, “Ottawa quietly taking another look at ballistic missile defence,” Global News, 8 May 2014).

James Bezan, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Defence, told a European defence summit last week that Ottawa “hasn’t made any decision” on the matter.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who recently testified in favour of joining the U.S. missile defence program, said he believes the U.S. government isn’t pushing Canada to jump on board, but that Ottawa is increasingly concerned about regional threats like Iran and North Korea.

I think the government is testing the waters to see whether the conditions are right,” said Mr. Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. He called the missile shield an “insurance policy” and said it “makes a lot of sense.”

Critics, however, aren’t convinced by the argument that Canada should join the program.

As Steven Staples, President of the Rideau Institute, points out, there’s little reason to believe the missile defence technology even works. “It’s incredibly complicated – what they’re basically trying to do is hit a bullet with a bullet – in space,” Staples said.

The U.S. has not completed a successful interception test, even under tightly controlled conditions, since December 2008, before President Obama took office.

Philip Coyle, from the U.S. Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, echoed Staples’ analysis in his testimony against Canada joining the U.S. program at Senate hearings on Monday:

He said US missile defences remain ineffective. “Shooting down an enemy missile going [24,140 kilometres per hour] out in space is like trying to hit a hole-in-one in golf when the hole is going [24,140 kilometres per hour],” he said. “The hardware being deployed in Alaska and California has no demonstrated capability to defend the United States, let alone Canada, against enemy missile attack under realistic operational conditions.” (Steven Chase, “Ottawa examines merits of U.S. missile defence program,” Globe and Mail, 12 May 2014).

You can see Coyle’s testimony, and that of Lt. General Robert Gard (ret’d), who also spoke against Canadian participation in the system, here.

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