Staying out of missile defence


Long-time missile defence supporter James Fergusson, Director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies and the University of Manitoba, reluctantly concludes that Canada will not be signing on to the U.S. program any time soon (James Fergusson, Who needs missile defence anyway?iPolitics, 27 September, 2013):

Contrary to expectations, the Harper government has not reversed policy and moved to participate in the U.S. missile defence program. It passed on two recent opportunities to do so. …

The government’s reasons for silence on missile defence are relatively simple. There is no real missile threat from North Korea (or Iran, the other state on the ballistic missile/nuclear proliferation list). Russia and China, which possess the capability to target Canada and North America, are not adversaries. A public debate on missile defence would be politically problematic and arouse currently silent opponents to repeat old Cold War arguments about missile defence generating an arms race, poisoning relations with Moscow and Beijing and weaponizing space.

Nor is the Department of National Defence likely to be keen on adding missile defence to its responsibilities. Facing significant cuts that threaten procurement and operational requirements, missile defence would require a re-allocation of money and personnel, even if the costs would be relatively low.

Fergusson goes on to identify the strategic and pragmatic motives that he feels underlie the Harper government’s reluctance:

It is also questionable what Canada would gain by a policy reversal. In previous negotiations, the U.S. refused to offer a formal, legal guarantee to defend Canada. In a public debate, the government would have to admit that participation would mean little to the actual defence of Canada. In effect, Canada would have to acquire its own missile defence capability to guarantee its defence, and the costs of doing so would be significant, even if the U.S. offered a subsidy under traditional NORAD infrastructure funding arrangements. …

Fears that non-participation would significantly damage — if not destroy — NORAD also have not materialized. …

Unless or until Canadian territory becomes strategically significant for U.S. operational missile defence needs, Canadian participation is irrelevant — and U.S. pressure non-existent. …

Unless some significant changes occur relative to these considerations, no one should expect this government, or any future government, to reverse course on missile defence.

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