Steven Staples addresses the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on Canada-US relations

On March 11, 2009 Steven Staples of and the Rideau Institute appeared before the Standing Committe of Foreign Affairs and International Development on the topic of Canada-US relations.  He advocated for the enhancement of space security and supported nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. 

View the transcript of the debate or read his remarks below:

Members of the Committee, Ladies and Gentleman:

Thank you for inviting me here to day to present on the topic of Canada-US relations.

My name is Steven Staples and I am the President of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs, an independent non-partisan research advocacy and consulting group based in Ottawa. I have been working on international issues mostly through non-governmental organizations for 15 years, and I am the author of one book; Missile Defence: Round One, published in 2006 by Lorimer.

Today I would like to focus two areas that are emerging as priorities for the Obama administration, and offer Canada the opportunity to pursue our national interests through a more secure world. The first is enhancing space security, followed by supporting nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Let’s begin with space.

Canadians were reminded about the value of the government’s investments in space when faced with the prospect of the sale of Macdonald Dettwiler and Associates space division in 2008. MDA’s information systems, including the remote sensing satellite Radarsat-2 and the intellectual property associated with our tremendous accomplishments in remote sensing, was slated to be sold for lack of work.

It was a galvanizing moment when public opposition arose unexpectedly to the $1.3 billion sale to a US defence firm, who many suspected would have used that technology in its line of new weapons being developed for the Pentagon, possibly even space weapons.

In addition, a legal opinion by Sack Goldblatt Mitchell cast serious doubt on claims made at the time that control of RADARSAT-2, and access to its imagery, would remain under Canadian government control. In fact, the opinion showed that in a heated dispute with the Washington over the Northwest Passage, for instance, Ottawa could be denied imagery needed to assert Canada’s sovereignty.

To this government’s credit, then Minister Jim Prentice disallowed the sale under the Investment Canada Act – a historic first since the act was established back in 1985. The move was controversial in some quarters, for fear that the company, which represents a significant proportion of Canada’s space industry, would be left stranded.

A report published by our organization, the Rideau Institute, which received national attention, echoed these concerns and set forward a series of eight recommendations for the government to rebuild Canada’s space capabilities.

In the 10 months that have followed Minster Prentice’s announcement, the space sector has acknowledged that the government is taking action. Dr. Steven MacLean has been appointed President of the Canadian Space Agency, and he has led the development of a new space strategy which will be released soon. Underscoring how important space is to delivering effective services to Canadians, Dr. Maclean has consulted with nine different departments, all of whom rely on space capabilities to meet their respective mandates. He also consulted stakeholders, and we were pleased to meet with him and review the findings of our report.

The 2009 federal budget committed an additional $110 million for the CSA, and spending elsewhere in the budget will also be helpful. While long terms funding concerns remain, industry is generally optimistic.

The next step, in terms of supporting our space capabilities and the governments benefit from them, is on the international stage. Canada’s national interests depend on international space security, defined by the Space Security Index, which is supported by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, is the secure and sustainable access to and use of space and freedom from space-based threats.

The last two years have had some hair-raising development in space. China destroyed one of its defuct satellites using an anti-satellite missile, creating a huge debris cloud. The United States likewise shot down one of its satellites with a missile designed for its controversial and destabilizing ballistic missile defence system. Only weeks ago, two satellites collided in space, a statistical near impossibility that shows how dangerous the space environment has become. The resulting debris field poses a hazard for the International Space Station.
Debris, satellite weapons, anti-satellite weapons – all demand action from space-faring nations to preserve space security.
Unlike the Bush administration, the Obama administration is taking space security seriously. President Obama has made this pledge on the White House web site:

“The Obama-Biden Administration will restore American leadership on space issues, seeking a worldwide ban on weapons that interfere with military and commercial satellites. They will thoroughly assess possible threats to U.S. space assets and the best options, military and diplomatic, for countering them, establishing contingency plans to ensure that U.S. forces can maintain or duplicate access to information from space assets and accelerating programs to harden U.S. satellites against attack.”

Tomorrow, the Rideau Institute and the Secure World Foundation are holding our annual Roundtable on Space that engages experts, government officials, and industry representatives, which will be attended by a key advisor to President Obama on space issues, Dr. John Logsdon.

He is coming to Canada because the Obama administration will be seeking partners in the international community for its space security objectives.

Some officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs have been working away at space security problems, quietly winning respect from other nations for our contribution. This work must be intensified and expanded, so that Canada can contribute in a significant way.

To achieve this, we would like to make the following suggestions:

  1. That this committee call upon the Minister of Foreign Affairs and departmental officials from the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Division to describe how Canada can support international space security efforts.
  2. That parliamentarians establish an all-party informal network to consider the challenges faced by Canada, hear solutions from experts and stakeholders, and to foment Parliamentary cooperation on space issues.
  3. That the Government be encouraged to establish a national space policy that will guide a whole-of-government approach to space, putting principles of the peaceful uses of space, international cooperation, and Canadian scientific and technical excellence at its core.

In the few remaining minutes that I have, let me address the second issue where Canada and the US share a joint interest: nuclear disarmament.

What example could more clearly demonstrate the potentially dangerous consequences of maintaining nuclear weapons than the collision of Brittish and French ballistic missile submarines a few weeks ago.

These platforms, costing billions of dollars, and conceived and constructed during a cold war long ago, are still, this accident reminds us, lurking around at the bottom of the ocean waiting for orders to surface and launch a nuclear attack that could destroy an entire country.

One more reason why many security experts are calling for the scaling back, and elimination of nuclear weapons. In 2008, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn issued a joint statement urging that “without the vision of moving toward zero, we will not find the essential cooperation to stop our downward spiral.”

Like his administrations’ commitment to prevent the weaponization of space, President Obama is seeking a renewed commitment for the reduction of nuclear weapons. In his famous foreign policy speech in Berlin during the election campaign, Senator Obama expressed his support for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Now President, Barack Obama is wasting no time. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Moscow last week, and after her first face to face meeting with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, both agreed to improve U.S.-Russian relations after months of tension between the two countries. Their starting point will be a new nuclear disarmament treaty to be completed by the end of the year.

Momentum is building, and we should be spurring it along. Canada has a long history of promoting nuclear disarmament.

In an important address to the Upper Chamber last month, Senator Hugh Segal reminded members of our traditional role, noting that, and I quote, “avoiding nuclear war has been a pillar of Canadian and Foreign defence policy since the late 1950s.” Senator Segal argued convincingly that the standoff with Iran is one area where Canada could play an important role in avoiding a nuclear catastrophe. He added that, “As Canadians, whatever our bilateral challenges and opportunities with the trading American neighbour we trust and the ally we support, our global duty to bring fresh thinking, new ideas and Canadian engagement to geopolitical risks we share has never mattered more.”

The Middle East presents us with one such opportunity, and so does Europe. Next month marks the 60th anniversary of NATO, and this alliance continues to adhere to a strategic concept that relies on nuclear weapons, which has not been updated for a decade.

Indeed, Canada sits upon NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group, NATO’s ultimate authority on nuclear policy issues. According to NATO, the Nuclear Planning Group shares responsibility for nuclear decision-making and ensures that NATO’s stance on nuclear issues is kept up to date, maintaining constant review in order to modify or adapt its policy to new developments in the world

The remarkable fact that Canada sits on any body with such an odious name as the Nuclear Planning Group would come as a great surprise to most Canadians. Instead, our support of nuclear disarmament behooves us to challenge NATO’s reliance upon nuclear war fighting doctrine.

Indeed, Canadian organizations such as the Middle Powers Initiative, until this year lead by former Edmonton Conservative Member of Parliament and Independent Senator Douglas Roche, have been busy preparing the ground for nuclear policy reforms in NATO by working with many NATO non-nuclear states like Canada..

Other groups, such as the Nobel Prize winning Pugwash Conferences, named after the famous village in Nova Scotia where it first met, and Physicians for Global Survival, are calling on Canada to reaffirm Canadians commitment to nuclear disarmament during this NATO anniversary year.

In addition to the upcoming meetings at NATO, the United Nations will be hosting preparations this year for the next scheduled review of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty in 2010. This provides Canada another opportunity to work with the Obama administration and others to move toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.

In conclusion, I would like to make the following additional recommendations:

  1. That the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee use this coming year to explore how Canada may contribute to nuclear disarmament, and, as Senator Segal put it, “bring fresh thinking, new ideas and Canadian engagement to geopolitical risks we share [with the United States].”
  2. I would urge you to include in your deliberations the views of civil society organizations, and to ask the Minister of Foreign Affairs why the department has ended its tradition of including a representative from Canada non-governmental community on its delegation to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation preparatory conference this May.
  3. And finally, that members request the Minister of National Defence to appear before the committee to explain Canada’s position on NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group, and how Canada maintains its policy consistency in supporting nuclear disarmament and abiding by our various treaty obligations, while participating in NATO, including sitting at the table where nuclear war plans are made.

Thank you, and I look forward to the discussion.

Tags: Canada-US relations, Defence, Defence policy, Disarmament, Non-proliferation, Space, Steven Staples