Just Say "No" to Missile Defense

An Address to the Senate of Canada
February 18, 1999

The Senate should be aware of a development that will profoundly alter international relations, cripple disarmament work, and tie Canada inextricably to U.S. ill-conceived military plans. I speak of the U.S. government's current design of a ballistic missile defense shield over North America.

Canadians thought this problem went away when Canada refused the U.S. invitation to participate in the Strategic Defense Initiative (known as "Star Wars") in 1985. SDI itself was abandoned, but in the 1990s it reappeared as a National Missile Defense program designed to provide for the interception of long-range missiles targeted on the United States. A missile defense program for North America is now being promoted and Canada is inexorably being drawn into the web of U.S. military-industrial-complex interests.

This is being done without the knowledge or consent of the Canadian Parliament and people. The Government of Canada keeps saying: Relax, nothing's going to happen for a long time.

Honourable Senators, there is plenty to worry about and the time for us to speak out against this retrograde, dangerous proposal is now.

The facts, briefly, are these:

  1. Discussions are now taking place between the United States and Canada on a North American ballistic missile defense (BMD) system. The U.S. is on track to deploy this system in Alaska and North Dakota possibly by 2005, and the Administration is pumping $6.6 billion into the project. The time for Canada to decide its course of action is now, not later, on the eve of deployment, when Canada's options will be significantly reduced.
  2. The 1994 Defense White Paper unfortunately opened the door to Canadian participation, despite a 1985 Canadian government decision not to participate in U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) research. SDI closed down in the early 1990s. BMD is its successor. The U.S. wants Canada involved in BMD through NORAD.
  3. BMD would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), which forbids a nation-wide missile defense system. The ABM Treaty is an essential part of nuclear arms control. It has long been recognized that constructing such national defenses (leaving aside the improbability of their working) would spur opposing nations to develop new offensive weapons to circumvent defense systems. Thus the nuclear arms race would keep accelerating.
  4. The U.S. recognizes BMD would violate the existing ABM and has suggested to Russia that the ABM be renegotiated. Russia, so far, adamantly refuses and has threatened to stall START II even further if BMD is proceeded with. The Government of China has warned that a new nuclear arms race will break out in Asia.
  5. The Canadian government said in 1995 it opposed abrogating or weakening the ABM, calling it "absolutely essential," for the maintenance of international nuclear security. In 1996, the government added, "Canada remains firmly committed to the 1972 ABM Treaty."
  6. The Canadian government has consistently said it will work for the continued development of international law. To join in a process of weakening or abrogating the ABM to satisfy the demands of the U.S. military system, which has not lost its appetite for expansion even though the Cold War ended nearly a decade ago, would greatly endanger Canada's credibility in arms control and disarmament work. Canada must speak now. By signaling that Canada is open to the idea, DND is encouraging the U.S. to proceed on the assumption that Canada will be involved.
  7. U.S. proponents claim that BMD will protect the continent against the incoming missiles of "rogue" States. But BMD is a bad idea because it presumes a potential attacker would develop an extremely expensive delivery technology when it could much more easily and reliably deliver a bomb in a commercial airliner or shipping container, methods a BMD would be powerless to stop.

Honourable Senators, Canadian interests in the NORAD Agreement are being compromised through U.S. action. NORAD was not meant to be a ballistic missile defense, yet NORAD is being used as the instrument to jump start U.S. ability to fight space wars of the 21st century. U.S. military interests are playing on fears of a ballistic missile attack on North America by some rogue state or terrorist and have even conjured up the ludicrous spectacle of North Korea launching a ballistic missile attack on Montreal. The U.S. Ambassador to Canada has joined in this softening up approach to getting Canada's compliance by references to the need of our two countries to stick together against vague enemies of the future.

We must realize what is happening. The U.S. is extending its military capacity in order to be the militarily dominant nation of the 21st century and to secure this power by a comprehensive system of surveillance and communications technologies. Is putting such immense power in the hands of a single state in the best interests of international peace and security? Is abrogating the ABM Treaty justified by such inordinate quest for power? Is Canada, which campaigned hard for a seat on the U.N. Security Council in order to bring forward new ideas for peace and security, served by tying ourselves to a military machine out of control?

The Canadian government has got to stop saying: Don't worry, be happy. Every month that goes by without the Government speaking out firmly against participation in a ballistic missile defense system allows the U.S. government to interpret our silence as tacit acceptance. Then, when the system is about to be deployed, it will be too late for us to pull out. Moreover, putting $600 million of Canadian taxpayers' money into this ill-conceived venture would be an unconscionable affront to every Canadian who needs improved health, education and social care.

The correct answer to what BMD seeks to accomplish, namely the security of North America, is to pursue, as the International Court of Justice has called for, comprehensive negotiations leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons. Significant progress in this respect has been made in recent years. This progress is now jeopardized by BMD. As the prestigious U.S. National Academy of Sciences concluded in its 1997 report, The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy, "deploying missile defenses outside the bounds of the ABM Treaty could greatly diminish the prospects for future reductions in nuclear weapons." That is cautious language for what should be stated frankly: we can kiss goodbye to nuclear disarmament if BMD proceeds. And if strategic arms control collapses, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Canada has always championed, will be in ruins.

Now is the time to debate this. Now is the time to inform the public. Now is the time to obtain the consent of the Canadian Parliament.

Honourable Senators, on the basis of my experience in personally meeting with hundreds of informed Canadians in all 10 provinces on nuclear weapons issues, I contend that the Canadian public opposes the madness of a missile defense system. The Canadian Government knows there is little support for the system. Why, then, dally?

The Government should couple its resistance to missile defense by a vigorous implementation of the 15 recommendations in the Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canada and the Nuclear Challenge: Reducing the Political Value of Nuclear Weapons for the Twenty-First Century. This report has rightly pointed the way for Canada to work with like-minded States in pressing the Nuclear Weapons States to make an unequivocal commitment to commence negotiations leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons. The Committee wants Canada to argue within NATO for less reliance on nuclear weapons so that the way can be cleared for the NATO nuclear States to pledge No-First-Use of nuclear weapons and to put their nuclear weapons on de-alert status.

That would be a positive contribution by Canada to enhancing peace and security in the world. That is the way forward, providing confidence-building measures and hope for the Canadian people who want an end to nuclear weapons.

Doug Roche