Ballistic Missile Debate Misses Target

Tasneem Jamal

Steve Lee

Steve Lee is National Director, Canadian Centre for Foreign Policy Development

Each of the panelists at the Consultation on NATO Nuclear Policy, National Missile Defence & Alternative Security Arrangement, held in Ottawa on September 28-31, 2001, was asked to submit a short paper relating to the topic of their presentation. The other Consultation participants were asked to submit brief papers responding to one or more of the following questions:

1. What changes to its nuclear policies should NATO be realistically asked to make, in the context of the current review, to move it towards fuller compliance with global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation obligations and imperatives?

2. Are there realistic and credible alternative means of addressing the security concerns that underlie current U.S. interest in missile defense?

3. What are the most realistic short-term or interim measures that should be taken by nuclear weapon states and nuclear alliances to demonstrate a commitment to significantly reducing the political legitimacy and value of nuclear weapons in order to contribute to the goal of elimination?

Influence is an interesting thing. It is impossible to measure. And always agreeing may not always increase your influence with your best friend. Especially if your friend is wrong.

Those who argue that “Canadian influence in Washington will decline” unless Canada signs up for the U.S. national ballistic missile plan miss these key points. As separate, sovereign states with at least slightly different world interests and different historical perspectives, Canada and the United States will not always respond to the world in the same way. U.S. and Canadian policy makers understand this, and have managed that diversity very well. Canadians went to war in 1939, Americans did not. Americans went to war in Southeast Asia through the 1960s, Canadians did not. On recognition of China, securing hostage releases or building back channels of communications, sometimes Canadian differences can be helpful to U.S. foreign policy goals. Sometimes we have influence by not agreeing.

Given that Americans themselves are divided on the wisdom, technical merits and costs of a still theoretical ballistic missile defence system, it’s hard to understand the categorical statements of New York professor Joseph Jockel and others who proclaim a collapse of U.S. confidence in Canada and an end to Norad if Ottawa doesn’t agree with the particular faction of the U.S. military promoting ballistic missile defences.

Furthermore, Canada and the United States share goals other than the territorial defence of North America from the wildly unlikely prospect of a ballistic missile attack from Libya or North Korea. A goal of the highest priority is stability and nuclear weapons control in Russia. Another is the maintenance of the North Atlantic security community, severely tested by Kosovo only a year ago. According to U.S. and European experts who met in Ottawa March 31, these goals would be seriously undermined by a U.S. ballistic missile defence and by Canadian participation.

“The Russians say, “You pretend the threat is North Korea but we believe missile defence is a threat for us.’ They will never believe this isn’t against Russia,” according to Taira Koybaeva, an adviser to the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, now at Utah State University.

John Steinbruner, director of International Security Studies at the University of Maryland, says missile defences would break the 1972 U.S.-Russia Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, “that would be a major crisis of international security and could shake the U.S. alliance system to its foundations.” John Garnett, chair of Defence Studies at London’s King’s College, observed that “arms control is really in a fragile state.”

According to George Lewis, the associate director of the Security Studies Program at MIT, “the U.S. doesn’t need Canada. What the United States is really looking for is political support to help sell ballistic missile defences to other countries.” Hosted by the Canadian Centre for Foreign Policy Development, other participants included former U.S. nuclear weapons naval officer Charles Ferguson, German Jurgen Scheffran of Darmstadt University and Norwegian John Siljeholm, U.S. legal expert Tom Graham, and U.S. and British security expert Stephen Young.

Their recommendations include a larger discussion with other NATO members and urgent scientific attention to develop a global missile warning system. They also recommend direct discussions with China, and urgent engagement of North Korea and other so-called rogue states to address their security concerns.

Issues for global attention include tougher controls on the spread of ballistic missiles (controlling the sale of technology and material), international monitoring of production, holdings and transfers of technology and equipment, a global data centre, and international confidence- building measures like information and intelligence sharing, early warning/early launch notification for tests, verification guidelines and codes of conduct.

The experts also examined Canadian-American partnership in Norad (the 1958 North American Air Defence Agreement), recognizing that Norad’s purpose is surveillance and detection. Ernie Regehr of Project Ploughshares argued that a U.S. ballistic missile defence could trigger the revival of cruise missile and bomber threats to North America as part of the inevitable offensive weapons response to new defensive weapons. Even as a Norad partner Canada is not obliged to participate in a U.S. National Ballistic Missile Defence, they said. Canada can use its Norad membership, however, to promote an international approach to ballistic missile control.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy said recently at the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review talks in New York that Canada will promote an international approach to the spread of missile technology and a global missile warning system. Kofi Annan warned that national missile defences would undermine nuclear arms control.

Others are concerned that the U.S. National Missile Defence plan is the thin edge of the wedge to bring back a full-scale “Star Wars” project, which would see massive U.S. missile defences, including space-based weapons. This prospect will provoke a Russian response.

These larger possibilities were raised at the International Studies Association annual conference in Los Angeles last month where U.S. analyst Erik K. Pratt argued that an end to military rivalries within the Pentagon, a more focused military industry and a Republican-dominated Congress pave the way for success where Ronald Reagan failed. These changes are “conducive to program expansion if done incrementally.” A renewed “Star Wars” would radically undermine arms control and international security.

A better route is broad international co-operation to control ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. That co-operation should include Canada, the U.S., Russia, Britain and a wide range of other countries. Russian approval of START II cuts to offensive nuclear weapons and the North Korea-South Korea dialogue offer an opportunity to respond creatively and positively to Russian insecurities and to address North Korea’s insecurities. In this way, Canada as best friend and close ally of the U.S. can use its influence to promote North American and global security. Influence only counts if you use it.

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