Ballistic Missile Defence and Canada’s Vital Security Interests

Tasneem Jamal

Briefing 04-5

Author
Ernie Regehr

To join or not to join U.S. President George W. Bush’s Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) initiative will be one of the first major foreign policy decisions facing the Government Canadians will elect on June 28. And the absence of the issue from the election campaign ignores the importance of what is at stake. The BMD decision will help set the tone of Canada/US security relations and effectively brand Canada’s overall approach to international peace and security, and disarmament policy for the life of that Government.

The BMD decision will help set the tone of Canada/US security relations and effectively brand Canada’s overall approach to international peace and security, and disarmament policy for the life of that Government.

In the US, BMD is a core election pledge of President Bush, who promises a working system by the end of 2004. Since the system under construction will rely on ballistic missile detection and tracking information currently provided through NORAD, the Canada-US North American Aerospace Defence Agreement, Washington is anxious to know whether Canada is in or out.

The Government may, unfortunately, base its decision on non-security grounds, like the perceived need to win greater favour on issues like beef and lumber exports. But the key BMD question is, would Canadian involvement advance or undermine Canada’s core security interests? A set of perfectly sensible and relevant criteria for a significant foreign and defence policy decision is available in the new (April 2004) Canadian “National Security Policy.” The broad policy declaration, prelude to a more extensive international policy review, points out that while security threats change over time, Canada’s basic security interests remain constant. Core security interests are: 1) the protection of Canada’s people and territory; 2) making the world beyond our borders stable and peaceful; and 3) ensuring that nothing we do, or neglect to do, threatens the security of our neighbours and allies.

Will BMD protect Canada and Canadians? The ballistic missile threat is certainly real. Though the Cold War is over, more than 900 Russian and about 30 Chinese missiles still stand able and ready to deliver more than 4,000 nuclear warheads to targets in North America. Protection from them is devoutly to be wished, but one thing the Pentagon’s BMD planners are at pains to point out is that ballistic missile defence is specifically not intended to protect North America from Russian or Chinese missiles.

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