Canadian Church Leaders Urge Prime Minister to Reject BMD

Tasneem Jamal

Letter to the Prime Minister of Canada on behalf of member churches of The Canadian Council of Churches

14 October 2004

Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD)

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

I write on behalf of the member churches of the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) to urge your Government to reject Canadian participation in ballistic missile defence and to redouble concrete Canadian efforts toward the following global disarmament and security objectives:

  • Further reductions to existing nuclear arsenals with a view to their total elimination;
  • The verified compliance of all states with nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons bans and non-proliferation obligations;
  • Preventing the spread of strategic range ballistic missiles with a view to their total elimination; and
  • A space security regime that preserves space as a weapons-free environment and that supports terrestrial cooperation and peace.

In making these proposals, we speak from the theological vision of our churches – which collectively represent 80% of Canadian Christians – and we also try to speak with the voice of common humanity.

We are grateful that you have repeatedly emphasized Canada’s firm opposition to the weaponization of space. We urge you to publicly reaffirm that the elimination of nuclear weapons and the preservation of outer space as a weapons-free environment are two core Canadian security objectives, and to acknowledge that strategic ballistic missile defence is incompatible with both of those objectives.

As reaffirmed in the March 15, 2004 letter to you from the heads of the 20 member churches of the CCC, the elimination of nuclear weapons is the only reliable means of protecting Canadians and all humankind from the threat of nuclear annihilation. We remind you that the belief that nuclear weapons cannot be defended against, and that our collective security requires an end to the dangerous nuclear age, is enshrined in both Canadian policy and in international law through the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Canadian policy has never advocated ballistic missile defence as a credible means of dealing with a strategic missile borne nuclear threat. Instead, successive Canadian Governments have said that “the only sustainable strategy for the future is the elimination of nuclear weapons entirely. The only realistic objective for the international community is progressive reduction of the existing number of nuclear weapons leading to their elimination” (Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation: Advancing Canadian Objectives, Government Statement, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, April 19, 1999).

International law, through the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which obliges nuclear weapon states to conclude negotiations toward full nuclear disarmament, similarly recognizes that ballistic missile defence is not a credible response to nuclear peril. The 2000 NPT Review Conference made the continued banning of missile defence a key element of a broad program of disarmament action. That program, agreed to at the time by the United States, called for the preservation of the now defunct Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty as a “basis for further reductions of strategic offensive weapons.”

There is no substitute for the moral, legal, and political imperative of nuclear abolition, and, as the churches wrote to you in March, strategic ballistic missile defence systems undermine nuclear abolition efforts and “can never satisfy the deep human yearning for immunity from nuclear terror.” Even more, it is a God-ordained imperative that we should strive always to “beat swords into ploughshares,” and not the reverse.

The churches’ objection to the ballistic missile defence system now under deployment in Alaska and California is obviously not a denial of the impulse to seek protection from nuclear attack. Our objection to BMD is based on the very real danger that the pursuit of a costly and technologically flawed defence will undermine progress toward the overriding objective of nuclear disarmament.

Significant scientific and policy communities in Canada, as well as the United States, question the efficacy of BMD and insist that, whether or not the system can ever be made to work, the very pursuit of it is already undermining and even reversing the post-Cold War progress toward nuclear disarmament and demilitarization:

  • Ballistic missile defence is unequivocally linked to future plans to weaponize space and thus frustrates negotiations toward a global treaty to ban the deployment of weapons in space and to preserve space as a global commons dedicated to facilitating terrestrial cooperation and harmony (a policy long supported by Canada).
  • BMD adds to pressures, especially in China and Russia, for the accelerated development of anti-satellite weapons (ASATs), viewed by their advocates as relatively cheap, reliable, and asymmetrical threats to the space-based military (and civilian) assets of their adversaries.
  • As a hedge against even the possibility of an effective US BMD system, Russia is disinclined to allow its strategic nuclear forces to drop below a certain threshold, is led to maintain its strategic forces on dangerously high alert, and has begun testing new generations of missiles designed to confound BMD interceptors.
  • China increasingly regards a global security environment that includes strategic BMD as one in which it must expand its own nuclear forces and in which it must also upgrade the alert level of those forces.

The member churches of the CCC regard ballistic missile defence as a critical test for Canada. It is not a mere bon mot to hear Canada called, by all the world, the “peaceable Kingdom.” For the churches, this phrase conveys an image of a nation which strives to show the world what the true fare of care and concern for humanity can be. As Canadian Christians – and in the name of common humanity – we would wish Canada’s historic legacy to be recognizable as “peace I leave with you.” We have all experienced such a proud moment when Canada did not join the alliance to invade Iraq; the issue of strategic ballistic missile defence offers another such opportunity for witness. Therefore, we call on Canada to recognize the futility of seeking technological immunity to the nuclear threat, and to reaffirm its commitment to a future in which nuclear and all weapons of mass destruction are dismantled and permanently banned.

We are committed to further dialogue with members of your Government and the Opposition Parties and to that end we will be seeking a meeting with the Minister of National Defence and others to further discuss issues raised in this letter and the March 15 church leaders’ letter.

Please be assured of our prayers and support as you undertake to fulfill your important responsibilities.


Professor Richard Schneider
President, Canadian Council of Churches


The Honourable Bill Graham, Minister of National Defence
The Honourable Stephen Harper, Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada
The Honourable Gilles Duceppe, Leader of the Bloc Québécois
The Honourable Jack Layton, Leader of the New Democratic Party

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