Column

JUST SAY NO TO GEORGE W.

Ottawa must reject joining the missile defence shield—or the debris could be us

Peter C. Newman May 26 2003
Column

JUST SAY NO TO GEORGE W.

Ottawa must reject joining the missile defence shield—or the debris could be us

Peter C. Newman May 26 2003

JUST SAY NO TO GEORGE W.

Column

Ottawa must reject joining the missile defence shield—or the debris could be us

PETER C. NEWMAN

THE CHRÉTIEN CABINET’S most urgent priority these days is to decide whether Canada should join George W. Bush’s National Missile Defense (NMD) shield. The expectation is that if we do, the White House will forgive us for opting out of the Iraq caper. The issue has been painted by its advocates as the ultimate test of our loyalty to the defence of North America, the last chance to establish our international relevance and mend fences with the Yanks. In fact, the decision is about as essential as the inevitable appointment by Jean Chrétien of Eddie Goldenberg to the Senate.

It’s only fitting that George W. Bush hasn’t neglected us in planning the nightmarish end-game of how to to defend the U.S. of A. against hostile nuclear intercontinental missiles. Unfortunately, the function he has assigned to Canada is best described as “debris acceptance.” Translated into English, this means that if the Pentagon gets its mega-complicated contraption to work, and if some future Saddam Hussein is dumb enough to challenge it, the resultant debris will be us.

The White House has already ordered the Pentagon to add another 10 land-based interceptor missile sites to the six already existing at Fort Greely in Alaska. At the same time, Washington is negotiating with the Danish government to upgrade the U.S. radar station in Thule, Greenland. Guess the name of the country that occupies the no man’s land in between. If this Star Wars fantasy proceeds, our real estate will become the front line of the Third World Warthe battlefield over which incoming and defensive missiles will collide, with predictable results. (At least the Tories and Canadian Alliance will finally amalgamate, their members being melted together, as will most Canadians, caught up in a catastrophe that defies description.)

The good news is that it’s almost certainly not going to happen; the bad news is that whether or not we agree to become part of this Bush league scheme (which fits some-

where between George Lucas and Don Quixote) makes not the slightest iota of difference. Defence Minister John McCallum’s assumption that if Canada remains aloof, the decision on how to defend the continent will be made unilaterally in Washington is valid whether we enlist or not. The debate becomes silly very quickly: imagine any Canadian PM phoning any American president to demand that he refrain from aiming missiles that would disrupt St. Jean Baptiste Day in Montreal, the Grey Cup in Calgary or the Gay Pride Parade in Vancouver.

And that’s not the silliest part. The system doesn’t work. Thomas Christie, the Pentagon’s top evaluator of weapons programs, admitted three months ago that NMD “has yet to demonstrate significant operational capability.” In the most recent test, held 140

miles above the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 11, 2002, the defensive missile failed to separate from its booster rocket. The intercepting projectile is meant to hit the incoming nuclear warhead and destroy it with kinetic energy. It’s the equivalent of shooting bullets down with bullets. The White House believes that “if you build it, it will work,” quips Larry Korb, a member of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations.

Even Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is chief champion of the idea, acknowledges that the National Missile Defense system will be put in place before it is fully developed. (His slogan for the operation should be: “READY! FIRE! AIM!”) Rumsfeld has considerable trouble explaining NMD’s abiding mystery: who, exactly, will launch the hostile missiles that require

building this goofy system, expected to eventually cost $1 trillion? His answer would do George Orwell, the original critic of doublespeak, proud: “The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence,” Rumsfeld has said. “The failure to detect such programs does not necessarily mean they don’t exist.”

Right. Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction proved his point. While international terrorism remains a lethal threat, and its practitioners are ruthless fanatics, they are not stupid. Why spend billions developing a guided missile, when you can create the most horrific event in American domestic history simply by buying a dozen one-way airline tickets?

North Korea, which tops the list of rogue states with nuclear and missile technology, has so far only developed the Taepo-Dong I, a medium-range projectile that can’t reach beyond Japan. Its successor, the yet-to-betested Taepo-Dong II, is cited by the CIA as possessing “the range to devastate American territory.” Not quite. Even if it works, the only mainland U.S. territory its limited range would allow it to devastate would be the barren and unpopulated Rat Islands, at the far edge of Alaska’s Aleutian chain.

THE PLAN makes sense only as the forerunner of the American military’s attempt to control outer space, the fourth frontier of warfare

The most telling criticism of the U.S. initiative comes from Canadian Nobel laureate John Polanyi: “NMD points the world down the wrong path,” he wrote recently in the Globe and Mail. “In the course of NMD, outer space will then become weaponized. Satellites, now the vital eyes and ears of the world, will be targets.” Polanyi’s fears go to the root of the Bush strategy. NMD only makes sense as the forerunner of the U.S. military’s attempt to control outer space. Rumsfeld has significantly strengthened the Air Force Space Command and its Web site freely speculates about the American domination of space, as the fourth frontier of warfare.

Meanwhile, the NMD debate rages on. No way should we volunteer our air and ground space as future nuclear battlefields. Two decades ago when Ronald Reagan was armtwisting Canada into joining his own Star Wars initiative, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney refused to go along, though the U.S. president was his song-and-dance partner. Jean Chrétien should follow the Mulroney precedent. li1]

Peter C. Newman’s column appears monthly. pnewman@macleans.ca