EARLIER THIS YEAR, the federal government announced that Canada will not join the U.S. ballistic missile defence initiative. It was Paul Martin’s Liberals who made the decision, but Stephen Harper’s Conservatives didn’t disagree. The consensus in Ottawa is that while the U.S. may be disappointed with Canada’s choice, we’re not really missing anything by being outside the tent on missile defence. That view is challenged by Elinor Sloan, whose book Security And Defence in the Terrorist Era will be released this week. Sloan is a former defence analyst who now teaches international relations at Carleton University. She spoke last week to Maclean’s publisher and editor-in-chief Kenneth Whyte.
Let’s start with the basics. Why does the U.S. feel it needs ballistic missile defence? What is the threat and how is this going to help?
Well, it feels it needs missile defence against perceived threats that could arise, most notably intercontinental ballistic missiles from North Korea and Iran. These are missiles carrying weapons of mass destruction—a nuclear or biological or chemical warhead. I should note that this is a missile defence system that’s markedly different from the huge Star Wars one that was put forward by Ronald Reagan in the mid1980s. This is designed to respond to a few
missiles from rogue states, and then also perhaps accidental launches from China or Russia because Russia still retains an awful lot of missiles, some of which may not be very well controlled since the Soviet Union fell.
Canada and the U.S. have co-operated over the years on various security initiatives and management of our continental airspace. Was our decision to opt out this time a significant departure from past practice?
Politically it probably will blow over but it is significant and there will be consequences.
What will change?
In the past we had privileged access to information from U.S. Space Command, because we are part of NORAD. All of the ballistic missile detection systems and space surveillance systems to date are American. Canada has none. We will have a space surveillance network satellite called Sapphire up in the next few years, but otherwise there are about 25 ground-based systems around the world that look upward and detect space objects, and they all belong to the U.S., as do all of the ballistic missile detection satellites. We could now be cut off from all of the information from those surveillance systems. There could be ballistic missile launches on the other side of the world that the American system picks up and we would have no knowledge of it, as we had in the past.
Why wouldn’t they keep us informed? We are an ally and all things considered, the Americans do seem to value relations with us.
They may simply decide there are levels of intelligence gathering they won’t share with us as a result of our decision. And even if we’re still receiving intelligence, there are problems with not being in the room. The nature of ballistic missile defence is that it’s a twostep process: detection (intelligence) and response. Decisions are made very quickly. You’re trying to shoot down a missile—it has been described as hitting a bullet with a bullet. Because speed is imperative, it makes sense for the U.S. to keep its detection capability and its response capability in the same room, and we won’t be there. So if there were a North Korean missile heading toward North America, the U.S. system would pick it up, and they would have to go outside the room to inform us of what’s happening. They may already have responded by the time we get the news.
You cite a CSIS report from 2002 that said in the longer term, as proliferation of ballistic missiles and other weaponry increase, hostile states or organizations could strike us directly. And the Martin government’s own security paper in 2004 made similar points. How real are these threats? Is it scaremongering to suggest Canada should be under the missile defence umbrella?
If you can believe it, Canada has never done a threat assessment of the ballistic missile threat to Canada. At least, I haven’t seen it.
I don’t think anyone would argue that the United States is under a greater threat than Canada, but Canada’s security situation is very much dictated by our proximity to the United States, and so if there’s a threat to Washington state, well, that threat’s going to go right over British Columbia, and the United States will want to intercept it as far away from Washington state as possible, which will mean over Canadian territory, so we’re going to want a role in that response of saying whether or not you go ahead and shoot that missile down.
In my view, the threat of a direct missile attack on Canada is low but real. It will likely increase in the future as these weapons proliferate. You can’t just start responding when the threat presents itself. You have to prepare in advance. It makes sense that you be in on the ground floor of the defence plan.
You described our decision not to participate in missile defence as a blow to Canadian sovereignty. I think many politicians and editorialists read Paul Martin’s choice as an assertion of Canadian sovereignty.
I say it’s a loss of Canadian sovereignty for two reasons. First, there’s the problem I mentioned of being cut out of information flows. I’m told that starting a year ago, Canadian officers have been asked to leave different directorates, etc. within NORAD headquarters that are specifically dealing with space because we’ve not participated in ballistic missile defence. That’s information that could be of consequence to us, and that we could use to make decisions in our own interests.
Second, even if the information-sharing on detection stays the same, we’ve said we don’t want to be part of the response decision, so we won’t have any say in where the missile comes down, or whether or not all of Canadian territory is covered by the missile shield, so we have no say in how Canadian territory is defended along those lines.
So, strange as it may sound, our sovereignty is best guaranteed by a closer relationship with the U.S. on defence and security?
The key argument in the book is that the terrorist threat today is different from any threat we faced in the Cold War. Both Canada and the U.S. are much more concerned now about securing their homelands against terrorists with weapons of mass destruction,
hijacked planes, or short-range ballistic missiles from ships off the coast, and those sorts of things. As a result, Canada’s ability to secure its own territory is now of much greater interest to the U.S. than it has been in the past. If we don’t secure our own territory, that creates a threat for the United States, and the United States will do the securing for us. We don’t want that situation. I practically shout that out in my book: “Look, take steps to secure your territory for the sake of your own sovereignty because if we don’t do it, the U.S. will do it without us.”
What does that entail?
We need to reconsider the balance between our missions overseas and our missions at home. That doesn’t mean cutting back anything that’s done abroad, because a lot of what we do there—rebuilding failed states, for instance—is also necessary to our security. But we need to increase military expenditure and capacity at home to the point where the U.S. sees us as having the capability to respond to a weapon of mass destruction attack on the Canada/U.S. border, or a nuclear weapon coming in on a cargo container in the port. In my view,
Canada also needs the capability to monitor its Arctic areas—that’s a big gap right now. I advocate that we form a 500-man rapid response force that can be deployed anywhere in the country in the event of a crisis, again, so the U.S. doesn’t do it for us. Credibility and influence with the U.S. are really important to our sovereignty.
We’re talking about a major increase and redirection of resources, aren’t we? I mean, we can’t do all that on the cheap.
No, we can’t. But the government has mandated quite a dramatic increase in the defence budget over the next five or, I believe, seven years, which came out last February, and so my argument is in terms of how those resources are allocated.
But you think the resources are sufficient?
If the defence budget goes up to $20 billion, which is what they argue it will, then I believe yes, it’s sufficient.
You’re confident the budget will hit that level?
No, that’s another question entirely.
Are there signs the money won’t be spent?
Right now I don’t see any signs of that.
You’re going by history?
Yes. I mean, the defence policy statement that came out in April is a very, very good one. But I also thought the 1994 White Paper on Defence was a good document, and the vast majority of what Canada said it would do in that document never happened.
Is there a clear sense throughout the government-at the political level, at the policy level, and at the operational level-of the seriousness of the threat?
I think that there is a real recognition at certain levels of government—maybe not in the prime minister’s office, I’m not sure. But in conversations with the CSIS director a few years ago and our national security adviser in April, they don’t waver in saying that international terrorism poses a real threat to Canada.
Is it your perception that Canada’s decision on missile defence is final and for all time?
My educated guess would be that at some point in the future we will participate. I say that because I think it will become evident that our decision not to participate is not in our security interests and not in our sovereignty interests.
Do you feel that our participation could be sold to the Canadian public?
I think it depends on who wins the next U.S. election. I think it would be more difficult to sell to the Canadian public at this particular juncture simply because of the ...
Unpopularity of the chief executive?
That’s right, yeah.
This is an awful question, but it’s hard to imagine Canada mobilizing to co-operate with the U.S. on missile defence, or spend a full $20 billion on defence capacity, unless something bad happens-either we’re hit ourselves, or we’re used as a staging ground for an attack on someone else, or there’s a near miss. Is that your sense?
I would share that interpretation. Horrible as it is to say, it may take something like what happened in London. lïl
There are problems with not being in the room. Defence decisions are made very quickly.
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