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Time to get behind missile defense

The Professor

By Steven Martinovich

(May 12, 2003) - It's amazing how a man's perspective can change when he's facing the end. The end in question is Prime Minister Jean Chretien's imminent resignation and it seems to be influencing some of his policy stands, including George W. Bush's proposed missile defense system. Even casual observers of the political scene will remember that the Canadian government was none to happy about Bush's December 2001 announcement that the United States would withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

All that appears to be out the window. On May 6, Chretien all but announced that Canada would open talks with the United States regarding a missile defense system. That announcement came despite the fact that his cabinet had yet to discuss the issue or make a decision concerning talks and won't formally make any announcement this week.

"It's a different project [from Ronald Reagan's SDI program] that involves the protection of North American territory and geographically it is necessary for us to participate in talks on this," Chretien told the House of Commons.

While critics of a missile defence system like to argue that it will militarize space and lead to a new arms race, the reality is that there is already an arms race underway. Over three dozen nations, including volatile Iran and North Korea, possess advanced ballistic missile technology. Nations like Russia and China, major exporters of this type of weaponry, seem to have few qualms selling systems to rogue nations. The technology will only continue to spread and as isolated as we like to believe we are from the world's trouble spots, what our high school history teachers liked to call "our fire-proof house", ballistic missiles have the potential of bringing that trouble to us.

The wisdom of establishing a missile defense system was spotlighted back in 1996 when a Chinese general threatened a nuclear attack on Los Angeles, a city of some 3.6 million residents, if the United States interfered with China's moves against Taiwan. Seattle, another potential target, isn't far from Vancouver and Victoria for those geographically unaware of our southern neighbour. While some labeled the comment as posturing, it's more difficult to make that case concerning a rogue nation like North Korea, especially considering the provocative moves Kim Jong Il has made against South Korea and Japan. Despite continuing economic sanctions, North Korea continues on its weapons programs including the development of improved ballistic missile technology, missiles that could one day be mated with that country's nascent nuclear weapons program.

The fact of the matter is that the federal government has a moral duty to protect its citizens from threats both internal and external. Participating in a missile defense shield, imperfect as it may be, fulfills its obligations of providing for the common defense. The United States and Canada have worked together towards this goal under NORAD for over 40 years and a missile defence system is just a logical step in this partnership.

The establishment of a missile defense system is a threat to no one. It simply gives us the ability to defend ourselves from attack, threats or accidental launch. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, it's simply good insurance. It's been popular to argue that asymmetrical threats will be the primary danger to North America in coming years and while that may be true it would be irresponsible to ignore the threat from conventional weapons. The ability to stop a terrorist attack will be a small comfort if we're hit with a missile attack.

Despite the opposition of some Liberals, it's likely that Canada will agree to talks about missile defence. After the beating our relations took with the United States over our position about Iraq, "positions" may be more accurate given that Chretien couldn't muster a coherent position on the subject over several months, it's a good way to mend some fences with the Bush administration. Most importantly, it fulfills the government's primary responsibility to defend Canadians against threats to our peace and security.

Thanks for reading,

Steven Martinovich

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