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One threat Canadians actually need to worry about: The assault on our nation's integrity

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Photo: flickr/APEC 2013

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The Conservative government is quietly revisiting a decade-old decision not to join the U.S. ballistic missile defence (BMD) program.

Although little-noticed by the public, two parliamentary committees have been holding a series of discussions with rocket scientists, military brass and missile defence enthusiasts about Canada joining the U.S. system.

When Paul Martin's government looked at the issue back in 2004/2005, it decided not to sign on for a variety of reasons, chief among them that the system wouldn't work, would cost too much, would provide little to no benefit to Canadian security and, probably most important, was opposed by many Canadians.

However, some observers suspect this time might be different.

"You can just get a sense from the questioning that this is something that the government wants to consider," said NDP defence critic Jack Harris.

James Bezan, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Defence, told a European defence summit that Ottawa "hasn't made any decision" on the matter.

Why now?

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who recently testified in favour of joining the U.S. missile defence program, said he believes the U.S. government isn't pushing Canada to jump on board, but that Ottawa is increasingly concerned about regional threats like Iran and North Korea.

Bezan says Ottawa is concerned about the "accuracy" of long-range missiles developed by so-called "rogue states," like Iran and North Korea, which, the argument goes, might target the U.S. and end up hitting Canada.

"From a Canadian perspective, the threat has improved such that we are potentially vulnerable, particularly cities like Saskatoon, Edmonton," said Mr. Robertson.

Emerging threats?

Proponents of missile defence love to hype up the threat potential presented by states like North Korea and Iran to justify their laundry list of expensive defence equipment.

While there are many reasons to look upon North Korea and Iran with suspicion and mistrust -- authoritarian governments, hostile attitudes towards the west and rampant militarism -- there are equally ample reasons to dismiss the fear mongering of western defence hawks.

If we look at the known nuclear and missile capabilities of each state, we get a much more complex picture, and long-term threat, than what is presented by advocates like Robertson or Bezan.

"Democratic Peoples Republic" of North Korea

The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation is a Washington-based non-profit, non-partisan research organization committed to strengthening international peace and security in the 21st century.

The Center has been observing the threat of nuclear proliferation and missile capacity for North Korea for years and states unequivocally:

  • "North Korea currently possesses between four and eight nuclear weapons" (the U.S. has roughly 5,000 by comparison)
  • "It has developed and tested a range of short- and medium-range missiles, but has yet to successfully test a long-range missile or [Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles] ICBM" capable of reaching North America
  • "It is generally believed to have not yet developed the capabilities needed to miniaturize a nuclear device for missile delivery"

In short, North Korea is a threat to world peace for its blatant disregard to the principles of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but it is not a threat to North America.

World leaders should remain steadfast in exerting pressure on the Kim Regime, but ramping up defence spending at home and initiating an international arms race is neither necessary nor helpful.

Islamic Republic of Iran

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) is another independent, non-partisan institution, founded and funded by Congress to help manage international conflict without violence. It routinely monitors developments in Iran and assesses its threat level.

  • According to USIP "Iran has the largest and most diverse ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East. (Israel has more capable ballistic missiles, but fewer in number and type.)"
  • Iran "is the only country to develop a 2,000km missile without first having a nuclear weapons capability"
  • "Iran should not be able to strike…the United States before 2020 -- at the earliest"
  • "U.S. intelligence estimates have consistently concluded that Iran has not made a decision to build a nuclear weapon"

While Iran has been repeatedly sanctioned for its nuclear activity, experts are aware they have not yet embarked upon the path to weaponization. Even if the Ayatollahs wanted to weaponize Iran's nuclear program it is still nearly decade away from being able to strike North America.

Diplomacy is important. Western leaders should continue to engage Iran with diplomatic dialogue and work towards building constructive bilateral relations that seek resolution to longstanding disputes and mistrust.

Why now, then?

Saskatoon appears to be safe from the menace of a stray rocket lobbed over from Asia, for now. Why then are the conservatives now reviving Ronald Reagan's dreams of a Star Wars type defence shield?

Colin Robertson hints the real motive lies in the politics of prestige.

Robertson says Canada presently has a "seat at the table" when working with allies in NATO and NORAD to resolve potential threats.

But, "when it actually comes time to make the decision to launch a missile, unlike the Europeans, Japanese, [and] Australians -- we have to leave the room," Robertson said.

But can Robertson point to a time when this actually happened?

It appears that a large motivation for joining the U.S.-led program is designed to institutionalize Harper's vision for a new Canada.

It fits well with his other achievements, like ignoring the UN and initiating hostile diplomatic exchanges that hurt Canada's international reputation; like supporting asserting Canada firmly on one side of the Middle-East "peace process." But perhaps it fits best somewhere between Harper's rampant expansion of Canada's arms industry, and his exuberant militarism.

It seems the impetus for reassessing the merits of this multi-billion dollar program (that doesn't even work) is about moving Canada beyond its peripheral middle-power status, and launching it towards the centre of international power politics than it is about urgent defence requirements needed to protect Canadians.

If there is one assault Canadians do need to be weary of it comes from Ottawa and threatens the integrity of a nation -- our nation!

Celyn Dufay is an activist working as the Donor Service Officer with Ceasefire.ca. Last year Celyn organized Ceasefire.ca's "Louder than the Bomb" campaign to abolish nuclear weapons, an action endorsed by over 100 parliamentarians, and the student led ‘white poppy' campaign "I Remember for Peace." Ceasefire.ca is a network of 25,000 Canadians who want Canada to be a global peace leader, and is a project of the Rideau Institute.

Photo: flickr/APEC 2013

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