As it breaks cloud cover, enemy missile is detected and tracked with complete precision until — ka-bam — it is blown to smithereens by the kill vehicle. Batteries not included.

Canada may soon join the multi-billion-dollar U.S. effort to build the ultimate boy-toy, otherwise known as the missile defence program.

Ottawa, appropriately, shunned the scheme when it was announced by the Bush administration last December.

But Ottawa may be about to give in to pressure from Washington to sign on to the project, to make amends for our alleged infidelity over Iraq.

Even if the Chrétien government doesn’t cave in, it seems like just a matter of time before we succumb; Liberal leadership front-runner Paul Martin expressed support last week for the scheme.

Of course, as a sovereign country, we don’t need to make amends for not joining America’s war (and our hunch that Iraq posed no threat to our neighbour turned out to be correct).

If Ottawa does join the missile project, it will undoubtedly insist that the decision had absolutely nothing to do with appeasing Washington, that we — entirely on our own! — came up with the idea of abandoning Canada’s longstanding commitment to international arms control.

The guiding principle in arms control policy in the nuclear age has been “MAD” (Mutually Assured Destruction) — the idea that, as long as neither guy could wipe out the other guy without being wiped out himself, nobody would be crazy enough to strike first.

But MAD is about as popular with Washington’s mega-hawks as a person with a dry cough is with fellow passengers on a CN Tower elevator in Toronto.

The missile defence project is a mini-version of Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars, which aimed to develop the capacity to shoot down incoming missiles. This is a dangerous notion that undermines the MAD principle — if Washington could protect itself from incoming missiles, it would be in a position to initiate a nuclear strike without fear of devastating reprisal.

Of course, no sensible person believes a missile shield could actually work. The U.S. has already spent $91 billion on the concept over the past two decades, but in a major test last December, the missile interceptor “missed its intended target by hundreds of miles,” according to a New York Times report.

Still, ready or not, the Bush administration has pledged to begin deploying some sort of missile shield next year — at a cost of $10 billion.

The money explains a lot. Even if the shield can’t protect the U.S. from a flock of angry, America-hating birds, it’s an effective way to channel billions of taxpayers’ dollars towards the defence industry, which has close ties to the Bush administration.

For that matter, much of the pressure on Ottawa is coming from our own aerospace companies and business lobby groups like the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, which has set up a CEO Action Group to push for closer business and military ties with the U.S.

A key player is Derek Burney, former chief of staff to Brian Mulroney, and now president of CAE Inc. of Montreal, which is already supplying U.S. giant Boeing with software systems for the missile defence program.

But Canadian corporate access to the really big contracts is clearly contingent upon Ottawa’s support — financially and politically — for the program.

“Canadian taxpayers will give money to the U.S., and then some of it will come back to Canadian industries,” explains Steven Staples, a military analyst with the Ottawa-based Polaris Institute.

Of course, Canadian taxpayers might prefer to spend their money on things other than helping Canadian companies become part of the U.S. military-industrial complex.

But, Washington, all pumped-up after its conquest of Iraq, is signalling to the world that the American way of war has replaced the American way of life. Nations wanting in on the military spending spree better get on board.

And make no mistake, a military spending spree lies ahead.

The 21st century is already shaping up to be an even bigger military-spending bonanza than the last century, which was a military-spending grand slam.

The end of the Cold War is now just a memory, the “peace dividend” as out-of-date as shoulder pads. War rocks!

Paul Martin told the Toronto Star’s Les Whittington last week that as prime minister, he would commit to the U.S. missile shield, partly to protect Canadian sovereignty as the shield is developed. “What possible benefit is it for us to stay away from the table?” he asked.

He’s got a point; apart from taking a stand for peace and the survival of life on this planet, there probably aren’t a whole lot of benefits.

Linda McQuaig

Journalist and best-selling author Linda McQuaig has developed a reputation for challenging the establishment. As a reporter for The Globe and Mail, she won a National Newspaper Award in 1989...