Canada Weighs U.S. Missile Defense Cooperation

Canada has opposed missile defense systems for decades, fearing that their development would encourage weapons proliferation and lead to the placement of weapons in space. On May 29, however, Canadian officials announced that Canada would enter into negotiations with the United States on whether and how Canada might participate in the developing U.S. strategic missile defense system.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Defense Minister John McCallum offered several reasons to support Canada’s newfound interest in the U.S. missile defense system.

Canada seeks to preserve its role in the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Established in 1958, NORAD uses data from satellites and ground-based radar to monitor North American airspace and warn of attacks by incoming aircraft or missiles. Noting this history, McCallum stated that “NORAD represents the logical place in which to lodge ballistic missile defence.”

Canada also views its potential involvement in missile defense as a means of limiting future U.S. defense initiatives. Canada strongly opposes the deployment of space-based weapons, and the Pentagon wants to put three to five armed satellites in orbit as early as 2008 to start testing a space-based missile defense system. Canadian officials have suggested that participation in the U.S. missile defense system will provide them with leverage over this issue. McCallum argued in a June 1 interview with Canada’s CTV television network that Canada “will have a better chance to oppose [the weaponization of space] if we are at the table and put our arguments forward…rather than being outside.”

In addition, both leaders said the proliferation of weapons by both state and nonstate actors threatens Canadian security as much as U.S. security. It is the fundamental responsibility of the Canadian government to ensure the maximum protection of the lives of its citizens, McCallum said.

U.S. missile defense plans gathered speed in December 2002, when President George W. Bush ordered the deployment of ground-based interceptor missiles in Alaska and California as well as sea-based interceptors aboard Navy destroyers. The first 10 interceptors are scheduled to be operational by September 2004, increasing the pressure for Canada to consider its role in the future system promptly.

Preliminary talks between Canadian and U.S. officials took place in Washington on June 18 and discussions are expected to continue throughout the summer. Canadian officials, however, have said that the government will not decide whether to participate in the U.S. missile defense system until negotiations conclude this fall.