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Canada Spurns Bush on Missile Defense

Wade Boese

Defying intense U.S. lobbying and President George W. Bush’s personal intervention, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin recently announced that Ottawa would not join U.S. efforts to build long-range ballistic missile defenses. Martin’s decision stemmed from a mix of Canadian politics and worries that U.S. anti-missile plans might lead to deploying weapons in space.

Martin said Feb. 24 that, although Canada and the United States would continue cooperation on defense and security matters, “ballistic missile defense is not where we will concentrate our efforts.”

Following Martin’s announcement, Bush did not return a call from the prime minister for more than a week, which some in Canada interpreted as a sign of the president’s displeasure. Yet, in a March 23 meeting between the two leaders, they said the issue was behind them and would not affect cooperation on other matters.

Retiring U.S. Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci vented his disappointment more publicly than Bush, charging Ottawa with misleading Washington. “We’ve been pretty much assured for a long time that Canada wanted to participate,” Cellucci told CTV March 6. He described the United States as “perplexed” and added, “[W]e don’t understand why a country would give up its sovereignty, which we think Canada has done.”

Last August, Ottawa agreed that information gathered by the joint U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) could be relayed to U.S. missile defense systems. NORAD is charged with identifying, tracking, and countering air and missile attacks against U.S. and Canadian soil.

Cellucci contended, “We have this odd situation where the Canadians will participate at NORAD, detecting when the missile is launched, determining where it’s heading, and even if they determine it’s heading towards Canada, it’s at that point they’ll have to leave the room because they’re not participating.”

Still, Missile Defense Agency (MDA) spokesperson Rick Lehner told Arms Control Today March 10 that Ottawa’s decision had no impact on U.S. missile defense plans because “no part of the infrastructure” was ever to be deployed on Canadian territory. Noting that an incoming missile’s trajectory toward Seattle or Vancouver would not vary much, he said that any missile headed for North America would be engaged by U.S. missile defenses as early as possible.

Canada’s missile defense snub came one day after Ottawa won U.S. praise for its announced $10.8 billion military spending increase over the next five years. Washington has long urged its northern neighbor to spend more on its armed forces. In its latest fiscal year budget proposal, Canada is planning approximately $11 billion in defense funding, not including the proposed boost, while the most recent U.S. fiscal year defense budget totaled $419 billion, excluding costs for ongoing military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. (See ACT, March 2005.)

Martin’s rebuff also followed on the heels of Bush’s personal push to get Canada involved in missile defense. During a visit to Canada late last year, before which U.S. officials pledged not to bring up missile defense because of its political sensitivity, Bush surprised his hosts by declaring in a Dec. 1 speech, “I hope we’ll also move forward on ballistic missile defense cooperation to protect the next generation of Canadians and Americans from the threats we know will arise.”

Shortly after Bush’s visit, Martin remained noncommittal. While ruling out any Canadian participation on space-based systems, he hedged on whether Ottawa might assist in developing ground- and sea-based missile defenses. Future Canadian participation would depend “on the nature of the voice that we have in it, but I am going to protect our air space,” the prime minister said during a Dec. 27 CTV interview.

Martin made his final decision known a little more than a week before a meeting of his ruling Liberal Party, many of whom oppose missile defense. Moreover, the Canadian public has increasingly turned against missile defense over the past year because of concerns that the U.S. system involves space-based weapons, as first envisioned 20 years ago by President Ronald Reagan.

Earlier Bush administration plans called for deployment of up to five space-based interceptors for testing purposes by 2008, but the Pentagon’s latest budget request includes no funding for this project. A Pentagon document released last year showed the possible fielding of space-based interceptors as slipping to 2012 and described the endeavor as “speculative.” (See ACT, October 2004.)

Currently, six strategic ground-based interceptors are deployed in Alaska and another two in California. These are to serve as the initial elements of the U.S. defense, although this particular interceptor model has not gotten off the ground in its last two flight tests.(See ACT, March 2005.) MDA Director Lieutenant General Henry Obering told reporters March 9 that he was “very disappointed” with the simplicity of the recent test failures but said he still had “confidence in the basic functionality of the system.”