Opinion

Trudeau may be uniquely positioned to finally sign Canada on to ballistic missile defence

Just as the lifetime anti-communist Richard Nixon could be entrusted to re-establish relations with Red China in 1972, so too can Trudeau ink a military deal with the U.S. without appearing to be a U.S. lackey

If asked for our participation in BMD during the Vancouver summit, we need to seize the opportunity and join

Just as the lifetime anti-communist Richard Nixon could be entrusted to re-establish relations with Red China in 1972, so too can Trudeau ink a military deal with the U.S. without appearing to be a U.S. lackey. (Lee Jae-Won/Reuters)

This week, Canada is hosting a summit in Vancouver on the growing geopolitical threat of North Korea.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — seemingly always one step away from resigning or being fired from the Trump administration — is scheduled to attend, as are the foreign ministers of many of the countries who fought the Korean War.

The focus of the summit will be on sanctions, but ballistic missile defence (BMD), the U.S. system that is designed to shoot down incoming missile threats before they reach American targets, will certainly be a point of discussion.

If asked for our participation in BMD — and we surely will be — Canada needs to embrace the opportunity and join. It should be a natural and obvious extension of our membership in NORAD.

With the madman who rules the national penitentiary that is North Korea insisting on advancing his nuclear program, it may well be a matter of life or death for Canadians and not merely a foreign policy advantage.

2014 Senate report

The Senate committee on national security and defence came to this conclusion in 2014, writing that "Canada cannot simply assume that all of its territory will be protected by default under the existing U.S. BMD system."

"Because Canada is not a BMD participant," it wrote, "decisions on when, where and whether to intercept an incoming ballistic missile would be made not under the auspices of the binational NORAD structure but, rather, by the U.S. alone."

In or out of BMD, Canada cannot ignore the reality of missile flying over its airspace, just as it cannot ignore any resurgence of war in the Korean Peninsula. Since the cessation of combat, an armistice has kept the guns silent and a demilitarized zone continues to separate north and south. But as an original combatant in the Korean War, Canada would most probably be a participant in any new conflict.

When the U.S. asked Canada to participate in its continental ballistic missile defence plan in 2005, Prime Minister Paul Martin said no.

At the time, the Canadian left was quick to say this was "Star Wars" all over again, in reference to the quite misleading description of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) envisioned by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, which was focused on neutralizing, not inciting, war. But that didn't stop the NDP and its fellow travellers at the anti-nuke Project Plowshares from envisioning an atomic Armageddon.

Comparing ballistic missile defence to anything remotely resembling "Star Wars" was not just inappropriate, but grossly misleading. The system the Americans were offering was not space-based but land-based. Neither was it a conceptual design that threatened to cost unnumbered billions of dollars; it was a practical, proven and workable system that had already demonstrated its viability.

Martin declined to join the U.S. in its continental ballistic missile defence plan in 2005.

But Martin — whether he feared becoming immersed in a storm of anti-American hysteria or perhaps he just wanted to keep his head in the sand — decided to reject the U.S. offer.

Martin was really not prime minister long enough to worry about the ramifications of missile defence, and within a year he was replaced by the more martial Stephen Harper. Harper came to 24 Sussex with an almost apostolic fervour to restore the lustre of the Canadian Armed Forces and he made good on some of that enthusiasm in his first years in office. But eventually, he too refused to acknowledge the efficacy of missile defence and the necessity of Canada being a part of it.

Transition to the present. Interestingly, Martin said recently if he were asked today to participate in BMD, his answer might be yes. And Peter MacKay, who enjoyed a singular popularity with the military rank and file while being Harper's longest-serving minister of national defence, has also said that he wished he would have found the opportunity to sign on to the deal. Harper might well have regrets too.

Ironically, the UN-embracing, peacekeeping-ethusiast Trudeau might be ideally situated and suited to sign on the dotted line.

Trudeau can embrace missile defence with the same forced passion and maudlin enthusiasm that characterizes his every reference to the current American administration in the context of NAFTA. Just as the lifetime anti-communist Richard Nixon could be entrusted to re-establish relations with Red China in 1972, so too can Trudeau ink a military deal with the U.S. without appearing to be a U.S. lackey to the anti-American Canadians who love him so much.

You know his heart's not in it — but Trudeau knows he doesn't really have any other choice.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

David Krayden

David Krayden has worked in print, radio and television journalism. He served in the Canadian Armed Forces as a public affairs officer and was employed for almost a decade as a communications specialist on Parliament Hill. He is currently the Ottawa Bureau Chief for The Daily Caller, a Washington-based news service.

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