The Current

Should Canada join ballistic missile defence program?

It's not U.S. policy to protect Canada from potential missile attacks. As missile defence becomes more of a concern, what should Canada do?
In the case of a ballistic missile attack that puts Canada in the crosshairs, Canada's top NORAD officer Lt. Gen. Pierre St-Amand says, our defence is our problem. (KCNA/via Reuters)

Canada's top NORAD officer Lt. Gen. Pierre St-Amand didn't mince words during his testimony on Sept. 14, to a House of Commons defence committee.

In the case of a ballistic missile attack that puts Canada in the crosshairs, our defence is our problem, he says.

"The extent of the U.S. policy is not to defend Canada," said St-Amand in the event of a missile attack. St-Amand is also the deputy commander of the North American Aerospace Defence Command, responsible for defending the skies and maritime approaches to North America.

RelatedU.S. not obliged to defend Canada in event of North Korean missile attack

With North Korea launching a series of successful intercontinental missile tests over the summer, missile defence has become a pressing concern for North America.

Canada should proceed strategically, according to professor Christian Leuprecht at the Royal Military College of Canada.

"If we don't have a way of deterring these types of missiles flying towards the east or the west coast, it means that we leave ourselves open to compromising our sovereignty when it comes to international foreign or defence policymaking," he tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

However, tactically, Leuprecht says, "the sky isn't immediately falling here."

North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un reacts with scientists and technicians of the DPRK Academy of Defence Science after the test launch of the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14, July 5, 2017. (KCNA/via Reuters)

He points out that North Korea is still working on mastering missile technology and says it will happen — "Kim Jong-un has a 50-year perspective on this."

"So we seriously need to think about when that technology is perfected, is it only at that point that we as Canadians ... end up deciding to join BMD (Ballistic Missile Defence)?"

He adds the consequence of waiting it out would leave Canada having to choose "highly sub-optimal conditions offered by the United States." 

"Or do we want to make … an informed, strategic, democratic debate about when, whether and how to join?" Leuprecht  suggests. 

Canada not a threat to North Korea

Peggy Mason, president of the Rideau Institute, an Ottawa think tank, provided testimony at last week's defence committee hearings. 
Canada is not under threat from North Korea, says Peggy Mason. She suggests we focus on diplomacy not BMD. (

She says officials, intelligence officers from National Defence and foreign affairs agreed that there is no direct threat to Canada from North Korea.

"That's quite possible because we have no nuclear weapons. We have no intercontinental ballistic missiles. We have no nuclear arm subs, no aircraft carriers, no long-range nuclear capable bombers, and only six military personnel in South Korea."

"I think it's quite reasonable for North Korea not to …. perceive us as a threat."

Mason says ballistic missile defence (BMD) as a way to deter North Korea has the opposite effect.

"Which is why the Soviet Union, the United States agreed to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in [the] 1970s," she explains.

"The way you defeat missile defences is by building more offensive missiles. So ballistic missile defence plays no role whatsoever in deterring North Korea, and in fact, you know, quite possibly spurs them on."

Mason suggests focusing on BMD ignores what needs to be addressed which she says is "the very urgent need for diplomacy with North Korea without pre-conditions."

Listen to the full segment near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson, Lara O'Brien and Samira Mohyeddin.