Mark Collins – “Time to say ‘yes’ to a missile shield, Canada”

Further to this post,

Canada Should Just Say “Yes” to Missile Defence, North Korea in Mind

A retired Canadian diplomat, most recently our government’s political adviser to NORAD’s (and US NORTHCOM’s) American commander, makes the case…

that retired diplomat, Michael Dawson, has at it again:

As Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan kicks off a review of Canadian defence policy [see plus “Comments”: “Canadian “Defence Policy Review” and Consultations Go Online“], all Canadians can take great pride in the accomplishments of the Canadian Armed Forces over the past fifteen years — accomplishments won at considerable cost.

During these years, much of our focus has been on the fight against Islamicist extremism. But the current review needs to take into account a much wider spectrum of threats. One of the most serious of these is the proliferation of long-range ballistic missiles tipped with nuclear warheads — a combination which North Korea continues to pursue as a national priority and which the regime has taken to brandishing against its neighbour to the south and the United States.

North Korea may or may not have tested a thermonuclear weapon, but it’s clear that the regime intends to continue its quest for one. For both neighbouring states and those further afield, it is North Korea’s ballistic missile program which operationalizes the threat. Beginning with copies of the old Soviet Scud short-range ballistic missile, the North Korean missile-makers have steadily advanced to an intermediate-range missile (the Musudan), are developing an ICBM and seem to be aspiring to a submarine-launched ballistic missile…

The United States’ ground-based missile defence system is built to defend the homeland against a rudimentary, small-scale ICBM attack. It is a non-nuclear system which uses the interceptor’s kinetic energy to destroy the target. It relies on NORAD [website here] for aerospace warning and Canadian Forces personnel have for many years been part of the NORAD warning function.

Canada is not a part of the defence function, which resides with U.S. Northern Command [website here]. The assumption that the United States would defend Canada against a deliberate or (more likely) an errant shot from North Korea is problematic because the U.S. has only a limited number of interceptor missiles to defend against an unknown number of North Korean ICBMs. A sure kill might require several shots at an incoming ICBM, with some interceptors held in reserve against unknown contingencies. The defence functions according to pre-scripted algorithms, leaving no time for political consultations.

So the only way to make certain Canada is covered by the missile shield is to participate in it. That would involve a negotiated set of parameters which would cover Canadian cities — not just the ones covered by default because of their proximity to the border.

This is not a rehash of Ronald Reagan’s old ‘Star Wars’ concept but a pragmatic, minimalist defence against evolving ICBM threats from unpredictable regimes [the US Missile Defense Agency’s website here]…

Canada stands alone among major U.S. allies in shunning active participation in missile defence (except in European NATO territory, so long as Canada is not defended, which is a rather eccentric policy position [NATO’s missile defence webpage here]). Time to get off the fence…

Michael Dawson is a retired Canadian Foreign Service Officer who served as Canada’s political advisor to the commander of NORAD and United States Northern Command in Colorado Springs from 2010 to 2014. View all posts by Michael Dawson   

Indeed. Do read it all [disclosure: Mr Dawson is a good friend]. Then there are the domestic politics:

Think LAVs are thorny? Wait for the missile debate

It is a debate Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would prefer to do without. But a lot has changed since the last Liberal government said “no” to signing on to BMD in 2005. Now Canada is increasingly out of sync with its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, seen as a free-riding non-participant in its own defence.

Harjit Sajjan can’t avoid this elephant in the room as he launches a review of Canadian defence policy. On Monday [April 18], the Defence Minister acknowledged that any consultation that omitted reopening the discussion on missile defence could not be considered an “open” defence review.

As his own department’s discussion paper unpinning the review explains: “Given the increase in the number of countries with access to ballistic missile technology and their potential to reach North America, this threat is expected to endure and grow more sophisticated in coming decades. In response to this change in the security environment, many of Canada’s partners and allies are working closely [on BMD] capabilities.”

But just how “open” is Mr. Trudeau to reconsidering a policy that tore apart his party the last time it crept onto the agenda? Not participating in BMD dovetails with the peace-seeker image he likes to project…

The poor PM may be facing a hard decision.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


9 thoughts on “Mark Collins – “Time to say ‘yes’ to a missile shield, Canada””

  1. And perhaps give our Navy a missile defence capability:

    More on CSCs,

    a few of which are supposed to have a serious air defence role:

    Two variants of the new ships are expected to be built. One type will provide air defence and command and control, while the other will be a general purpose type to do the jobs now handled by Canada’s Halifax-class frigates…”

    Mark Collins

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