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Enter Stage Gabbing

Politics trumps security

By Steven Martinovich

The Professor(February 28, 2005) For cynics the news that Canada will not be participating in the U.S. missile defense plan perhaps wasn't surprising. After a year of hinting that we would join the program Prime Minister Paul Martin abruptly decided that it was more important to court votes from New Democratic and Bloc Quebecois voters and avoid an internal battle at a policy convention next month over the matter. Rather than lead from the front, Martin instead chose to follow the prevailing winds of public opinion.

In truth, not all the blame can be laid at Martin's feet. Only two high-profile ministers -- Defence Minister Bill Graham and Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan -- spoke out in support of missile defense. On the political left the New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois were vociferously opposed. Over on the right, the Conservatives couldn't seem to make up their minds on the matter. That left Canadians -- who as recently as two years ago were evenly divided according to one poll -- to oppose the plan by default since few prominent Canadians were arguing in favour of joining the Americans.

Political considerations aside, however, the decision not to join the system deals a blow to Martin's promise to reestablish closer relations with the United States after the debate over the war in Iraq. Despite sometimes testy relations between our two countries, U.S. President George W. Bush offered Canada a decision making role in the new program. All we had to do was sign on.

Perhaps more important than Canada-U.S. relations, however, is our security. The federal government has once again signaled to the world that it is not interested in securing Canada from a potential threat -- and that threat is a real one. Over three dozen nations, including Iran and North Korea, possess advanced ballistic missile technology and are preparing to roll out even more capable systems. Missile technology will only continue to spread -- recent reports have North Korea openly shopping their ballistic missile technology to anyone willing to pay -- and as isolated from the world's trouble spots as we seem, ballistic missiles have the potential of bringing that trouble to us in less than an hour.

Of course, despite our refusal to join, Canada will be protected by the system -- presuming it actually works as intended. The amendment of the NORAD agreement last August to place the agency in charge of the system effectively made us partners, although without an official voice in how it operates. And with part of the interceptor system based in Alaska, Canada will be safe under the shield.

However, as some experts have pointed out, what unofficial voice we do have through NORAD will likely be diminished in coming years. It could occur in the near future that missile defence decisions will be left to U.S. Northern Command (Northcom). Although both are located in Cheyenne Mountain, Canadians do not participate in Northcom and nor will we be invited to due to Martin's decision.

By taking the cheap road, refusing to join but still enjoy the system's benefits, it will come at the expense of our sovereignty. A nation that relies on a neighbour to defend it, much as we did during the Cold War and with decades of underfunding our military, is a nation whose voice carries little weight either with the United States or globally.

Soft power has done little to solve the world's problems and it certainly doesn't stop missiles. More importantly, our security will last only so long as a future American president deems it worth the expense. No American president is likely to ever make the decision to leave Canada defenseless but we are essentially relying on the beneficence of another nation to keep us safe.

Joining the missile defence system should have been an academic exercise. The United States merely wanted our blessing -- given our history with military funding they certainly didn't expect us to cover any costs -- but simple declaration proved to be too much. By choosing political concerns over security, however, Martin has showed that Canada is once again not interested in taking its own defence seriously. The prime minister had the chance to lead on an issue and help secure Canadians but instead opted to secure his own government's fortunes.

Thanks for reading,

Steven Martinovich


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