As the showdown between United States and North Korea continues over the Hermit Kingdom’s nuclear program and escalating missile tests, the need for Canada to revisit its ballistic missile defence couldn’t be more apparent. Or more urgent.
One former Canadian national security adviser, Richard Fadden, recently told a Canadian Global Affairs Institute conference that it was only a matter of time before the North Koreans would develop the capacity to hit North America. That time is here.
The primary target of any such attack would likely be the United States. But either as a result of Canada’s commitments to the United States under NATO’s Article 5 — which states that an attack on one is an attack on all — as well as the proximity of its major cities to our shared border, this country would get dragged into such an event. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan acknowledges that the threat to Canada from ballistic missiles is real.
This gap in our national defence dates back to 2005, when then-prime minister Paul Martin opted out of a proposed ballistic missile defence program shared with the United States. He cited the impact of the system on the global security environment, concerns about its effectiveness and its cost in the context of other needs. The last six months have quite simply changed the game.
Canada’s most senior officer at the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), Lt.-Gen. Pierre St-Amand, recently put it bluntly to the House of Commons’ national defence committee — that, under the current conditions, “the United States is under no obligation to defend Canada in the event of a ballistic missile attack.”
Given all of this, it is now time to take another look at joining the American ballistic missile defence system. Canada simply cannot afford the risk of remaining isolated and unprotected in the event of a missile attack.
Discussions should begin immediately.
But it should be noted that Canada wouldn’t simply be opting into an American system — there’s much that this country can offer to enhance both countries’ collective security.
Minister Sajjan should look at the Canadian Forces Base Goose Bay in Labrador as a pivotal link in any new missile defence pact with the United States. The primary mission of its air force base, known as 5 Wing Goose Bay, is already to support NORAD operations for the projection of air power on the north and northeast coasts of Canada and to support military training for the Canadian Armed Forces, its allies and NORAD.
Even though the Canadian government has not actively considered joining the American program since 2005, the U.S. military and its contractors have continued to look at the base in the context of their missile defence program. It would appear to be the perfect location for radar and interceptor installation.
In the years since 2005, there have been lower-level discussions, including the possibility of installing a high-tech radar system at Goose Bay as an offering to the U.S. for Canadian participation in the Pentagon’s missile shield. From the Americans’ perspective, this radar could have the advantage over other sensors as it would be able to give several minutes advance warning of a missile attack on North America’s eastern seaboard. The Americans would provide the radar system and Canada would offer the support and prime territory required.
That’s just one example of how Canada could put its military assets to use, upping this country’s role in protecting North American interest in turbulent times. It seems like a small premium for Canada to pay in order to be covered by the protection of the American missile defence program. Especially now.
Canadians deserve the best defence available. To get it, we’ll have to pull our weight in sharing this responsibility — a protection that all NATO partners share except Canada.
David M. Wells is a senator representing Newfoundland and Labrador.