American Enterprise Online | 3.9.05
The American Enterprise | April/May 2005
By Alan W. Dowd                 

Bending to pressures inside his tenuous coalition government, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has announced that his country will not contribute resources to the nascent US missile defense system. After pledging to “work in partnership with our southern neighbors on the common defense of North America,” Martin concedes that “ballistic-missile defense is not where we will concentrate our efforts.” 

Critics of missile defense wonder if Canada’s decision will derail or at least hinder Washington's efforts to deploy a viable missile shield—and along the way undermine the foremost disciple of missile defense, President George W. Bush. But their wishful thinking isn’t likely to alter Bush’s plans. Although Canadian investment in the system would be welcomed in Washington, the missile-defense movement marches on. In fact, even as Ottawa sits on the sidelines, Bush is forging a truly international missile defense coalition (IMD).    

Built around a strong transatlantic core, the IMD coalition includes Britain, which agreed in 2003 to software and hardware upgrades of existing ground-based radar stations at Fylingdales. Last August, Denmark approved similar upgrades at radar and satellite-tracking stations in Thule, Greenland. As then-Secretary of State Colin Powell explained at ceremonies announcing Denmark’s decision, “This is a way of providing protection to all of the civilized world—not just the United States, not just Greenland and not just Denmark.”  

The Polish and Czech governments are negotiating with Washington on the deployment of new radar stations on their soil. The Poles have even expressed a willingness to open their territory to missile interceptors. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, the Pentagon has been surveying the mountains of southern Poland as a possible base for underground interceptor silos like those in Alaska and California. Other EU states are cooperating to varying degrees.  

Japan and Australia serve as the coalition’s key pillars in the Pacific. Canberra’s IMD contribution includes monitoring and tracking stations in the deserts of central Australia. The Aussies have cemented their commitment to missile defense in the form of a 25-year deal with Washington.  

After quietly cooperating with the US on missile defense since the late 1990s, when North Korea began brandishing its rockets, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi gave the go-ahead to begin constructing a layered missile-defense system in 2003. Last year, the Japanese military leaked a request for a 35-percent increase in missile-defense spending. Living within range of Kim Jong-Il’s arsenal has a way of focusing a nation’s priorities—at least some nations. After all, Canada also lies within North Korea’s deadly reach.

With Iranian missiles trained on Tel Aviv, Israel has deployed the Arrow anti-missile system, a product of US-Israeli technology and testing. India wants a place on the IMD team. And Russia has acquiesced to the US-backed system, making a virtue out of reality and necessity.

But Canada is staying out—sort of.

Although Martin said “no”—or non—to direct participation in missile defense, Ottawa authorized the use of NORAD’s capabilities to support the IMD system last August, which is what Washington arguably wanted most of all. As Canadian Ambassador Frank McKenna observed, Canada’s permission on NORAD means “We are part of [missile defense] now.”

Of course, given that NORAD is located in the side of a mountain in Colorado, and given that Americans pay somewhere around 90 percent of its costs, “permission” is probably the wrong word.

Some have asked if Martin’s decision means that Canada will be a free-rider when it comes to IMD. The short answer is yes. If North Korea lobs a missile at North America, the US system will seek to destroy it—with or without Ottawa’s pre-approval, and regardless of the missile’s intended target. In other words, the anti-missile assets that are being deployed in the United States and pacing the Pacific stand on guard for Canada as well as America.

Historically, Canada has not sought a free ride for its security or freedom. It pays to recall that some 60,000 Canadian troops died in World War I—out of a population of less than 8 million. Another 42,000 died liberating Europe in World War II. As former PM Brian Mulroney once observed, “If people want to know how Canada paid for its seat in Europe, they should check out the graves in Belgium and France.”

Canada dispatched troops to defend Korea at the beginning of the Cold War and to liberate Kuwait at the end. Historian Derek Leebaert recalls how Canada, “whose GDP was about a tenth of the United States,” shouldered a third of the cost of deploying the radar stations that guarded North America against Soviet bombers during the Cold War.

But that was a different time and perhaps a different Canada. Ottawa’s decision on missile defense is a sober reminder that America’s nearest ally is definitely no longer its closest ally.