Staples op-ed: Martin’s endorsement of national missile defence a major victory for Canada’s corporate lobbyists

Last week, the Chrétien government decided to take Canada one step closer to joining the Bush administration’s national missile defence system.

But strangely, no one has explained what missile threat Canada faces  leaving Canadians to wonder if national missile defence is more about defending the country from rogue U.S. trade policies than from rogue nations.

The current debate, which was sparked by Paul Martin’s endorsement of missile defence, has revealed how business interests are influencing Canada’s foreign and defence policies.

Business groups have been campaigning for months to push the Liberals closer to the Bush administration on a range of issues  especially national missile defence. In the back rooms of the missile defence debate one might find many of the players who were behind the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA .

The old Business Council on National Issues is back, but it has rebranded itself as the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE). It’s still run by long-time free trader Tom D’Aquino, but today it has broadened its attention from liberalizing investment and cutting deficits to boosting the military as well.

In a recent policy paper the CCCE argued that Canada must “enhance the interoperability of Canadian and U.S. armed forces… including Canadian participation in a continental anti-ballistic missile system.” It has organized an action group of 30 CEOs to promote its plan for “North American Security and Prosperity.”

Last month CCCE corporate members went to Washington, D.C., to meet with Bush administration officials, including defence adviser Richard Perle. According to one shaken participant, the hawkish Perle gave the Canadian corporate leaders a stern dressing-down and told them that “Canada had better realize in future where its best interests lie.”

The corporate lobby got the message.

The Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC), which includes heavyweight members such as Bombardier, has joined the CCCE in urging the government to get on board with the Americans.

Ron Kane, an AIAC vice-president, told The Globe and Mail that he fears that if Canada does not join the missile defence plan, member corporations will be shut out of the multi-billion dollar defence contracts. Perhaps not surprisingly, Kane said his fears were based on a personal conversation with U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci.

But Canadians should know that the debate is unfolding just as the Bush administration had hoped it would.

The Bush administration has been manipulating the missile defence program in order to activate domestic corporate lobbies in countries around the world, especially those countries that have been reluctant to endorse the United States’ pursuit of the controversial program.

The respected U.S. defence industry magazine Defense News revealed last summer that the U.S. Missile Defense Agency wanted to “lure foreign firms with U.S. defense dollars and hope the contractors sway their governments to get on board.”

Boeing is the lead contractor on national missile defence, and in July it penned an agreement with Britain’s BAE Systems in a deal that the The Daily Telegraph described as “an attempt by President George W. Bush to persuade Tony Blair that national missile defence is worthwhile.” Within months the once skeptical Tony Blair had dropped his objections and even invited the Americans to use a U.K. radar station for the system.

By October, Boeing had gotten around to Canada. It signed a vague agreement with CAE Inc. for modelling and simulation services, but there was no dollar figure attached to the contract.

CAE’s technological contribution is insignificant compared to its political contribution. Its president is Derek H. Burney, former chief of staff to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former ambassador to the United States, and along with Tom D’Aquino one of the chief architects of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. Today, Burney is an influential executive member of both the CCCE and the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada.

But the truth is that there will be little benefit to Canada in joining missile defence, despite what the CEOs may argue.

Canadians need only look at the reconstruction of Iraq, where even Britain, a close ally in the war, is being shut out of lucrative contracts. Moreover, most of the major missile defence contracts will remain in the hands of U.S. corporations, and Congress will insist on “Buy American” policies.

In the end, the government could be bilked out of billions of dollars to pay for Canada’s contribution to missile defence over the life of the program, while still facing protectionist trade policies from Washington.

Paul Martin’s endorsement of national missile defence was a major victory for Canada’s corporate lobbyists. It resulted in his ranks of caucus supporters falling into line on the issue, and even made a true believer out of the dovish Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham.

But Canada’s foreign and defence policies should never be driven by financial interests; they should instead be an expression of Canadians’ values by promoting diplomacy and disarmament. Paul Martin seems to need reminding that our traditional peacekeeping role is not for sale.

This op-ed by Steven Staples was published in The Hill Times on June 2, 2003.

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