Staples op-ed: Missile defence needs Parliamentary debate

It may be only a matter of days before Canada joins George W. Bush’s controversial national missile defence system without any Parliamentary or public debate. A Cabinet decision could lock Canada into a deal with the Pentagon and accelerate our military and economic integration with the United States.

Paul Martin has made his support for missile defence very clear, and John McCallum reported in September that the negotiations with the Americans for Canada to join their missile defence plan “were going well” and he would bring it back to Cabinet when an agreement had been reached, sometime later in the fall.

But most Canadians do not even know we are in negotiations and the government has released only scraps of information on their progress. That’s why we deserve a full Parliamentary and public debate before anything is signed.

How much will missile defence cost Canadian taxpayers?

Canada’s share could be many billions of dollars, draining resources from other priorities for decades to come. The Pentagon admits the system’s final cost defies estimation, but some analysts put it at $200-billion or more. The Bush administration has made it clear that it expects its allies to help pay for the War on Terrorism, including missile defence.

Canadian officials have downplayed estimates, some even suggesting it may cost Canada next to nothing. That’s a pipe dream. A similar joint aerospace project costs Canada $150-million U.S. just to get into the room, let alone a seat at the table. A military official recently indicated that the department has nearly a half-billion dollars ready to pay for Canada’s participation in missile defence.

Will new military bases and missiles be deployed in Canada?

The U.S. is building the missile defence system in phases; it is a crude system, to be deployed in 2004, with subsequent phases adding new capabilities to the system. This strategy allows the system to win political approval early so that more controversial components can be added later.

Using Canadian territory would improve the early detection of missiles launched from the Middle East (though none exist at present), so Canada could be required to build new radar and interceptor missile sites in the Arctic and on the East Coast.

But beyond this, the Pentagon plans to deploy interceptor missiles aboard warships that may need to use Canadian territorial waters.

Interceptor missiles could similarly be put aboard our own ships that patrol regularly with U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups around the world.

Will the Americans put weapons in space as part of the system?

Canada’s foreign policy remains opposed to placing weapons in space, and Bill Graham recently flatly denied that our involvement in missile defence will break this commitment. But every American official associated with missile defence, including Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself, considers space-based weapons part of future phases of the system.

The Bush administration has been frank in its displeasure with Canada’s refusal to endorse the invasion of Iraq. In a private meeting with Canadian corporate leaders seeking closer U.S. ties last April in Washington, an angry U.S. defense adviser, Richard Perle, reportedly warned that “Canada had better realize in future where its best interests lie.”

The corporations got the message, and now dozens of CEOs, organized by long-time free trader Tom d’Aquino, have launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to convince Canada to help fuel the United States’ global military and economic ambitions. They think that joining national missile defence will help protect Canada’s access to the U.S. market.

But there was an important message for Paul Martin in Jean Chrétien’s farewell speech to the Liberal Party leadership convention. Perhaps looking directly at Paul Martin sitting in the crowd, the outgoing leader said, “Beware of those on the right who put the narrow bottom line ahead of everything else.”

A Cabinet decision now to join missile defence would be a victory for big business, and a defeat for Canadian democracy. In May the government promised to bring the issue before Canadians. Chrétien said, “There will be a debate in the House of Commons … before a decision is reached.”

Paul Martin’s first test as Prime Minster will be on the issue of missile defence. Will he wait and bring it before the House of Commons for a debate next year, or will he sign a deal in the back room?

A website has been established at for people to call for a parliamentary and public debate on missile defence. We hope that Paul Martin thinks twice about rushing to be George W. Bush’s best friend, and thinks more about Jean Chrétien’s eleventh-hour warning. He might be relieved he did come election time next year.

This op-ed by Maude Barlow and Steven Staples was published in The Hill Times on December 15, 2003.

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