A medium-range ballistic missile target is launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, before being successfully intercepted by Standard Missile-6 missiles fired from the guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones, in Kauai, Hawaii, U.S. August 29, 2017 in this handout image.

A medium-range ballistic missile target is launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, before being successfully intercepted by Standard Missile-6 missiles fired from the guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones, in Kauai, Hawaii, U.S. August 29, 2017 in this handout image.
Photo Credit: Handout .

Should Canada join U.S. ballistic missile defence program?

The dizzying tempo of North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons development program is raising questions in Ottawa whether Canada too should join the American ballistic missile defence umbrella despite uncertainty over its efficacy, costs and any meaningful Canadian role in decision-making.

The latest missile test by North Korea and its furthest-reaching yet came hours after more than a dozen academics, security experts, diplomats and high ranking defence officials appeared in front of the House of Commons standing committee on national defence on Thursday to discuss whether Canada is ready to defend itself and its allies in the event of an attack by Pyongyang.

The stark message delivered by a top Canadian general was that Canada has nothing in its arsenal that could protect the country’s territory in the event of a ballistic missile nuclear strike by North Korea.

And under the current U.S. policy, the American military would not protect its northern neighbour from such an attack, said Lt.-Gen. Pierre St-Amand, the Canadian deputy commander of the binational North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD).

“The extent of the U.S. policy is not to defend Canada,” said St-Amand. “That’s the fact I can bring to the table.”

Lt. Gen. Pierre St-Amand speaks to media after appearing as a witness at a commons national defence committee in Ottawa on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. The committee is hearing witnesses on Canada’s abilities to defend itself and our allies in the event of an attack by North Korea on the North American continent.
Lt. Gen. Pierre St-Amand speaks to media after appearing as a witness at a commons national defence committee in Ottawa on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. The committee is hearing witnesses on Canada’s abilities to defend itself and our allies in the event of an attack by North Korea on the North American continent. © PC/Sean Kilpatrick

St-Amand said because Canada is not part of the U.S. ballistic missile defence (BMD) program, Canadian military personnel posted to NORAD would have no role in deciding what to do if a ballistic missile from North Korea or any other country was detected heading toward North America.

They would instead be passive observers, waiting to see whether U.S. officials would in fact decide to shoot down a missile or missiles heading toward Canada.

St-Amand’s testimony shattered a long-standing Canadian myth that the Americans will defend Canada against incoming missiles, Rob Huebert, a professor of political science at University of Calgary who also testified at the hearing, told Radio Canada International.

(click to listen to the full interview with Rob Huebert)

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A missile is launched during a long and medium-range ballistic rocket launch drill in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on August 30, 2017.
A missile is launched during a long and medium-range ballistic rocket launch drill in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on August 30, 2017. © KCNA KCNA

“We are completely deluding ourselves if we automatically assume that under every single possibility the Americans will come to the forefront and defend us,” said Huebert, who teaches strategic studies.

Given the limited number of interceptor missiles available to U.S. commanders, they might feel compelled to reserve their missiles in case of a multiple missile launch by North Korea, Huebert said.

“If we’re not part of a treaty system, I can easily see where the America commander could be thinking that and by the time it gets overridden by a political leader who is obviously going to be focused on other issues it may be too late for Canada,” Huebert said. “I think it’s naïve for us to simply say we can defend Canada against a North Korean strike because the Americans will do it regardless of any form of an agreement.”

A Standard Missile Three (SM-3) is launched from the guided missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG 67) during a joint U.S. Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Navy ballistic missile flight test in the Pacific Ocean, June 22, 2006.
A Standard Missile Three (SM-3) is launched from the guided missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG 67) during a joint U.S. Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Navy ballistic missile flight test in the Pacific Ocean, June 22, 2006. © Handout .

Huebert says he wholeheartedly agrees with the proponents of the idea of joining the U.S. ballistic missile defence program.

“It’s imperative that we talk to the Americans to get into the system, even if it’s coming in as junior or subordinate partner but just to lock us into the American system,” Huebert said.

The government may also want to think seriously about arming its future warships, the 15 or so Canadian Surface Combatants the government plans to build to replace the current fleet of Halifax-class frigates, with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defence System, a U.S. developed platform to provide missile defence against short to intermediate-range ballistic missiles, Huebert said.

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Posted in International, Military, Politics

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4 comments on “Should Canada join U.S. ballistic missile defence program?
  1. ursula wagner says:

    What a question?

    There is only one answer and that is NO!

  2. Kevin Quinn says:

    No way. An ABM defense installation will be a prime target.

  3. Kevin Quinn says:

    What does it matter? The USA is going to shoot down anything that isn’t its own that it SUSPECTS to be transiting Canada. That would include anything actually aimed at a Canadian target just in case a minor course change at the last moment relayed the load to la-la land. They’ll be dropping rocket junk over Canada.

    They want us to help them pay for their ABM system and don’t have the nuts to try making it a part of NAFTA. If they want, we could withdraw from NORAD and let them concentrate on what they want to do, best.

  4. Peter Ashcroft says:

    Canada needs to liaise with the United States, as the Canadian Pacific coastline lies between Alasks and Washington State, Oregon and California.