Canada Set for Major Missile Defense Talks in U.S.
Sun Jan 26, 4:30 PM ET
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian officials hold talks in Washington this week on the proposed U.S. missile defense system that could ultimately include equipment on Canadian soil if Ottawa ends years of indecision and signs on.
The Canadian government, deeply split over the concept, has consistently declined to express an opinion about missile defense on the grounds it has not been asked to take part.
But Ottawa now wants to know much more about Washington's plans after President Bush (news - web sites) last month ordered the military to begin deploying a missile defense system with land-and sea-based interceptor rockets to be operational starting in 2004.
"(This) is clearly a new and significant development. We will be seeking information from U.S. officials on a range of issues related to this decision," Canadian foreign ministry spokeswoman Kimberly Phillips told Reuters on Saturday.
Tuesday's talks will be the first U.S.-Canadian meeting on the topic since a meeting in Ottawa last July.
Missile defense is becoming the most important issue ever to arise in the highly-integrated Canadian-U.S. defense relationship, which for the last 45 years has been centered on NORAD -- the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
Defense specialists say the proposed system -- designed to shoot down missiles fired from so-called rogue states such as North Korea (news - web sites) -- would be more effective if Ottawa permitted a special radar station to be built in the Canadian Arctic.
WEAPONIZATION OF SPACE
This does not sit well with Foreign Minister Bill Graham, who was very unhappy with Bush's decision last year to abandon the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. He fears that missile defense would lead to the weaponization of space, something Canada firmly opposes.
"We have questions about missile defense's potential impact on strategic stability, arms control, disarmament and the non-weaponization of space," said Phillips.
Some political opponents inside Canada say that by agreeing to join the system, Ottawa would badly tarnish an international reputation built over decades of peace-keeping and pushing for nuclear nonproliferation.
Many in the Canadian armed forces, however, fear that if Ottawa decides not to take part Canada would effectively be excluded from NORAD and its immense intelligence-gathering capability, particularly since it seems clear the missile defense system would be run from NORAD.
"Both the foreign and defense ministries feel it's in their interest to go ahead and take a hard look at this because the ball is rolling and it's probably to Canada's benefit -- if it is going to participate -- to be in there sooner rather than later," said one defense source.
Whether Canada can resist the pressure from its closest ally and trading partner is another matter. Two years ago one frustrated U.S. official suggested that if Canada did not sign up, the United States would not be obliged to shoot down missiles heading for Canadian targets.
James Fergusson, head of the Center for Defense and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba, said he was bemused by the Canadian mission.
"It's hard for me to see how Canada, in the absence of some formal indication to the United States that we are seriously considering participating, is going to get any more information than we've received over the past eight years," he said.