Steven Staples: MISSILE DEFENCE AND CANADA’S PURSUIT OF NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT
A presentation to the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade’s Consultations with Civil Society on Issues Related to International Security, Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems.
By Steven Staples
February 25, 2004
First, let me begin by saying thank you to my colleagues who have asked me to make a presentation on behalf of civil society regarding this very important issue of Canada’s participation in the American missile defence system.
With so much expertise and experience in the room today, I won’t pretend to be able to cover all of the concerns of citizens, so I’m counting on my colleagues to contribute generously to the subsequent discussion. . .
Two summers ago my family and I took a vacation along the Acadian coast of New Brunswick. It is a beautiful part of Canada and not very far from my home town of Fredericton. We went for the beaches and the wonderful culture there, but I have to admit to indulging in a little “nuclear tourism.”
We took a little detour to the town of Chatham, the site of an old Canadian Air Force base that has since been closed and handed over to local industries. But during the Cold War there were lots of rumours about Chatham — rumours about the U.S. soldiers that were stationed there, and about the Canadian Voodoo jet fighters that were on constant alert, hooked into the continental NORAD system.
As kids growing up in Fredericton we always wondered what was going on up there in Chatham, just about an hour or so’s drive down the back roads?
Thanks to research done recently by John Clearwater and others, today we know: Chatham was one of the few places in Canada where the government had permitted the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons.
In this case, they were nuclear-armed Genie missiles that could be loaded onto the Canadian fighter jets and fired against Russian bombers coming in over the Arctic. The nuclear weapons were kept there for years until the last of the missiles were taken out of Canada in the early 1980s.
I was reminded of this little-known chapter of our history during that astonishing interview with David Pratt on CTV last weekend. When Craig Oliver raised the issue of Bomarc nuclear missiles in Canada, the defence minister said, “Well, you know, Craig, we’ve been in the missile defence business for some time in terms of the north warning system.”
In essence, he was arguing that our history with NORAD and the nuclear weapons that were placed in Canada has made us part of a missile defence system for decades — so whatxs the big deal?
And I think this explains why whenever the discussion of missile defence comes up, there is a sense of déjà vu in the minds of everyday Canadians: “Haven’t we gone through this before? This is Star Wars, right? From the Cold War. Oh yeah, Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union and all that evil empire stuff. Glad that’s over. . .”
Well, maybe not.
This headline from Monday’s Globe and Mail brought it all back: “Canada may host U.S. missiles.”
I think that headlines like this, and missile defence in general, are tapping into a growing unease about where this government is taking us.
It was no coincidence that the exchange of letters between Defence Minister David Pratt and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld occurred a few days before Paul Martin’s big breakfast meeting in Monterrey, Mexico.
Of course, everyone wants to have good relations with the neighbours, but how far is Paul Martin willing to go to get that invitation to the White House?
So I went to Monterrey, and even sat in on the Prime Minister’s first press briefing following his breakfast with Bush. Surprisingly, no mention of missile defence came up. Just Iraq contracts, Maher Arar, and possible movement on trade problems such as beef and lumber.
A reporter told me later that in a subsequent press briefing he had asked the Prime Minister what he offered the U.S. president in return for these concessions, and Paul Martin replied: nothing.
Now, as an advocate for disarmament I have been frequently called naïve — but I don’t think I’m that naïve. . .
A week later a Canadian Press story emerged to the effect that during the meeting in Mexico, Paul Martin proposed to reviewing Canada’s foreign policy to make it more complementary to that of the U.S.
Further, the story said that Paul Martin himself had a private meeting with U.S. Ambassador Cellucci last April. Only days later he announced he supported Canada’s participation in the U.S. missile defence program, along with increased military spending and improved security co-operation generally.
Since taking power Paul Martin has not failed to deliver on many of these promises. He has put an improved Canada-U.S. relationship and even a close personal relationship with George W. Bush at the top of his agenda.
The government has been reworked to include a new public safety department that mirrors the United States Department of Homeland Security. All capital spending has been frozen except for new military helicopters and tanks. And Martin appointed the most hawkish of the Liberal caucus, and a supporter of the Iraq invasion, as his minister of national defence.
Most revealing, it is apparently David Pratt who is leading the negotiations on Canada’s joining the national missile defence program — not the department of foreign affairs, where these discussions should rightfully be taking place.
These changes really fly in the face of popular opinion. There is no widespread demand for this in the Canadian public. Maclean’s Magazine’s annual year-end survey found that only one in ten Canadians felt that the Prime Minister’s top priority should be “having a closer relationship with the United States.” Further, three out of every four agreed that “It is important for Canada to set its own course and we were right to stay out of the war, even if it has annoyed our closest trade partner and may have cost Canadian jobs.”
So where is the pressure coming from in Canada for this new-found enthusiasm in the government to build up the military and join the U.S. missile defence shield?
Anyone who reads the business pages these days will know that a very active business lobby has sprung up in the last few years to push the government towards greater market integration with the United States.
According to the C.D. Howe Institute and other corporate think tanks, NAFTA has run out of steam. Many of the old players who were involved in the free trade debates are back, pushing what Thomas d’Aquino of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives calls “the second chapter of that transforming initiative.”
Only this time there is a difference — economic integration with the United States is linked with military and security integration. In the Bush administration security trumps trade, so the proposals from the business lobby today call explicitly for a beefed-up and more aggressive Canadian military, including Canadian participation in the American missile defence program. Even the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has come out in support of joining missile defence.
If you go deeper into their proposals, you find there is more than just missile defence. In fact, business groups are arguing that we need to rethink our foreign and defence policy to fit that of the United States. They are being bolstered by the most extreme voices in the Canadian defence lobby — some of whom are now arguing that years of Canada’s work on multilateral arms control initiatives have been a waste of time. Others are questioning Canada’s traditional peacekeeping role and preparing the ground for the government to drop its opposition to the weaponization of space.
The result, in my opinion, is a serious crisis for the future of Canada’s foreign and defence policies — and our very role in the world.
Those voices that urge the government to embrace the national security policies of the United States are in fact urging that we turn our back on decades of support for nuclear disarmament.
In the final assessment, missile defence is an admission of failure. It accepts that nuclear breakout is now a fact, and as Donald Rumsfeld has pointed out, the United States has to “manage” the spread of nuclear weapons if it wants to maintain its own nuclear arsenals and superior strategic position in the world.
This strategy requires missile defences at home that will allow aggressive, counter-proliferation and pre-emptive wars abroad. We heard this very clearly from one of our presenters yesterday . . .
And we have to ask ourselves: Is this the best that Canada can do? Is this the best answer that all of these brilliant people in this foreign affairs building can come up with? I don’t believe it.
Canadians are proud of our tradition as a peacekeeper, as a diplomat, as a middle power that seeks novel solutions to seemingly intractable situations. If we look around we can see it every day.
Look at the soldiers in Afghanistan who know it’s dangerous to patrol in those open Iltis jeeps but who accept the risk because they want to have personal contact with local people.
See the everyday Canadian activists who have taken verification into their own hands, formed citizen weapons inspection teams, and confronted nuclear bases in the United States and other NATO members demanding that they live up to Article VI of the NPT.
And look at the Liberal members of Parliament who don’t even support their own party’s involvement in these missile defence talks.
One of our presenters yesterday asked an important question: If we are not working for zero nuclear weapons, what are we working for?
Personally, I believe that the abolition of nuclear weapons is still possible. I’m not ready to give up that easily.
I told you about the airbase in Chatham, and the nuclear weapons that were kept there. That base has been sold off to local business and is now open to the public. So we took a look around and we found the concrete bunkers that once stored the dozens of nuclear bombs were secretly held at the base.
Can you guess what those bunkers are used for today? They’re gardening sheds.
Canada should not join the United States in its missile defence system. Instead, we need to recommit ourselves to the task of nuclear disarmament.
The number of opportunities, while sometimes difficult to see, has in fact never been greater. The Cold War is over! Let’s leave these weapons and missile schemes to history.
Let’s not sit here in North America and hide behind an American missile shield.
Instead, let’s take Canadians’ new-found confidence and internationalism and engage the world to show that there are other, better answers.
Steven Staples Director,
Project on the Corporate-Security State
312 Cooper Street Ottawa, Ontario
K2P 0G7 CANADA
t. 613 237-1717 x107 c. 613 290-2695 f. 613 237-3359 e. firstname.lastname@example.org www.polarisinstitute.org