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Pole: Ballistic Missile Defence

Will trade hang in the balance?


October 1, 2007
By Ken Pole

Topics

Despite decades of blather about a stronger ‘contractual link’ with
Europe and closer relationships with Asia, it’s the US we rely on for
our economic health. Maybe the frustration of trying to deny the
dependence is what makes critics so strident as their inferiority
complex kicks in.

Our
merchandise exports to the US as of the end of September had topped
$263 billion while our imports were $187 billion – a $76-billion
surplus in our favour. Factor out the US and we’d be running a
$23-billion deficit.

The US historically takes some 80% of our
exports with a significant share accounted for by aerospace products,
including aircraft and parts. It’s a relationship that has helped to
keep Canada’s aerospace industry near the top of global sales rankings.

But
could our relationship with the US be in jeopardy? Could political
pressure be brought to bear on US companies to buy less from Canadian
suppliers and turn to the burgeoning aerospace sectors elsewhere?

This
prospect came to mind during the recent visit to Ottawa and Halifax by
President George W. Bush, who expressed “hope that we’ll move forward
on ballistic missile defence (BMD) cooperation to protect the next
generation of Canadians and Americans from the threats we know will
arise.”

The comment elicited complaints from, among others, New
Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton, who said Bush had told him he
would not rule out space-based weapons as part of BMD. “They want the
Canadian flag on that system,” he said after attending a reception for
Bush.

Prime Minister Paul Martin insists he’s opposed to the
“weaponization” of space and that Bush had told him that BMD “does not
imply . . . weaponization of space.” That was to reporters after his
first cabinet meeting in the aftermath of the Bush visit. In the House
of Commons, Martin admitted that Washington “has not provided us with
specifics.”

In August, Canada’s role in the North American
Aerospace Defense Command was expanded to include detection of incoming
missiles. The current NORAD agreement with the US expires in May 2006
and it’s assumed that any proposal to add interceptor missiles to the
program would require negotiations.

The current US push for a
BMD is rooted in congressional support for a 1999 declaration that “it
is the official policy of the United States to deploy a national
missile defense” and that it should be deployed “as soon as possible.”

However,
the concept really dates to 1983, when Ronald Reagan stunned the world
by announcing plans for a Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).
Immediately dubbed ‘Star Wars’, it would have used ground- and
satellite- based lasers to neutralize ballistic missiles launched
toward North America. Critics derided it as cripplingly expensive
science fiction.

Yet the US persevered with development of SDI,
predicting deployment by 1997, thanks mainly to technologies which
turned science fiction into fact. Bush’s father refocused SDI in 1991
as a Global Protection Against Limited Strikes program that would
protect the US and its allies against deliberate or accidental attack.

The
US has had bilateral SDI research agreements with Britain, Israel and
Japan, among others, for some time and consultations have broadened and
deepened. Washington’s annual SDI funding has ranged from $2.1 billion
to $4.3 billion and while the sums seem huge, they represent less than
2% of overall US defence spending.

Layton’s criticism of BDM
mirrors the results of ill-informed public opinion polls here.
Opponents also include some of Martin’s minority Liberal caucus.
Against the “weaponization” of space? Would the bad guys give that
misrepresented term a second’s thought if they lobbed a missile in our
direction? And how many of the rank-and-file in the various unions with
aerospace divisions oppose participation in BMD, which the US will
deploy with or without us?

If Ottawa does give Washington the
cold shoulder, we should be ready to pay the price in terms of lost
exports – and jobs – if our neighbours play hardball. Can’t happen? Try
telling that to our lumber, agriculture and other sectors that have
fallen afoul of politically driven US protectionism and retaliatory
trade policies over the past decade or so.