September 2005: The Myth of Canada's Anti-BMD Decision

Canada’s “no” to U.S. missile defense was really a hearty “yes”
September 1, 2005

It was just over a year ago, on August 5, 2004, in the epicentre of Canada’s sacrosanct summer holidays, that the Canadian government ever-so-quietly initiated a major change to the NORAD agreement to add “missile defense” functions to the workload of this Canada-U.S. military pact.

The U.S., of course, promptly agreed to Canada’s kind offer to share in the vital “aerospace warning” function of U.S. missile defense weapons systems. Thanks to Canada’s initiative, dozens of NORAD radar stations scattered across Canada are now an essential part of the tracking and targeting functions of this American military grid.

In one fell swoop, by adding the multi-billion dollar North Warning System and the Canadian Coastal Radar to U.S. missile defense architecture, the Martin government handed over two networks of radar stations for use by the Americans. (The NORAD radar networks, covering three ocean fronts, include more than 50 facilities based in B.C., the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia.)

Although this provision of 50+ radar stations for missile defense functions is only one of the many ways in which Canada is now participating in this major U.S. weapons development program, Canadians are still largely unaware that their country is involved in any way whatsoever.

Contrary to popular misconception, Canada is actually very actively involved in the creation, design, research, development, testing, deployment, maintenance, and operation of numerous essential missile defense systems. And American missile defense proponents are very grateful to Canada because our government has literally spent billions in taxpayers’ dollars to subsidize a variety of important military initiatives and technologies that are of tremendous value to America’s controversial weapons development program.

In spite of all this, the Canadian public is still blissfully unaware of their country’s extensive role in missile defense. And that, of course, is exactly the way the Liberal government wants it. As the Newspeak slogan in George Orwell’s novel 1984 expressed it: “War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength.”

But how could Canadians be so out of touch with their country’s pivotal role in the largest weapons development program in world history, which is so euphemistically called “missile defense”? Choosing the depths of summer to change the NORAD treaty is only one small tactic used by the Liberal government to ensure that Canadians would remain unaware of this one aspect of their country’s participation in the ballistic missile defense (BMD) weapons program.

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On February 26, 2005, Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew was interviewed about Canada’s “No” to “missile defense” by Anthony Germaine on the CBC Radio One program “The House.” When Germaine asked Pettigrew: “What are we saying ‘no’ to?,” his response was misleading: “They [the Americans] wanted a memorandum of understanding. That is what they required of Great Britain [and] Denmark.”

While it may be true that Canada does not have a specific memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the U.S. on missile defense, the fact is that the two countries do not need one because they already have the NORAD treaty, as amended on August 5, 2004. As Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Pettigrew should know, a treaty is at least as legally binding as an MOU.

Presumably, Pettigrew also knows that Canada and the U.S. are enmeshed by more than 80 other treaty-level military agreements, more than 250 military MOUs, and about 145 bilateral fora to discuss joint military commitments. Pettigrew may even know that the U.S.-UK MOU on missile defense focuses on Britain‚s main contribution to the weapons project, namely, one single U.S. radar station on British soil. As the U.S.-UK ballistic missile defense MOU states: “A key [UK] contribution to this U.S. DoD [Department of Defense] deployment is UK support through an upgrade of the Early Warning Radar at Royal Air Force Fylingdales."

Pettigrew perhaps even knows that the 1951 U.S.-Denmark MOU deals with the American Thule Air Force Base in Greenland. Throughout the Cold War, Thule housed a single U.S. radar facility similar to more than 50 NORAD radar facilities across Canada’s North. The MOU was amended to allow the U.S. to upgrade its one Greenland-based early-warning radar system for missile defense uses.

Perhaps Pettigrew even knows that a Canadian company maintains and operates the Greenland- and UK-based missile defense radar stations.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell signed the amended U.S.-Danish MOU on August 6, 2004, just one day after Canada asked the U.S. to add BMD warning and targeting functions to NORAD. That was just two weeks into rookie Pettigrew’s stint as Foreign Affairs Minister.

Powell was the very first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Greenland when he went there for the August 6, 2004 meeting, and the first one to conduct a media interview while there. But he pointedly did not visit Ottawa to publicly update the 1950s NORAD treaty a day earlier. Neither did he conduct any media interviews to thank Canada for adding “missile defense” functions to more than 50 NORAD radar facilities on Canadian soil. The Liberal government knew well enough that public opinion was (and still is) strongly against participation in the U.S. BMD scheme. Powell also knew this and, of course, he was all-too-happy to remain hush-hush about Canada’s latest commitment to participate in BMD.

Months later, Pettigrew was savvy enough not to even mention NORAD during his CBC interview focusing on Canada’s much-heralded “no to missile defense” decision. The government, however, did not amend the NORAD treaty to remove missile defense functions from that agreement. Nor did it take a single concrete step to withdraw itself from any of the other major ways in which it is deeply intertwined in the U.S. missile defense program.

Canada remains complicit in the creation, design, research, development, testing, deployment, maintenance, and operation of numerous essential missile defense systems. In fact, Canada appears to be contributing more to this U.S. weapons program than any other country.

Still, Canada’s deep complicity in BMD remains a complete secret to most Canadians. Understandably so, since they have been assured by the media, by defense analysts, and even by some well-meaning activists in the peace movement that the Liberal government's “no” to joining missile defense had some real meaning. It did not. Its only function was to cover up the Martin Liberals’ BMD involvement, shore up voters’ support for their minority government, and quell dissent among the Liberal Party’s rank-and-file membership. As a PR exercise, it was brilliant, but if those of us in the peace movement fail to see that it was little more than a slick deception, we undermine the basic principles our movement stands for. We also ignore the many back-room deals that continue to draw Canada deeper into a morass of weapons programs that deplete our public treasury in order to enrich the coffers of the war privateers.

The perpetuation of the myth of Canadian non-involvement is now the single largest obstacle to slowing down--let alone halting--Canada’s deep integration into the U.S. weapons development program that is euphemistically known as a “missile defense shield.”

Left unexposed and unchallenged, this escalation of arms production will consolidate Canada’s position as one of the world’s top military spenders and exporters. According to the 2005 yearbook of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Canada now ranks 7th among the world’s leading suppliers of major conventional weapons. Our arms-producing companies have sold $1.7 billion worth of weapons to other nations since 2000, surpassing even China’s arms exports.

With its cunningly concealed involvement in the U.S. missile defense program sure to bring a lot more business to our domestic weapons-makers, Canada the “peace-maker” could vault even higher on the list of the world’s leading arms merchants.

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The latest issue of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade's magazine Press for Conversion! (June 2005, issue #56) is a 50-page report containing a wealth of data describing Canada's concrete participation in the "missile defense" weapons development program.

(Richard Sanders is the national coordinator of the Coalition Against the Arms Trade (COAT), and editor of its quarterly magazine Press for Conversion. Its summer issue has dozens of articles, tables, and other information detailing Canada’s “yes” to U.S. missile defense. It’s an essential resource for peace activists and all Canadians opposed to war and international conflict. For subscriptions and/or membership in COAT, phone 613-231-3076, e-mail [email protected], or write to COAT, 541 McLeod Street, Ottawa, ON K1R 5R2. Check the COAT website at