Canada is considering making Arctic sites available for radars that could feed into the US Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. Here, a three-stage interceptor launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. (US Missile Defense Agency)
VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — The Canadian government is studying a recommendation that it become a partner in the US continental missile defense system, either by contributing locations for radars or by conducting research into improving the system.
The US government has not requested Canada take part in the system. But the Canadian Senate’s Committee on National Security and Defence issued a report June 16 that called for Canada to contribute to US ballistic missile defense efforts, either directly or indirectly.
“The committee is unanimous in recommending that the government of Canada enter into an agreement with the United States to participate as a partner in ballistic missile defense,” according to the 33-page report, “Canada and Ballistic Missile Defence: Responding to the Evolving Threat.”
The report suggested Canada could contribute to the system by allowing X-band radar sites on Canadian territory or by conducting research into ballistic missile defense technology issues. It could also provide indirect contributions by enhancing Arctic surveillance capabilities through new radar technology or space-based systems.
Johanna Quinney, a spokeswoman for Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, noted that all senators on the committee supported the report. It and the recommendations will be reviewed “carefully before deciding on next steps,” she said. “We continue to monitor international developments and will make any decision necessary to ensure both the safety and security of Canadians at home and abroad.”
Even as the report is being studied, there is interest in Canada’s Department of National Defence in reviving an earlier plan to build an X-band radar in Goose Bay, Labrador, on the country’s east coast. That radar could contribute to the tracking of ballistic missiles fired from countries in the Middle East.
A similar proposal was put forward in 2005 when the US asked Canada to join its continental missile defense. The radar was to be built by Raytheon and provide surveillance information to the joint US-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
The proposal, estimated to cost CAN $500 million (US $460 million) was scuttled when then-Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin decided Canada would not take part in the US missile defense system.
Raytheon Canada officials would not comment on the latest efforts to revive the X-band radar proposal.
Another option for Canada is to make available sites in the Arctic for missile defense radars that could feed into the US Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. That system is composed of ground-based interceptors and support and fire-control systems. The interceptors are located at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
Such an option was considered in 2004 when Canada was looking at joining the system.
Conservative Party Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted that the 2005 decision not to participate in the US system was made based on the risks at the time from various nations trying to build ballistic missiles. “Those risks have continued to evolve,” he added.
The Senate report noted that both Iran and North Korea have developed missile technology “to the point where a threat has become a practical reality.
“The committee heard worrying testimony about the ongoing efforts of North Korea and Iran to acquire capabilities to deliver long-range, nuclear-armed ballistic missiles so as to threaten neighboring countries, NATO and North America,” the report added.
Jeffrey Kohler, vice president of international business development for Boeing’s defense organization, said any decision by Canada to join missile defense could mean more work for the company. Boeing is the prime contractor on the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system.
“Within the context of NORAD Next, I can see that as a great opportunity,” Kohler said.
NORAD Next is a strategic review looking at the evolving and emerging missions the joint US-Canadian alliance might take on in the future. The review is focused on the 2025-30 timeframe.
Former Liberal Party Defence Ministers Bill Graham and David Pratt have also lent their support to Canadian participation in US missile defense system. Graham told the senators that “participating in [ballistic missile defense] would help preserve NORAD and Canada’s overall security relationship with the United States.”
The official opposition New Democratic Party, however, is opposed to participation in the system. “It was a bad idea in 2005 and it is a bad idea today,” party leader Thomas Mulcair said.
Jack Harris, the party’s defense critic, pointed out that the US is not requesting Canadian participation, but members of Canada’s ruling Conservative Party government seem interested in reviving the idea of Canadian participation.
Besides the Senate defense committee, the House of Commons defense committee is also hearing from various witnesses on the missile defense issue. That committee has not yet issued a report. ■