It is almost 40 years since U.S. secretary of defense Robert McNamara asked me if Canada would be interested in helping develop an anti-ballistic missile defense for North America. I was able to say, "Thanks, but no thanks," which was the position of the Pearson government and one that I fully endorsed.
There were good reasons for not disturbing the balance of power and escalating the arms race. The reasons for not joining NMD are even more compelling today when there is no military threat to North America, and U.S. unilateralism is creating a new source of instability.
The Minister of National Defense, John McCallum, and some of his colleagues have been giving us the usual spin that one would expect from the military. Unless we are sitting at the table, our voice will not be heard; there will be industrial benefits; Canadian lives might be saved; and if we don't make up our minds soon, the Americans will proceed without us.
Only the most naive of Canadians would suggest that being at the table with the Commander-in-Chief Northern Command would give us one iota of influence. This is one of the most spurious of arguments. CincNorCom listens to his boss at the Pentagon and to no one else.
It is possible that Canada might derive some minor industrial benefits, but the extent would probably be determined by our cash contribution to NMD. We could obtain equal benefit by spending the same amount of money on equipment that the Canadian Forces desperately need for their assigned tasks.
The notion that NMD will save Canadian lives is unquestionably the most far-fetched of all the arguments. We have no enemies with a long-range missile capability. In fact, the stated reasons for NMD -- protection from "rogue states" -- is a cover story for its real function, which is far more sinister.
Finally, the warning from our military that if we don't sign on soon the U.S. will proceed on its own is quite correct. That is exactly what it will do because the Bush administration is committed to it. Our participation would undoubtedly be welcome, especially if it meant easier access to our territory, if required, and some contribution toward the cost. But it doesn't really matter.
We went through the same ritual with the Bomarc missiles in the Diefenbaker era. Years later, we learned that it was our air force that wanted to play with the big boys' toys and keep their cushy jobs at Colorado Springs.
This time, the stakes are higher and the consequences far more serious. For the first time in my memory, the U.S. administration is dominated by a small group from the Pentagon. Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz and a handful of their close associates were all involved in a 1992 Pentagon document, Defense Planning Guidance, on post-Cold War strategy.
One of its key sections read: "Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union."
When a copy was leaked to the press, its belligerent tone caused such a furor that it had to be withdrawn and rewritten. The language of the revised version, signed by Mr. Cheney when he was secretary of defense, was more diplomatic, but the intent remain unchanged. The U.S. would build up its forces to the point where it could attack any country on Earth without fear of significant retaliation.
The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty had to be abrogated. The U.S. had to develop a multilayered anti-missile system on a global basis to protect not only the continental United States but also military operations anywhere.
The 2000 copy of the document makes very clear that NMD is just one step in the direction of a system that will involve "interceptors" and weapons of mass destruction in space. It will be designed to pulverize any military or civilian installation on Earth and have the capacity to zap any person in their garden.
The picture is so abhorrent that it is beyond any sense of shock and awe. And even though the plan is no secret, it is almost certain that none of the Canadian cabinet ministers who intend to make us an accessory have read it. If they had, surely they wouldn't recommend anything so totally incompatible with Canadian values.
Instead, Canada should accept the long-standing invitation of Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio to launch a conference to seek approval of an international treaty to ban weapons in space. That would be a positive Canadian contribution toward a more peaceful world.
Paul Hellyer was minister of national defense from 1963 to 1967.
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