Join­ing bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­fence makes sense

Packet & Times (Orillia) - - OPINION -

The world is al­ready ad­just­ing to the news of North Korea’s lat­est and most pow­er­ful nu­clear test. And not just with con­dem­na­tion and calls for more sanc­tions. But with ac­tion.

The day af­ter the Sept. 4 launch of what the rogue state claims is its first ever hy­dro­gen bomb, South Korea gave the all-clear to fi­nal­ize the de­ploy­ment of THAAD, a U.S. an­timis­sile de­fence sys­tem.

The Econ­o­mist re­ports Amer­i­can util­i­ties are al­ready plac­ing greater fo­cus on pro­tect­ing the elec­tri­cal grid af­ter North Korean leader Kim Jongun’s launch came with a state­ment threat­en­ing to launch an elec­tro­mag­netic pulse at­tack that could shut off all power for months.

Th­ese are over­due is­sues. But if this lat­est launch is the kick in the pants needed to get ac­tion, so be it.

We can’t say the same for one of Canada’s na­tional se­cu­rity omis­sions, at least not yet. Back in 2005, the Paul Martin govern­ment an­nounced we wouldn’t be par­tic­i­pat­ing in a pro­posed bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­fence (BMD) pro­gram.

At the time there was a lot of sen­ti­ment against it. There was a ret­i­cence to be seen go­ing along with then U.S. pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush. And there were big wor­ries that this would lead to a new arms race.

But a lot has changed since then. First of all, fears of pro­lif­er­a­tion have proven un­founded. While the U.S. went ahead with BMD, it con­tin­ued to sign dis­ar­ma­ment agree­ments with Rus­sia. Num­bers went down, not up.

More to the point though, North Korea hadn’t even con­ducted their first nu­clear test. That came a year af­ter we took a pass on BMD. Now, it has done five more tests and has in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles that can hit Canada.

No mat­ter how much you think diplo­macy and sanc­tions are the pre­ferred route — as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and oth­ers agree on — this doesn’t change the fact that in the in­terim North Korea could launch an at­tack that would need to be de­fended against.

Right now, Canada is at the mercy of the United States for this pro­tec­tion.

“Through NORAD, we cur­rently share in­for­ma­tion in early warn­ing and at­tack as­sess­ment with the U.S.A.,” for­mer diplo­mat Colin Robert­son said in a tes­ti­mony to a Se­nate com­mit­tee in 2014, urg­ing us to think more about BMD. “But when it comes time to make the crit­i­cal launch de­ci­sions, our of­fi­cials lit­er­ally have to leave the room.”

This means there’s no one there whose sole job is to pro­tect the Cana­dian home­land. Sure, the U.S. has our back. But it’ll be un­der­stand­ably think­ing about its own needs first and fore­most in an emer­gency.

Sign­ing on to BMD changes that, giv­ing us a place at the ta­ble.

The Con­ser­va­tives never made BMD an is­sue dur­ing the Harper years, when the threat as­sess­ments were much milder. That’s be­gin­ning to change.

A va­ri­ety of voices have sounded the alarm in the past week, in­clud­ing for­eign af­fairs critic Erin O’Toole, for­mer chief of the de­fence staff Tom Law­son and for­mer gen­eral and Lib­eral Sen. Romeo Dal­laire. For­mer de­fence min­is­ter Peter MacKay has said he re­grets not ad­vanc­ing the file.

When you take a look at a map show­ing the reach of North Korea’s arse­nal and re­al­ize Canada’s within range, sign­ing up for BMD now seems like com­mon sense.

Trudeau’s state­ment fol­low­ing the North’s lat­est launch said Canada will work with the U.S. “to counter the North Korean threat.” He didn’t spec­ify what ex­actly we’d be do­ing. But there’s one op­tion that’s now on the ta­ble right in from of him. Furey’s new book Pulse At­tack: The Real Story Be­hind the Se­cret Weapon That Can De­stroy North Amer­ica, ex­plains the his­tory and science of the elec­tro­mag­netic pulse threat. afurey@post­media.com

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