The American Interest, 6.25.13
By Alan W. Dowd
Reports that Ottawa
and Washington have resumed their delicate missile-defense discussions suggest that Canada may be ready to
join the global missile-defense coalition. If so, it would be a welcome
The operative word here is “global.” The missile shield now
taking shape is a truly international missile defense (IMD) enfolding some of
Canada’s closest allies and oldest friends.
Let’s start in Europe. In 2010, alliance leaders declared missile defense “a core element of our collective defense” and pledged to
“develop the capability to defend our populations and territories against
ballistic missile attack.” Toward that end, Britain and Denmark have allowed
modifications to early-warning radars to augment the missile shield. Spain is
hosting a rotation of four Aegis missile-defense warships. Germany hosts a
center. Romania will host a land-based variant of the Aegis system, dubbed
Ashore,” starting in 2015, as will Poland by 2018. Turkey hosts a powerful
X-Band missile-defense radar, allowing the alliance to scan the horizon for
threats from Iran.
Beyond NATO, U.S.-Israeli cooperation dating
back to 1986 has yielded a sophisticated, layered defense against missiles,
including the Iron Dome system, David’s Sling system and Arrow anti-missile
system. Israel also hosts an X-Band radar.
hosts an X-Band radar. And the UAE recently became the first foreign government
to purchase the U.S. terminal high altitude air defense system (THAAD).
Australia was an
early adopter, signing a 25-year pact on missile-defense cooperation with the
United States in 2004.
With a wary eye on
North Korea, Japan deploys six Aegis ships, hosts an X-Band radar, with another
on the way, and is co-developing a new interceptor missile for Aegis ships.
The United States has invested $157.8 billion
on missile defense since 1985—an average of $5.6 billion per year. The
dividend: thirty ground-based interceptors in California and Alaska, with 14
more on the way; two active THAAD batteries, with more scheduled to come online
in 2013; 26 Aegis warships, building toward 36 by 2018.
Thanks to America’s
missile-defense investments, NATO has been able “plug into” the existing
missile-defense architecture for a relatively small amount, as NATO Secretary
General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has explained,
enabling the system “to defend European populations and territory from missile
All told, 21 nations
are directly participating in this networked system of systems. Yet Canada is
not one of them. Given Canada’s historic willingness to contribute to allied
efforts—from Normandy’s beaches to NATO’s founding, from the defense of Korea
to the liberation of Kuwait, from Afghanistan to Libya—it’s jarring to scan the
Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) growing list of international
partners and not see Canada’s name.
To be sure,
support for missile defense, while widespread, is not universal. Russia is a
vocal critic of NATO’s missile defenses. Among “the main external military
dangers” identified by the Russian government are “the creation and deployment of strategic missile-defense
systems.” However, Moscow’s opposition seems to have more to do with its inability
to hold sway over Eastern Europe than with any real threat to Russian security.
As then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates explained in 2010, “The Russians know that our missile defenses are
designed to intercept a limited number of ballistic missiles launched by a
country such as Iran or North Korea.”
That brings us to
the driving force behind the growing acceptance of missile defense: the
burgeoning missile threat.
“If North Korea
would be ready to attack the United States,” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper conceded in 2006, “that would be a risk for Canada’s national security as well not only
because of our common values, but because of our geographical proximity.”
Given North Korea’s
technological advances and political unpredictability, that scenario seems more
likely now than it was then, which may help explain reports of fresh
missile-defense discussions between Washington and Ottawa.
Since 2009, North
Korea has detonated two nuclear weapons, conducted long-range missile tests
under the guise of satellite launches, threatened nuclear strikes against the
United States, and demonstrated a threshold ICBM capability by lofting a
satellite into orbit. Moreover, the Defense Intelligence Agency concludes “with
moderate confidence” that North
Korea “currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic
Likewise, the British
government reported in 2011 that Iran has “been carrying out covert
ballistic missile tests and rocket launches, including testing missiles capable
of delivering a nuclear payload.” Iran has tested a ballistic missile that
brings targets in Europe within range. And the Pentagon reported in 2012 that
“Iran may be technically capable of flight-testing an intercontinental
ballistic missile by 2015.”
The drive for
long-range missilery by Tehran and Pyongyang is part of a larger
missile-proliferation trend: Three decades ago, there were nine countries that
fielded ballistic missiles. Today, there are 31.
The good news amidst this
worrisome trend is that missile defense is no longer simply a theoretical
possibility. In testing,
missile defense has scored successes on 59 of 74 attempts—79.7 percent of the
time. During a 2012 exercise, the system deflected four out of five
“near-simultaneous representative threats,” as MDA Director Vice Admiral James
Syring reported last month. And in battle, missile-defense systems have protected population
centers in Israel and military facilities in Kuwait.
If Canada decides to join
the missile-defense team, Ottawa could contribute its voice to missile-defense
decisions. Having a voice makes a difference, as Canada knows from
participation in NATO. Canada’s voice helped guide a unified Germany into NATO
after the Cold War, enhanced alliance deployments in Afghanistan and steered
alliance operations over Libya.
Beyond wise counsel, Canada
could join the Aegis missile-defense fleet, thus serving as an IMD force
multiplier. Yet another way Canada could contribute is by dedicating facilities
to the IMD effort, as Britain, Israel, Japan, Turkey and other allies have. In
fact, Ottawa contemplated hosting an X-Band radar in northeastern Canada during an earlier round of
“Canada,” as former
Canadian diplomat Paul Chapin has observed,
“seems able to support missile defense for others, just not for itself.” That
may change in the months ahead. If nothing else, the enthusiastic embrace of
missile defense in Europe and beyond should serve as political cover for
Ottawa. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, Canadian policymakers can tell
their ambivalent constituencies, “NATO made us do it.”