The Liberal Party government of Prime Minister Paul Martin in
Canada told the Bush administration last week that it will not
endorse the US plan for national missile defense.
Many are viewing this as a slap in the face from Ottawa to
Washington, and a change in the position Canada seemed to be taking
a year ago. They expect it to poison relations between the two
neighbors - ensuring, among other things, that next month's three-
way summit with Mexican President Vicente Fox will fail to make
progress in broadening NAFTA. It would seem that the knee-jerk
liberal Canadians just could not get over their nostalgia for the
ABM Treaty, as well as their visceral dislike of missile-defense
This interpretation is badly mistaken. The Bush administration
made major diplomatic errors in handling this topic with Canada. It
asked for blanket endorsement of an open-ended US missile defense
program, rather than for specific help with specific technical
challenges and defensive weapons. This was a fundamental mistake,
and the US has mostly itself to blame for the resulting fallout.
The problem really began in late fall. Shortly after gaining
reelection on the strength of a campaign in which he spoke plainly
and forthrightly to the American people about national security,
President Bush took the same attitude up north. Although he'd
promised beforehand not to bring it up, during a state visit to
Ottawa Mr. Bush nonetheless asked Prime Minister Martin to support
US missile defense efforts.
On its face, the request probably struck Bush as eminently
reasonable. After all, any system the US developed would protect
Canada too, making it natural that Ottawa would offer at least
minimal support and political blessing.
During the cold war, Canada cooperated with the US on air
defense, making missile defense seem a natural successor. And Canada
had recently agreed to cooperate with the US at the NORAD air
defense command in Colorado, tracking not only traditional threats
from aircraft but possible missile launches against North America as
But Canadians, who have followed the American missile defense
debate closely since Ronald Reagan's "star wars" Strategic Defense
Initiative, did not hear Bush's request in such innocuous terms.
They know what is in the Pentagon's long-term plan for missile
defense systems. It isn't simply a pragmatic and modest defense
against possible North Korean or Iranian threats, of the type now
being deployed in California and Alaska. Although not yet
formalized, it also envisions the possibility of a land-based and
sea-based system that might be large enough to challenge China's
deterrent (and even make some Russians nervous). And perhaps most
controversial of all, it speaks of space weapons - be they small
interceptor missiles or lasers to shoot down threats from wherever
they might be launched.
These concepts remain red-flag topics in the great white north. …