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72nd Annual Summer Conference, August 7–10, 2003

Missile Defense and the U.S.–Canada Relationship

By Ambassador Thomas Graham

The concept of missile defense began almost with the commencement of the missile age itself. By the late 1950s, long range ballistic missiles began to be developed and deployed. These missiles and their successors were capable of transporting a nuclear weapon from the Soviet Union/Russia to the United States and vice-versa within 30 minutes with ever increasing accuracy as the years went by. Indeed, the M-X or Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile deployed by the United States in the 1980s had a CEP of .1 miles. CEP is a standard for measuring missile accuracy and in the M-X case it meant that 50 percent of the ten nuclear warheads carried by the missile could be expected to fall inside a circle around the aim point of .1 mile radius, or about 500 feet. Put another way, as it was once to me, five of the ten warheads of an M-X missile launched from Kwajelein Atoll in the Pacific could be made to fall within the courtyard of the Pentagon. And each of those warheads had a 500 kiloton explosive yield, about 35 times more power than the Hiroshima bomb. Without question with capabilities like these in existence, the protective shield of the two great oceans which had insulated the United States from the wars of the Old World had vanished.

But old dreams do not die easily. In only a few years, in the 1960s, the concept of anti-ballistic missile systems began to be considered. There was much debate over the merits of a pursuing a missile defense within the U.S. Government. Some saw pursuit of such a defense as an essential, almost a religious matter so as to return the United States to the safety of the pre-missile era, protected by the two great oceans. Other saw it as fuel for the arms race arguing that as defenses are built up they will be offset by more offensive forces on the other side – and so on – as well as destabilizing in that it would encourage striking first in a crisis. The argument here went that if “country A” built missile defenses against “country B”, “country B” might come to believe that “country A” was planning to conduct a first strike and utilize its defenses to ward off a weakened retaliatory strike and, therefore it “country B”, had to be sure to strike first in a crisis. These two concepts were referred to as arms race stability and crisis stability. These were the important issues for a long time, but they were settled for many years on the basis of the second view by the signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty which arguably ensured arms race stability and crisis stability by keeping missile defenses at a very low level. However, over time the first view of attempting to turn back the clock to the pre-missile era, gradually became stronger, and this coupled with the attractiveness in principle of trying to defend oneself against bad actors along with large defense contracts created a political situation which led to the United States withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002.

With the establishment of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) many years ago, United States and Canadian fortunes on this issue have been linked. Initially, the mission of the Command was to protect the North American continent from bomber attack contemplating joint efforts of U.S. and Canadian air defense forces. An early warning radar line was deployed in northern Canada as a part of this. But, although U.S.-Canadian cooperation in NORAD continued with the advent of the missile age, air defense seemed to become increasing irrelevant as the long-range ballistic missile carrying nuclear weapons was clearly the weapon which actually threatened North America. Thus, air defense was allowed to slowly decline and with the ABM Treaty precluding any significant missile defense, NORAD, continuing as a U.S.-Canadian organization, became largely an early warning of missile attack organization.

Thus, with the abandonment of the ABM Treaty and the decision by the United States to deploy missile defenses, it was to be expected that Canada would be drawn into the issue as a NORAD partner. Indeed, the pressure for missile defense had never really abated in spite of the ABM Treaty. Secretary Robert NcNamara's thin anti-Chinese ballistic missile defense and President Nixon's multi-site Safeguard System to defend offensive missile deployments were voided by the ABM Treaty in 1972. However, the US. did construct the one deployment permitted under the Treaty at Grand Forks, North Dakota. This deployment cost $6 billion to build, it was completed in 1976 and closed down after four months of operation, judged too expensive to maintain.

A few years later, the issue was back in the form of the Strategic Defense Initiative in the 1980s, which had as its objective the creation of an “astrodome” in the sky to protect the United States against the now huge Soviet long-range ballistic missile force. The SDI program was largely based on kinetic kill “hit-to-kill” interceptors rather than nuclear weapon tipped interceptors which was a feature of the earlier systems. Nuclear tipped missile defense interceptors had become politically unsustainable, and so they remain today. The SDI project was abandoned in the late 1980s after years of unsuccessful research as unworkable, impractical and unnecessary with the waning of the Cold War. By now, however, there was a large industrial infrastructure that supported missile defense, and it simply shifted into theater missile defense – that is defense of our troops and allies overseas against shorter range missiles although the technology to be developed was quite robust and could easily have been elevated to strategic ballistic missile defense if it had proved out. In the late 1990s however, an arguably better rationale for a missile defense emerged, defense against rogue states. This would be strategic ballistic missile defense but only against a small number of missiles and therefore more achievable. After the July 1998 Rumsfeld Commission Report, which argued that states such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea might be able to threaten the United States with international ballistic missiles as early as 2005, even some traditional opponents of missile defense came to believe that the threat of missile attack had been underestimated and that something needed to be done. Thus, missile defense became more politically attractive in that with the world-wide disorder that followed the Cold War, the concept that odious regimes such as Iraq and North Korea might somehow in the future develop nuclear weapons and a small missile force to deliver them against the North American continent seemed especially threatening. Pursuant of new systems to protect against limited strikes began in the early 1990s and accelerated in the late 1990s. This acceleration continued even though there was little in the test results to indicate that even this limited system would be practical.

With the terrible tragedy of the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with highjacked airliners, the political imperative of missile defense became almost irresistible. Even though, if anything, it demonstrated the opposite, serious spokesmen argued that this attack proved the case for the necessity of missile defense. The argument was that these attacks show how vulnerable is the civilized world and therefore, how much we need a missile defense. In mid-September 2001, a senior Administration official was reported s saying that “if anything the likelihood of unilateral withdrawal [from the ABM Treaty] has increased” in the wake of the attacks. The official went on to say that “these people had jet plane pilots. And if these same people had access to ballistic missiles, do you think they wouldn’t have used them?” This argument was to a degree accepted in the United States, though in my view, it is precisely the wrong message to take from the September 11 attacks. The United States gave notice of intent to withdraw from the ABM Treaty in December 2001 and actually withdrew in May 2002. Canada made the correct decision in agreeing to cooperate with the United States on missile defense under the rubric of NORAD.

Over 40 years ago, on December 1, 1959 the Antarctic Treaty was signed which, among other things, prohibited nuclear weapons on the Antarctic Peninsula. This was the first of the non-armament treaties, prohibiting nuclear weapons from being introduced where they had not been before, and was followed by a number of other treaties accomplishing the same thing for other areas and realms, for example, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967; the Seabed Arms Control Treaty of 1972; the Latin American Nuclear Free Zone Treaty of 1967; the South Pacific Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty of 1986 and the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty of 1996.

However, with respect to outer space, the concept has gone further. Although the Outer Space Treaty permits conventional weapons in space, it outlaws them on celestial bodies. And, in the United States from the time of President Eisenhower, the United States has opposed the idea of placing weapons in space and has conceived of space as a non-weaponized but not non-militarized realm. The problem here is that this concept will soon come on a collision course with missile defense. Terminal and mid-course missile defense systems deployed in the United States and Canada (for example, the Alaska deployment) – the type of systems being developed in the Clinton Administration-may well soon prove to be ineffective against even a small number of missiles. Studies indicating the ineffectiveness of terminal and mid-course defense against even a single long-range ballistic missile which has been in flight long enough to deploy decoys and other counter measures have multiplied. Already many are arguing for a “boost phase” defense that is a system capable of attacking the missile shortly after launch when it is a far more inviting target and before it breaks up into its reentry vehicles and decoys. I will not comment on the likelihood that such a technology would ever work, but I would note that it is argued that the most practical way to attempt this would be by sea or from space, with a space deployment preferred because of the greater flexibility created.

Thus, the time likely is not far off when proposals will be made in Washington, and perhaps funding sought, for space-based missile defense systems (once prohibited by the ABM Treaty but, of course, no longer.) This will engender a major debate as substantial numbers in both the Senate and House of Representatives have already made clear. In addition, to specific problems with such deployments, it is but a short step from space-based ABM systems to space-based anti-satellite systems and from there to space to ground strike weapons, and thus to a general arms race in space, possibly involving a asymmetric systems such as parasite satellite killers, to the general detriment of everyone. Thus, in my opinion, Canada was correct to condition its agreement to cooperate on missile defense with the United States on the non-weaponization of space. Russia has done the same thing.

And indeed the issue is not limited to space-based missile defense systems.

Earlier, I referred to the Antarctic Treaty and last December 1st marked the 43rd anniversary of its signing. This Treaty preserved the continent of Antarctica as a non-militarized, nuclear-weapon-free area and also represented the first arms control agreement of any kind in the modern era. The debate that preceded the negotiation of that treaty is remarkably similar to contemporary discussion on the future of outer space. In the early to mid-1950’s, there were about a dozen countries vying for scientific, economic and military interests on Antarctica, an uninhabited, borderless and lawless land. In time, and after much debate, those twelve states – with others joining afterward – decided that the greater interests of all of the affected parties would be served best if the continent could be preserved for peaceful uses and that those interests could best be protected through a legal arrangement rather than the use or deployment of military forces.

Today, the international community is faced with similar questions about how to protect the opportunities and assets associated with the use of outer space. Here again, we have a borderless realm rich in commercial, scientific, and military potential and questions about how best to preserve those assets. Will military deployments and the weaponization of space be required to defend critical assets? Indeed, is – as some have suggested – the weaponization of space an inevitable evolution of current and historic realities? Or is it possible, or even desirable, to craft instead a legal arrangement preserving space as a peaceful realm? Perhaps, a third way could present itself: For example, could there be some combination of approaches whereby both legal restraints and militarization are part of the equation? These are, but a few of the questions facing those who are working to protect access to space.

A great deal rides on the answers to these questions. Scientifically, the stakes are quite high, with everything from the International Space Station to the Hubble telescope and the exploration of Mars potentially affected by instability and unpredictability in outer space. The commercial implications are even greater. As Michael Krepon wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine some months ago, space-technology industries generated $125 billion in profits in 2000, and by 2010, the cumulative U.S. investment in space is expected to reach as much as $600 billion, roughly the equivalent of the total current U.S. investment in Europe. Clearly, it is now more important than ever to protect space assets in the best manner possible.

However, the inexorable improvement and dissemination of technology on the one hand and the increasing inability of the U.S. government to maintain high levels of control over the use of commercial space systems, particularly remote sensing, on the other suggests that security in space cannot be maintained over the long run by defensive weapons. This argues for a strong commitment to international space cooperation and the gradual development of a comprehensive international legal regime for outer space.

The groundwork for such a comprehensive treaty-based regime has been laid, and the importance of this objective is clear. Much work remains, but the creation of a space regime, under which the international community decisively enshrines space as a peaceful environment, is the only thoroughgoing alternative to a weaponized space free-for-all in which the United States and the rest of the world are rendered forever vulnerable to the vagaries and fluctuations of technology development and political instability.

And what can Canada do to have any influence on the great debate on the future of space that appears to be coming? My counsel would be for Canada to do what many organizations and some countries, for example Israel, Greece, some of the Eastern European states as well as others, have already done, join the Washington battle in a truly major way (and I mean no criticism of current efforts). For example, Public relations; lobbying, industrial and commercial pressures on Washington through major constituents in States and Congressional Districts and the like. And, never pass up a chance to deliver the Canadian message through the media, particular TV and by other means, send spokesmen to communities around the United States. It is an inescapable fact that this most important issue in the end is going to be decided in Washington, “inside the Beltway” as the saying goes. Join the game in a big way, it is within the rules.

But beyond this, Canada is the best friend of the United States, you are our closest cousin. If you won't speak frankly to us, if you won't clearly and firmly tell us we're wrong when you believe we are, then who will? The United States for better or worse has found itself thrust into the role of the world's most powerful state, indeed the dominant state. We need frank and friendly advice and criticism, obviously we are not always right. We shouldn't have to listen only to our own voice. Canada's unvarnished comments, particular valuable because of our proximity, our similarities, our closeness and our differences, can help the United States be the kind of world power that the world community hopes that it will be and indeed that it truly wants to be.