Canadian government assesses ballistic missile defense as part of North American defense upgrades

Canada withdrew from the program in 2005, in part because of its ties to the administration of US President George W. Bush.

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OTTAWA — Canada is considering whether to step back and finally join the United States in long-range ballistic missile defense, Defense Minister Anita Anand said Tuesday, while declining to provide plans. to modernize North America’s aging defensive systems.

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Anand was speaking at a conference hosted by the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, where she offered hints of a promised review of Canada’s defense policy while stressing the need to recruit and retain more members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Canada notoriously withdrew from the US ballistic missile defense program following a heated national debate in 2005, deciding not to invest in the network of land and sea radars and interceptor missiles designed to stop an attack on the ‘North America.

The move by then-prime minister Paul Martin was seen by many as an attempt to bolster his minority Liberal government. The NDP and many Canadians have opposed missile defense, in part because of its ties to the administration of US President George W. Bush.

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Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand speaks to the media during the Ukraine Security Advisory Group meeting at Ramstein Air Base April 26, 2022 in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany.
Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand speaks to the media during the Ukraine Security Advisory Group meeting at Ramstein Air Base April 26, 2022 in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany. Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Still, the question of whether he should reconsider has cropped up repeatedly in the years since, and Anand left the door wide open when asked on Tuesday if it was time for Canada to reconsider. previous.

“We are certainly looking at this issue fully and thoroughly, and what it takes to defend the continent at all levels,” she said. “We are leaving no stone unturned in this major continental defense review.”

The review in question concerns the upgrade of Norad, the early warning system that Canada shares with the United States. The system is showing its age badly at a time when concerns about an attack on the continent are at their highest level since the Cold War.

The Conservatives as well as several parliamentary committees have already called on Canada to embrace ballistic missile defense, particularly after North Korea conducted a number of long-range missile tests in 2017.

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The system itself is not designed to stop an all-out attack from a country like Russia or China, and its actual effectiveness has been questioned by what the Congressional Budget Office estimated at 176 billion US dollars over the next decade.

Proponents of Canada’s involvement nevertheless said that any defense was better than none.

Canadian and American jets intercept a Russian Tu-142 maritime reconnaissance aircraft in 2020.
Canadian and American jets intercept a Russian Tu-142 maritime reconnaissance aircraft in 2020. Photo by NORAD

Conservative defense critic Kerry-Lynne Findlay noted that the then-deputy commander of Norad told a parliamentary committee in 2017 that US policy directs US military officials not to defend Canada. if it was targeted by a ballistic missile attack.

New missile tests by North Korea in recent months, along with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and growing concerns about China have all “amplified” the need to ensure Canada is properly protected, Findlay added.

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“We have to understand that we would or could be defenseless in the event of a missile attack,” she said.

“Given the evolution of the threat, we strongly support the modernization of NORAD, and we believe that Canada must actively engage with the United States on this subject and join the missile defense program.”

Anand confirmed that part of the $6 billion in new funds earmarked for the military in last month’s budget will be spent on updating Norad, including the 1980s radar chain in Canada’s Arctic. known as the North Warning System.

Still, the minister did not provide any timelines or other details, and instead promised “short-term” announcements, echoing comments she made after meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. in Washington last month.

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Military officials have warned for years that the system is outdated and in desperate need of replacement. Yet both governments have been slow to act, even in the face of renewed Russian aggression.

Anand defended the lack of detail in an interview after the conference, saying the government is taking the appropriate time given the scope and scale of work and money needed to update the system.

“It’s a major investment,” she says. “It will be complete. We take the time to do things right. And that’s how I do business, and that’s how our government does business.

The government is also working to flesh out details of a planned review of Canada’s five-year-old defense policy, the minister said. The Liberals promised the review in last month’s budget, saying an update is needed given recent changes to global security.

“We are answering all of these questions ourselves right now,” Anand said when asked about the review’s schedule and who will be running it. “We are deeply engaged in defining the parameters of the review, timing and substantive aspects.”

The minister indicated that one of the areas the review will focus on is recruiting and retaining more Canadians in the Armed Forces, which is short by thousands at a time when the military is busier than ever.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 10, 2022.

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