As Defence Minister Bill Graham inches closer to signing on to the U.S. ballistic missile defence shield (BMD) and demonstrators get set to rally across the country Saturday (October 2), Steven Staples provides a quick rundown of what you need to know.
How will the missile defence system work?
The first phase, which is supposed to be operational by the end of 2004, calls for 10 ground-based missile interceptors in Alaska and California. Space sensors and ground radar would warn of a hostile missile attack, and the interceptors would be launched to collide with the enemy's incoming missile in outer space, like "hitting a bullet with a bullet."
Why is the U.S. building such a shield?
The U.S. is worried that "rogue nations" such as North Korea and Iran are developing missiles capable of striking North America (though they have none at present).
Will the missile shield place weapons in space?
The U.S. missile defence plan presently concentrates on sea- and ground-based interceptors. But President Bush has asked for millions of dollars for space weapons research and testing, which indicates that these systems will be added as technology permits. U.S. military planning documents clearly call for the development and deployment of space weapons, and a Canadian military report acknowledged that missile defence will likely result in weapons being put in space.
Will the missile shield work?
Some U.S. and Canadian scientists argue that the technology is unproven and has a high probability of failing. Recent tests have resulted in failed intercepts or did not replicate the unpredictability of a real attack. The military argues that even a rudimentary system is better than none.
Would it make North America safe from attack?
Some analysts and the CIA suggest that a missile attack from a rogue nation is highly unlikely and that the major threat to the U.S. is from terrorists who will use low-technology weapons or unorthodox methods to avoid defences. Even more serious, missile defence will undermine efforts toward global nuclear disarmament that would remove the Russian and Chinese missile threats to North America.
Is the missile shield defensive or offensive?
Both. The shield is defensive if it protects the U.S. against a surprise missile attack, but a missile shield is also offensive if it allows the U.S. to attack a country first, shielding the U.S. from retaliation. Will it protect Canada? The shield, if it works, would provide protection for Canadian cities. Most experts acknowledge that the U.S. would be the main target of any attack, but Canada could be affected by the "downwind" affects of a nuclear or other form of attack near the Canada-U.S. border. One report quoted a U.S. official as saying the system may protect Canada only "incidentially."
Will participating cost Canada money or territory?
The Canadian government has suggested that Canada could participate at little or no cost despite the fact that the U.S. government will spend at least $53 billion U.S. over the next five years for the system. Recent comments by a U.S. official indicate that Canadian protection would require a contribution of military personnel, cash, territory and even the purchase of missile interceptors designated to defend Canadian territory. Canadian officials say Canada's $300 million annual NORAD contribution and approximately $500 million already allotted for military satellites could be allocated to missile defence right away.
Why would Canada participate?
Missile defence supporters argue that Canada will have no "voice at the table" if it does not participate. But American officials have reminded allies that they will have "no veto" over the system's future development, foreclosing any possibility of positive Canadian influence such as preventing the deployment of space weapons. Canada's Defence Minister recently argued that joining missile defence is required to keep good relations with the U.S. government, a paramount need that trumps such security concerns as a new arms race or space weaponization.
Will the shield spark an arms race?
Yes. The Chinese military has already said it will increase its armoury of ballistic missiles. The Russians claim to have tested a new manoeuvrable nuclear missile that renders the U.S. missile shield useless against Russian technology even before the shield is completed. email@example.com
GO BALLISTIC OVER MISSILES
Rally, Saturday (October 2), 1 pm, at the U.S. Consulate, University and Armoury. 416-588-5555.