Thursday, February 23, 2006

Balistic Missile Defense.

National Post: O'Connor willing to re-open missile defense debate.

When you intend to shoot yourself in the foot, is it wise to use the heavy artillery?

The reasons this is a stupid thing to do are many.

First of all, let's look at the political reasons. The Canadian public, when last polled, overwhelmingly opposed joining the Americans in a North American ballistic missile defense. Harpo has a minority government. The other three parties are on record opposing BMD. This is the biggest non-starter in the entire Harpo agenda. All this will accomplish politically is to throw a bone to the neocon elements of the Convervative Party and unite the opposition.

It is inconsistent with Canada's international posture as a mulitlateralist. The Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty has been a cornerstone of an intricate, interconnected system of treaties that have been developed since the early 1970s to prevent the escalation of conflicts between the world's nuclear powers into nuclear war. While it is true that the thawing of east-west relations in the last 20 years has obsoleted some cold war structures, the perceptions of the Russians and Chinese are still that ABMs provide a first strike capability that could potentially upset the delicate balance of nuclear stalemate.

It has been argued that a BMD of the nature proposed is insufficient to counter a Russian or Chinese nuclear strike - and therefore provides no first strike threat. The BMD as proposed is designed to counter the potential threat from rogue nations acquiring nuclear technology. This is a specious argument. Has no one in the Conservative party seen a map lately? There are massive oceans and whole continents between Canada and the closest "rogue nations". Rogue nations do not have ICBMs, nor do terrorists. North Korea is probably the closest thing to a rogue nation with both nuclear weapons and missile technology. North Korea is estimated to have maybe 6 to 10 nuclear devices (some of which are not weaponized). North Korea has ballistic missile technology (1 partially successful test flight) capable of just reaching the West Coast of the United States or Canada with a very low probability of any accuracy. I would not make the argument that Kim Jong Il is a rational man, but would he risk a low probability launch and put his population of 22 million at risk? If we were in South Korea or Japan, there would be reason to worry - and a missile defense would make more sense.

More importantly, North Korea's nuclear and missile technology is now under very close and constant surveillance. This underscores an other important point. It is very difficult to develop either nuclear weapons or long range missile techology. Both technologies require testing that is highly visible to the outside world. To develop both, and do so covertly is virtually impossible. Once a nation is identified as seeking nuclear weapons and/or ballistic missile techology, it is much more effective to deal with the threat directly than to build a multi-billion dollar boondoggle to provide a low probability shield against such an unlikely threat. If tensions between the US and North Korea rose to the point where it was reasonably feared that they would launch, it is pretty easy to prememptively destroy their launch facilities.

The terrorists who brought down the World Trade Centers used nothing more sophisticated than box cutters. If a terrorist organization got ahold of a nuclear device, there are far more effective ways to deliver it than a missile - like a shipping container. BTW - on September 11, 2001, Condoleeza Rice was schedule to make a major speech on an important national defense issue. The issue? Ballistic Missil Defense.

The system does not work. Phil Coyle, former US Assistant Secretary of Defense and Senior weapons tester, in an interview with the Globe and Mail called the system a collosal waste of time and money that would make the country more vulnerable to attack, not less adding "it's destabilizing, it's incredibly expensive, and it doesn't work." Recently the Congressional Budget Office recommended that the system be decomissioned and moved from the field back into the lab where the many, many technological challenges can be addressed before it is re-introduced to the field. The missiles that are currently in silos in California and Alaska have performed so poorly to date that it is now feared that a completely new generation of launch vehicle will be required. The United States is spending something like $10B per year on this system. Why don't we let them waste their money?

Finally, Ballistic Missile Defense is not a DND spending priority. We would end up spending enormous amounts of money on a system our defense planners don't really want. So what would suffer? Body armour for our soldiers? Tactical or Strategic airlifters? Replentishment at Sea vessels? Polar ice breakers? If we are considering missile defense, rather than a continental land based missile defense, maybe we should consider a sea based theatre defense system based on standard (tested) SM-3 missiles (and radars) for our frigates. This would allow our surface ships to better integrate in task force operations with allied fleets.

I can't wait until the Conservatives bring this one up in the House of Commons. Even rookie defense critic Ujjal Dosanjh should be able to hit this one out of the park.

Edited: It seems Tim at Peace Order and Good Government has also posted on this topic so I'll link his post as well.

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