SDI and North American Defense

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This year has been rough for Canada, with the Iraqi war, SARS, the UN, NATO. But just when we thought it might be safe to go out of the house and maybe even possible to resume those nice runs across the border to see the cousins and do a little shopping, what happens? Star wars. No not the movie, but the Strategic Defense Initiative – the intricate plan to protect America from nuclear attack by rogue states.

It was a brain child of the Reagan administration but after the fall of the Soviet Union there didn’t seem to be much point and it died away. Well its back. The Bush administration, citing North Korea among others, is forging ahead with implementation plans. Of course Canada is being asked to cooperate, and the debate north of the 49th is off and running.

Let me be perfectly clear .Even when I chaired Canada’s defense committee, I never quite grasped the concept of SDI. But it was the 90s and it was pretty much on the back burner. But there is one thing I do grasp, and that is that any effective defense of the U.S. cannot exclude Canada. A nuclear attack on the west coast would devastate Seattle AND Vancouver.

Millions of Canadians live within 100 miles of the U.S. border. Those noble souls who want nothing to do with the U.S. military-industrial complex are both naive and show a serious lack of knowledge of geography. Windsor/Detroit, Quebec/Vermont. It’s unthinkable that any U.S. administration would come up with a comprehensive homeland defense mechanism and allow Canada to stay out. Yet supposed serious voices in Canada are suggesting that we as a nation simply opt out of the discussion.

In the interests of both improving the relationship with the Bush administration and insuring we have some say in our own self determination, it’s crucial that both senior defense staff and senior defense policy makers begin discussing Canada’s roll in whatever plans the Americans come up with.

Is it a good plan? I frankly have no idea. But I do know that ideas relating to continental security have to include America’s continental neighbors. For Canadian politicians to suggest that we take our toys and go, beggar’s belief. If North Korea is a threat, and everything I read tells me it is, Canada is not prepared to face it on her own.

Many Americans resent the fact that Canada gets a free ride on defense because of its proximity to the United States. On the other hand, many Canadians are upset that we can’t escape the journey, even if we want to. I have no clue whether SDI is the answer in dealing with rogue nuclear armed states. I suspect it is just as effective as it would have been for my first grade class to seek protection under our desks in 1953.

But I do know that Canada cannot stick its head in the sand and pretend that nothing is going on. Equally we cannot pretend to be above such planning. If we aren’t at the table we wont have any influence. We’ve been in NORAD for 50 years. We support the U.S. strongly in the war against terrorism. Is there a future for SDI? Perhaps. But it isn’t a decision for the U.S. to make alone.

This is Mary Clancy, a Canadian living in Burlington.

Mary Clancy is the president of Burlington College and a former member of the Canadian Parliament.

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