The U.S. might be able to count on a new voice in the missile-defense debate, as political shifts nudge Canada into alignment on the need to defend North America against ballistic-missile attack.
America’s discussion about missile defense tends to be a one-sided conversation. More often than not, it revolves around what capabilities the United States has fielded to date, and what it plans to provide to its allies overseas. But in the not-too-distant future, the United States might be able to count on a new voice in the missile-defense debate, as political and intellectual shifts progressively nudge Canada into alignment on the need to defend North America against ballistic-missile attack.
Much of this new proximity derives from a rapidly changing threat environment. Beyond the increasingly bellicose military posture of Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the growing strategic capabilities of China, the United States now confronts a mounting missile threat from rogue states such as North Korea and Iran. This is notable; while the nuclear threat posed by North Korea has preoccupied policy makers in Washington for years, Pyongyang was generally not believed to be capable of striking the United States for some time. Not so now. General Curtis Scaparrotti, the Commander of U.S Forces Korea, recently warned that “[North Korea has] the capability to have miniaturized a [nuclear] device at this point, and they have the technology to potentially actually deliver what they say they have.” Similarly, observers have cautioned that Iran—now embroiled in protracted nuclear negotiations with the West—continues to expand the range and sophistication of its strategic arsenal, something that current international diplomacy does not address.
Those concerns, it seems, are increasingly echoed in Canada. The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also taken note of North Korea’s missile advances, and their potential implications for Canadian security. Major-General Christian Rousseau, the Commander of Canadian Forces Intelligence Command, recently noted that “North Korea has expressly indicated that it wants to be able to target North America”—and that the DPRK taking strides toward fielding a capability that would allow it to do just that. And like their counterparts in the United States, Canadian officials have expressed growing worries over Iran’s ballistic-missile arsenal—worries made more acute by the current, strained nature of relations between Ottawa and Tehran.
Historically, the Canadian government hasn’t been prepared to take such a step. Although Ottawa long agreed in principle with the idea of ballistic-missile defense, it has yet to partner with either the United States or NATO on the issue in a meaningful way. Instead, Canadian policy makers have preferred to take a “wait-and-see” approach to missile-defense cooperation, knowing full well that—given ballistic-missile telemetry and the proximity of the two countries—Canada would be defended by default as American capabilities evolve. It goes without saying that this “free rider” mentality engendered more than a little resentment in Washington.
But Canadian attitudes could be changing. For example, a recent report by the Canadian Senate National Security Committee, headed by Senator Daniel Lang, highlighted the importance of implementing missile defense as part of Canada’s evolving security relationship with America. Canada, the report concludes, should enter into an agreement formalizing a missile-defense partnership with the United States.