Time for Canada to join U.S. ballistic missile defence, says Romeo Dallaire
The retired general and senator says Canada can't rely on the U.S. for protection amid rising tensions with North Korea
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OTTAWA — Retired general and senator Romeo Dallaire says Canadians can't just assume the U.S. will shoot down a missile heading towards Canada, and that it is time for this country to finally embrace continental missile defence.
"Canada should join the ballistic missile defence program," Dallaire said in an interview Thursday.
"We currently cannot put a hand on our heart and say that it will be used to help us should something happen."
His comments come amid growing concerns that Canada could be caught in the middle of a conflict between the U.S. and North Korea, which has been showing off its growing nuclear and missile arsenal.
The U.S. invited Canada to join its continental missile-shield system more than a decade ago, but then-prime minister Paul Martin opted against it in 2005 following an extremely divisive national debate.
Since then, Canada has sat on the sidelines as the U.S. has spent more than $100 billion building a series of land- and sea-based interceptors that could stop the type of limited attack North Korea might launch.
Ballistic missile defence has also been adopted by NATO allies in Europe and those in the Asia-Pacific region such as Australia and South Korea, leaving Canada as an outlier.
That doesn't mean Canada wouldn't see a ballistic missile attack coming.
Canadian and American militaries work side-by-side monitoring potential airborne threats through the North American Aerospace Command, or Norad.
But any decision on whether to shoot down such a threat would rest solely with U.S. officials, who Dallaire noted have no legal obligation to react if the missile is heading toward Canada.
Joining ballistic missile defence would not only create that obligation, Dallaire said, but also act as a deterrent should North Korea or any other country use Canada as a "proxy target" for the U.S.
"Feeling that (the U.S.) would respond is quite different than having it somewhere on paper and being able to hold them accountable to respond should Canada be targeted," Dallaire said.
Dallaire acknowledged having his own doubts about missile defence when the issue was first raised, but he said the technology has improved significantly.
And while critics have pointed to the cost of the system, Dallaire said such arguments overlook the potential technological and other industrial benefits participation in such a project would entail.
"Budgets cannot be ignored and the Americans realize the budgetary limitations that we have and the scale of our financial investment in national defence," he said.
"But we're talking security, we're talking new capabilities, we're talking about potential technological spinoffs and advances."
There had been questions over whether the current Liberal government planned to reverse that decision, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared to close the door on the matter this week.
The previous Conservative government was likewise unwilling to re-open the debate, despite having supported Canada's participation in ballistic missile defence while in opposition.
But Dallaire predicted the issue will resurface again in earnest when the U.S. and Canada begin discussions around upgrading Norad in the coming months and years to better defend North America.
"It's in that sort of exercise that I believe ballistic missile will come back," he said.
"So Norad, to upgrade and to modernize, looks at the threat, and ergo seeks operational capabilities to counter the threat. And so that falls into line."
— Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.