Ottawa affirms commitment to missile defence talks

Nunavut high on list of possible missile, radar sites

By JANE GEORGE

Despite growing controversy in Ottawa, the federal government reaffirmed its commitment this week to talks about becoming involved in the U.S. missile defence scheme.

On Tuesday, a motion from the Bloc Québécois calling for the federal government to “cease all discussions with the Bush administration on possible Canadian participation” in missile defence was defeated 155 to 71 in the House of Commons.

Canada is talking with the U.S. about participation in a missile system that would theoretically fend off attacks by so-called “rogue” countries such as North Korea or Iran by knocking out these missiles with other ballistic missiles over northern North America.

During a debate last week in Parliament on missile defence, MP Claude Bachand, defense critic for the BQ, said the Liberal government was heading down a “slippery slope” with the ballistic missile defence (BMD) system.

“The federal government’s proposal is the new foreign affairs doctrine: total domination. Domination by air, by land by sea, and by space,” Bachand said. “Canada is in the process of jumping on the American bandwagon.”

Bachand said the BQ is handing out 20,000 postcards with an anti-missile defence message, so Quebeckers can tell their elected representatives to oppose the system.

If Canada eventually decides to back involvement in BMD, Nunavut may find missiles and radar in its backyard.

Last week, federal defence minister David Pratt refused to rule out U.S.-controlled missile launches from northern Canada as part of the missile defence shield.

“We’re not saying no. We’re not saying yes,” Pratt said on the CTV program, Question period.

Pratt later said that the “possible use of Canadian territory for radar sites” might be Canada’s contribution to the multi-billion-dollar BMD, although he said it was too early to tell whether any use of Canadian territory would be needed.

“I would simply say that what we are looking at is a limited system of land- and sea-based interceptors,” Pratt said in the House of Commons.

But Greenland has been less than keen about letting the U.S. upgrade its Thule air base in north Greenland into a BMD site, and has demanded compensation and a voice at the table during negotiations.

So, northern Canada is the next logical place for the installation of missile and radar sites, anywhere in a line down from Alert to Goose Bay, Labrador.

To make the proposed system work, the U.S. must have radar and missile sites circling the Arctic because two or three missile radar sites would be necessary to cover the intercept line for missiles headed toward the U.S. east coast.

Based on missile trajectory maps, these sites could be located at Alert in North Baffin, Iqaluit, or Goose Bay.

At a meeting in Ottawa on Arctic sovereignty and security in January, 2002, Lt. General George MacDonald, who was then the vice-chief of Canada’s defence staff, said he wouldn’t rule out Ellesmere Island for a BMD site.

The abandoned mine site at Nanisivik as well as bases at Eureka and Alert on Ellesmere Island could be possible alternatives to Thule.

Dale Grant, editor of the Defence Policy Review bulletin told Nunatsiaq News in May 2002 the “battle management headquarters” could be located in Goose Bay as a way of sealing the southern border of the BMD system – a plan that would also assure the future of the base, which is an economic force in Labrador.

Fort Greeley, a former U.S. Army facility 200 kilometres southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska, is already slated for five missile silos, which will be part of the Pacific test bed that the U.S. Missile Defense Agency will have running by September 2004. The U.S. is also considering arming these missiles with nuclear warheads.

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, also the parliamentary secretary to the minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, said Yukoners are split on the BMD.

“There are a number of Yukoners who think that Canada should not participate, but we are the closest riding to the system. We are a few seconds away from the missiles at Fort Greely. Therefore, a number of Yukoners feel that, without spending any money, we should be at the table so we know what is happening.”

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