Missile-defence plan shot down

By MICHAEL BYERS, (updated) October 16, 2004


Rushing to Armageddon:

The Shocking Truth About Canada, Missile Defence, and Star Wars

By Mel Hurtig

McClelland & Stewart,229 pages, $19.99


If Canada's probable participation in missile defence could be challenged in court, opponents of the plan would want Mel Hurtig as their lawyer. In this short volume, the fiery Canadian nationalist argues that missile defence won't work, that it entails the weaponization of space, that it will make Canadians less rather than more secure, and that Prime Minister Paul Martin and Defence Minister Bill Graham have been "intentionally misleading" the country.

This is not an easy book to read: Hurtig's relentless, fact-oriented presentation is supported by hundreds of quotations from government statements, Pentagon documents, expert reports and newspaper op-ed articles. At times, the author strays into sensationalist language, particularly in the choice of chapter headings such as Moving by Stealth to Co-operate in Our Own Ghastly Annihilation. And there is some evidence that the book was rushed, no doubt to ensure its publication before the government officially signs on to the U.S. agenda.

Yet this could be the most important book published in Canada this year. The evidence assembled is so overwhelming that even those Canadians who previously supported missile defence should now find the government's case wanting.

Hurtig convincingly exposes the disinformation propagated by the proponents of missile defence, among them former defence minister David Pratt. In April, Pratt claimed that five of the previous eight tests of the U.S. system had been successful; Hurtig devotes nearly 40 pages to disproving this claim, citing reputable U.S. sources such as the Union of Concerned Scientists and the U.S. government's own General Accounting Office.

In fact, all the tests were rigged -- including by outfitting the mock warheads with global positioning satellite beacons -- and some of the supposed "successes" were misses relabelled as "fly bys" (which could only be considered successes if the intercepting missiles are designed to be nuclear armed). Since Pratt's statement, nine further tests have been cancelled or postponed until after next month's U.S. presidential election. One can only assume that someone is concerned about the prospects for failure.

Hurtig is similarly effective in disproving repeated assurances by Pratt, Martin and Graham that missile defence will not lead to the weaponization of space. He quotes from numerous Pentagon documents that indicate the U.S. government's long-term commitment to fighting wars in and from space, with missile defence as the central initial component of the effort. Readers of this review may wish to verify this with a quick visit to the website of the aptly named U.S. Space Command (http://www.peterson.af.mil/hqafspc/default2.asp), where the foreword to the Strategic Master Plan states: "Future challenges require that we develop flexible, responsive force projection capabilities to complement our nuclear deterrent force. In short, we must become a full spectrum space combat command." Space Command is headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, alongside the joint Canada-U.S. North American Aerospace Defence Command.

Hurtig explains how missile defence will likely prompt a new arms race, as China and Russia respond to the United States by increasing the number of their missiles and warheads in order to maintain an assured deterrent, and India then responds to China, and then Pakistan to India, and so on. Indeed, the new arms race has already begun. In February, the Associated Press reported that Russia has designed a "hypersonic" weapon that would provide an "asymmetrical answer" to U.S. missile defence. At the same time, the United States is developing a new generation of tactical "bunker-busting" nuclear weapons that could be deployed against Russian command and control centres.

But it is the charge that Paul Martin and Bill Graham have been "intentionally misleading" about missile defence that makes this book stand out. Their emphatic statements denying the dangers and implications are offset against pages of contradicting evidence that lead inexorably to the opinion that "lying" would not be an inappropriate word. In fact, Graham admitted as much last month when -- seemingly out of the blue -- he stated that the principal reason why Canada should join in missile defence is to maintain good relations with the United States. Perhaps he'd received an advanced set of Hurtig's proofs and realized the secret was out?

In any event, Hurtig, the indefatigable nationalist, also has an answer for the good-relations argument. He asserts that opposing missile defence is not only the right thing for world peace, but also the appropriate stance for a sovereign Canada faced with a destabilizing, globally unpopular regime in Washington. The book closes with the following clarion call: "Now, not later, now is the time for Canadians to take a firm stand to ensure the survival of the country that we love as a proud, independent, sovereign country."

Mel Hurtig has delivered a stinging indictment of our country's leaders. By doing so, he will help force the issue of missile defence into the only court that could possibly matter now, that of national public opinion. All Canadians should read this timely book, applaud the author for his prosecutorial efforts, and demand a full and reasoned response from the accused.

Michael Byers holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia. He is also academic director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues.


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