In The Media

Analysis: U.S. would let a nuke missile wipe out a Canadian city - then maybe it's time for a new ally?

by David Pugliese (feat. Stephen Saideman)

Ottawa Citizen
September 15, 2017


The debate about whether Canada should join the U.S. missile defence system continues to rage on. The latest development?

It’s the claim that the U.S. would allow a nuclear-armed missile to hit Canadian territory because the Canadian government has not signed on to be part of the U.S. continental missile defence shield.

Where did this come from? It first emerged last week in a CBC interview with the former Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson. “If a rogue nation fired a ballistic missile at the United States and it went off course towards Canada, it’s not a certain thing that that missile would be brought down by American ballistic missile defence, because Canada hasn’t signed on,” Lawson said.

Lawson, of course, followed that statement with the pitch that Canada should join the missile shield.

Then less than a week later, Lt.­Gen. Pierre St­-Amand, deputy commander of NORAD, told MPs essentially the same thing…but tweaked it even more. As reported by the Canadian Press news service, St-Amand said that under current U.S. policy, the American military would not defend Canada in the event of a ballistic missile attack.

Predictably doomsday headlines followed. MPs warned about Canada being in peril. On CTV, a defence analyst and the host talked about how a North Korean missile could wipe out Vancouver or Toronto.

So, if St-Amand and Lawson are to be believed, U.S. generals and politicians would look on as a North Korean missile landed on Vancouver or Toronto. Even though they (supposedly) had the means to stop it, the U.S. would allow a hydrogen bomb to detonate on their border.


Here’s what St-Amand and Lawson aren’t saying. The detonation of a North Korean hydrogen bomb on a Canadian city would have far-reaching and potentially devastating economic and health consequences for the U.S. (besides obviously Canada).

For instance? The port of Vancouver is a major transit point for U.S. firms. Incinerate Vancouver and you strike a serious blow against the U.S. economy. And you dump radiation on Seattle, just 200 kilometres away. How would that go down with U.S. citizens?

Turn Toronto into a radioactive cinder and you destroy financial, communications, electrical and transit nodes central to the U.S. economy. And again, you have the long-lasting effects of radiation. Remember we are talking about the detonation of a hydrogen bomb on the doorstep of the U.S.

And supposedly, the U.S. military would do nothing.

While many defence analysts were jumping on the doomsday bandwagon, there were a few challenging the military establishment. Steve Saideman, a political scientist at Carleton University, pointed out that the U.S. would defend Canada – if it could – because it’s in America’s self interest. But he, like a number of defence specialists in the U.S., raised the question about whether the missile shield even works. Here is part of what Saideman wrote: “Oh, one last thing: the idea that Canada is defenseless against nukes? That has been the case since the Soviet Union developed its own nuclear-tipped ICBMs because…. the US never had an effective system for shooting down missiles. And, guess what…. it still does not. The US system is unproven. Indeed, when North Korea launches its tests, the US does not try to shoot them down because it would really suck if the US tried and failed.”

St-Amand’s testimony on Thursday, however, should spark some soul-searching. But instead of whether Canada should or should not join the American missile defence shield, a new debate should be launched. That would look at whether it is worth having an ally that has an official policy to sit back and let a catastrophic attack proceed on its neighbour and one of its closest partners even though it believes it has the means and technology to stop it.

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