Missile Defense: Not Just About Shooting Stuff

Rachel Marsden

Ever since Prime Minister Paul Martin announced Canada’s pullout from Ballistic Missile Defense program, Canadians have been on the lookout for a significant reaction from south of the border. It’s as if President Bush is expected to respond like a Spiderman cartoon villain whose plans for world domination have just been foiled, shaking his fist in the air and screaming, “I’ll get you Paulie Canuckistan!”

Don’t expect this kind of low budget cheese from the USA. Instead, get ready for the Mother of All Snubs: a case of passive-aggression well beyond the help of even Dr. Phil. A blockbuster snub so incredibly huge that if it were to star in “Snub: The Movie”, it would have J.Lo’s makeup and hair people, Paris Hilton’s deluxe Airstream trailer, and Steven Spielberg as its director.

US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, initially “rescheduled” her Canadian visit next month to sometime around the 12th of never. Translation, Paulie: She just ain't that into you.

Condi has just handily taken one of those butt-kicking, knee-high leather boots of hers, sunk it into lil’ Paulie Canuckistan’s back bacon, and drop-kicked him into a state of irrelevancy. By adopting his position against the missile defense program, the Prime Minister has essentially guaranteed that Canadian business will be his cell mate in
passive-aggressive hell.

The Americans aren’t going to put up anything that resembles an overt tariff barrier in retaliation against Canada’s position. There are rules against that, and eventual prices to be paid for violating those rules, as we’ve seen recently with the softwood lumber issue.

But as Dr. Jack Granatstein, a Director of the Canadian Defense and Foreign Affairs Institute (CDFAI) says, “I have no doubt that because of Iraq, and I suspect because of [ballistic missile defense] as well, people who have oversight over contracts will be looking a little more closely at ways to punish Canadian companies. I mean, that’s the price you pay. I don’t think you need a ‘Buy American’ Act, or a deliberate, ‘let’s punish them’. It happens on its own hook.”

A spokesman for Senator John Warner (R-VA) – Chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee and a huge proponent of missile defense technology – points out: “[Warner] does not support any trade retaliation on Canada. However, I can’t predict what ultimately would be an outcome.”

Well, let’s take a shot at predicting an outcome, based on a little recent history, shall we? In the Fall of 2003, after the Canadian government decided not to participate in US efforts to remove murderous dictator Saddam Hussein from Iraq, a Montreal-based company called Canadian Aviation Electronics Ltd. (CAE) lost a $1 billion US Army contract.

At the time, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer quoted then-CEO, Derek Burney (now himself a fellow with the CDFAI), as saying that “Canadian firms may now have to overcome two handicaps when competing in key American markets--the long-standing handicap that they are not American and the new handicap in the post-Iraq environment that they are Canadian.”

The benefits gained by Canadian research and development through participation in the missile defense program would be at least equally significant as the end result. To argue otherwise is like saying that NASA has only ever been about putting guys on the moon, giving Michael Jackson video-dance fans a hip name for walking backwards, and keeping conspiracy theorists busy.

NASA research has produced more than 1,300 spin-offs used in civilian life, including Velcro, Tang fruit drink, the computer microchip, CAT Scan and Magnetic Resonance Imaging technology, ‘invisible’ braces to fix crooked teeth, heart-pumps, and pacemakers.

Similarly, missile defense isn’t just about shooting at stuff in space. The technological spin-offs resulting specifically from American missile defense program research efforts include the corrective eye surgery laser, the pizza warming trays used by Pizza Hut delivery guys, the laser used to target and obliterate cancer cells while leaving healthy ones intact, the AuraGen VIPER mobile power generator that can be mounted under the hood of a car and is currently being used by the miltary in Iraq and Afghanistan, advanced water purification systems, land mine neutralization technology, medical imaging devices that detect small changes in blood flow associated with disease, cutting-edge mountain rescue equipment, and the Avanza spam email eliminator.

Canada’s economy could have used its partnership in the journey towards a successful missile defense venture to stimulate similar innovations. As Granatstein points out, “We have some capabilities in some areas, but we’re not big players. There isn’t that much research and development in Canada.”

Paul Martin just delivered another smack across the face to Quebec and, specifically, to the province’s aerospace industry, when he reneged on his missile defense commitment in order to pander to the anti-missile defense crowd in the province. Quebec is home to both CAE and Bombardier--the third largest civil aviation company in the world. The province is also the home of Marc Garneau--Canada’s first astronaut and a source of great pride for both his province and his country.

It is arrogant and degrading for the Prime Minister to assume that the people of a leading aerospace province do not understand or value the importance of research and development in this field. It is arrogant and degrading to assume that missile defense opponents in this same province would not alter their current position on the issue if it was explained to them how important a role the missile defense program could play with respect to these key aspects of their economy. It is about as arrogant and degrading as this same Liberal government figuring that Quebeckers’ votes need to be bought with millions of dollars of their own money, filtered through Liberal-friendly ad firms.

It doesn’t matter if a Canadian hails from Quebec City, Winnipeg, Toronto, or Vancouver--everyone wants to be on a winning team. So much so, that we’ll proudly own up to pretty much anything out there on the world stage that self-identifies as Canadian: Pamela Anderson baring all in Playboy, Tom Green showing his cancerous testicles on TV, any movie at all that uses a Canadian city as a backdrop, Celine Dion singing at the Grammys, and even that Canadian guy who won an Academy Award this week and basically had it tossed to him in the audience as he thanked Seneca College (while everyone back home was saying, “Oh my God! He said 'Seneca College' in front of Clint Eastwood!”). And when a Canadian sees a shot of that robotic Canadarm hanging off some rig in outer-space, he usually ends up reminding everyone within earshot that Canada made it. Canadians have gotten more mileage out of that damn space arm than Yoko Ono did out of “Yesterday”.

But Canada has been coasting way too long on the Canadarm, much like it has with its post-WWII reputation. The time is long overdue to start pitching in again. Focusing solely on the end result of the missile defense program is short-sighted ignorance that will cost Canada opportunities and, ultimately, priceless national pride.

Imagine how much more advanced Canada’s aerospace industry would be today if the Diefenbaker government wouldn’t have cancelled the Avro Arrow project in the 1950s, putting some of the top aerospace talent in the world out of work and euthanizing the most modern supersonic jet interceptor the world had ever seen.

Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s lack of foresight at the time ultimately became his legacy of embarrassment. Lest Paul Martin forget.