Op-ed: Cherry picking the facts on Ballistic Missile Defence


Embassy News
Douglas J. Roche, O.C, Paul Meyer and Peggy Mason
July 16, 2014

Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) is one of those recurring issues in Canadian security policy that reminds one of the hydra-headed monster featured in B horror flicks. Just when the hero seems to have dispatched the creature for good, it raises another ugly head.

Although there is a considerable record of previous Canadian governments considering the matter and deciding against official Canadian involvement in this peculiar American endeavour, the question seems to be revived periodically, as if there weren’t more pressing issues of foreign and security policy for our parliamentary institutions to consider.

This was the case with the latest study of the issue carried out by the Senate’s Committee on National Security and Defence, which culminated in its report of June 2014. The surprising conclusion of this report was the Committee’s unanimous recommendation that “the Government of Canada enter into an agreement with the United States to participate as a partner in ballistic missile defence.”

It is difficult to discern how the Committee came to this conclusion on the basis of the evidence heard in the course of its study, even though the witnesses invited to testify were primarily selected from pro-BMD circles. In the report some key assertions are made without substantiation and other relevant factors are simply ignored.

The impact of the U.S. BMD program on Russia and China is asserted to be benign, whereas this program and the refusal of Washington to negotiate any constraints on it has been a major impediment to progress in U.S.-Russia strategic nuclear arms reductions.

Similarly, while it is easy to declare, as the report does, that BMD is no threat to China’s strategic deterrent, it is not surprising that Beijing with its modest ICBM force considers the question differently, concerned as it should be with the potential of the expanding U.S. program to negate its retaliatory capacity. This in turn can have detrimental repercussions for other multilateral security initiatives, such as the long-delayed negotiation of a ban on fissile material production. China, for example, has to weigh the possibility of building up its offensive nuclear forces as a hedge against future BMD development.

The report’s treatment of the threat to Canada is very superficial, drawing largely from the exaggerated projections of North Korean and Iranian capabilities contained in the Rumsfeld Commission Report of 1998. There is no discussion of why Canada would be a target, if and when these countries develop an ICBM capability, or why any such rogue state would attack North America with a weapon that comes with a return address (as opposed to attacking with a cruise missile, or ship-borne bomb that could evade detection). The report muddles the distinction between U.S. national BMD and the theatre BMD programs being pursued via NATO despite the different impact of such defences for strategic stability.

The report is more balanced in its consideration of the technical feasibility of BMD, acknowledging the poor and deteriorating test record of the homeland BMD system and the fundamental problem of the system’s inability to discriminate between warheads and decoys or other so-called penetration aids that an adversary could readily deploy. In the absence of some technical miracle, the physics of outer space suggest that this basic failure to discriminate between objects eliminates any theoretical benefit that a BMD system might bring against an ICBM. Moreover, is it not highly irresponsible for political and military leaders to suggest to the public that such unproven systems would be able to protect the country from a nuclear strike?

The committee heard some well-worn arguments that Canada needed to participate in BMD to “preserve NORAD.” In our view this is a bogus line. NORAD’s existing missions are in the interests of both countries and it doesn’t require taking on a BMD mission (which even with Canadian involvement is far from certain given U.S. command preferences) in order to survive. The crucial issue of “opportunity cost” is overlooked in the report. Even if we assume the traditional cost-sharing for North American aerospace defence, an open question in light of new American defence budget constraints, Canada would be undertaking a major funding commitment by engaging in BMD. Given the pressing procurement demands faced by the Canadian military for new planes, ships and equipment that actually work and are in line with real world missions, would it be reasonable to divert millions to the dubious BMD enterprise? Of course south of the border there are political and commercial interests that are glad not to confuse the public with the facts when it comes to the enormous pork barrel that is BMD, but surely we are not obliged to replicate this boondoggle here.

Former member of Parliament and former Senator Douglas J. Roche, professor of international studies and fellow in international security at Simon Fraser University Paul Meyer, and Rideau Institute president Peggy Mason are three former Canadian ambassadors for disarmament.

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Former UN Ambassador for Disarmament to Head Rideau Institute

Media Release
For Immediate Release
June 26, 2014

Former UN Ambassador for Disarmament to Head Rideau Institute

(Ottawa) The Board of Directors is proud to announce that Ms. Peggy Mason, Canada’s former Ambassador for Disarmament to the United Nations, is the new President of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs. Peggy Mason was elected President at a Directors’ meeting on June 18.

She succeeds Steven Staples, who had served in that role since founding the research and advocacy organization in 2006. He continues to serve on the Board and will lead fundraising and outreach initiatives.

Peggy Mason is an expert on the UN, disarmament, conflict resolution and NATO. As Canada’s Ambassador for Disarmament, she worked with then External Affairs Minister Joe Clark, represented Canada at the UN disarmament forums in New York, and headed Canada’s delegation to disarmament treaty reviews in relation to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.

A member of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament for six years, she has chaired UN expert studies on disarmament in Iraq and the regulation of small arms and light weapons.

Since 1996 Peggy Mason has increasingly focused on post-conflict peacebuilding and the role of military forces in supporting a comprehensive peace process. Ms. Mason works with several civil society organizations and initiatives, including civil society promotion of peace talks in Afghanistan.


A graduate and gold medallist of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Common Law, Peggy Mason was inducted into its Honour Society in September 2003.

The Rideau Institute is an independent research and advocacy group, based in Ottawa, which focuses on foreign policy and defence policy issues.


For more information contact Kathleen Walsh, Operations Coordinator, at 613 565-9449 ext 21. 

Peggy Mason Biography 
Peggy Mason’s career highlights diplomatic and specialist expertise in the field of international peace and security, with a particular emphasis on the United Nations, where she served as Canada’s Ambassador for Disarmament from 1989 to 1995.  
Since 1996 Mason has been involved in many aspects of UN peacekeeping training, including the development of ground-breaking principles to guide the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former fighters, reform of UN arms embargoes, and the dramatic evolution of UN peacekeeping in the 21st century. 
As a regular trainer and exercise developer, she also brings the UN political/diplomatic perspective to a range of NATO and EU training exercises to help prepare military commanders for complex, multidisciplinary peace and crisis stabilization operations.   

In 2000-2001, Mason was a Special Advisor to then Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) on Small Arms and Light Weapons control, and chaired the UN Governmental Experts Group study on the international regulation of small arms and light weapons.  
From 2002 to 2012 Mason was a Senior Fellow at The Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA) at Carleton University, where she lectured, participated in training for Iraqi and Kuwaiti diplomats, and chaired the Advisory Board of the Canadian Centre for Treaty Compliance (CCTC). Since 2004 she has been Chair of the Board of Directors of Peacebuild, a network of Canadian NGOs engaged in all aspects of peacebuilding.  
A graduate and gold medallist of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Common Law, Peggy Mason was inducted into its Honour Society in September 2003.  
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Single-engine F-35 a bad choice for Canada’s Arctic, report finds

Media Release
For Immediate Release
June 9, 2014

Single-engine F-35 a bad choice for Canada’s Arctic, report finds

OTTAWA – A new report on the single-engine F-35 has just been released by the Rideau Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

One Dead Pilot was written by University of British Columbia political science professor Michael Byers, who recently won the $50,000 Donner Prize for his book International Law and the Arctic.

The report responds to the Harper government’s continued openness to the F-35 as a replacement for Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18 fighter jets. With the exception of the F-35, all the aircraft currently under consideration have two engines.

As Professor Byers explains, this difference has significant safety implications, particularly for pilots operating over Canada’s Arctic and vast maritime zones: “A decision to purchase a single-engine fighter would almost inevitably result in the needless loss of Canadian pilots.”

Thirty-five years ago, the CF-18’s twin engines were a decisive factor in its selection over the single-engine F-16.


Today, the Harper government maintains that improvements in the reliability of engines mean that single-engine aircraft are just as safe as twin-engine aircraft.

Professor Byers’ report includes recent statistics from the U.S. Air Force Safety Center that disprove this assertion. The number of accidents leading to the loss of a pilot and/or aircraft remains significantly higher for single-engine fighter jets than for twin-engine fighter jets.

According to the report, the risks associated with a single-engine aircraft are compounded by Canada’s challenging geography – including the remote Arctic and the world’s longest coastline – as well as a near-broken search-and-rescue system. As Professor Byers explains, “A pilot forced to eject after a loss of power in the Arctic might have just a few hours to live.”



One Dead Pilot is available on the Rideau Institute website 

For more information contact:

Professor Michael Byers, University of British Columbia
c. 1-250-526-3001 e. michael.byers@ubc.ca (Note: Professor Byers is in Ottawa June 9, 10 and 11)
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  • Blog
  • May 23rd, 2014

Job posting: Student Summer Job

Job posting: Student Summer Job – International Human Rights Project Coordinator

POSITION: International Human Rights Project Coordinator (Summer Job Posting)

Term: June 16 to August 29, 2014 (11 weeks)


The successful candidate will work to develop and support a public education campaign aimed at the community, Canadian citizens and policy-makers regarding human rights and armed conflict, especially focused on the risks and dangers civilians face in conflict around the world. Responsibilities will include: supporting educational outreach to the public through social media, direct mail, and the media.

Required qualifications:

• Was registered as a full-time student in a post-secondary institution during the preceding academic year and plans to return to school on a full-time basis during the next academic year.


Preferred qualifications:

• Has an interest current affairs or working in a non-profit organization.

• Possesses a good understanding of Canadian politics and the structure of government in Canada.

• Has experience working in a small office environment or within a project team.




• Ability to work with minimum supervision

• Thorough knowledge of the programs of the Microsoft Office Suite, especially Word, Excel, Access and Outlook

• Project management and coordination

• Good oral and writing communication skills in English

• Proficiency in French an asset

• Ability to prioritize and organize work effectively

• Strong interpersonal skills


N.B. This position may continue throughout the school year on a part-time basis. Candidates are encouraged to indicate if they would be available to devote one or two days per week during the school year.

Application procedure:

Qualified applicants should submit their resume, by email, along with a covering letter and a writing sample to operations@rideauinstitute.ca.

Applications must be received by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, June 6. Only those candidates selected for interviews will be contacted.

The Rideau Institute is committed to employment equity and encourages applications from all qualified applicants.


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  • Blog
  • May 14th, 2014

Staples Op-ed: Harper and the missile defence bait

Embassy News
Steven Staples
14 May 2014


Are the Conservatives really considering re-opening the missile defence debate?

Stephen Harper’s Parliamentary secretary to the minister of national defence, James Bezan, set missile defence boosters in Ottawa abuzz last week when he suggested the Harper government was open to revisiting the 2005 decision by former prime minister Paul Martin to stay out of George Bush’s Star Wars.

When asked a question from the floor of a defence conference in Ottawa, Mr. Bezan replied that “the government hasn’t made any decision,” but he went on to say that he found it concerning that Canadians would have no say about intercepting a missile that might stray from its intended target toward a Canadian city.

He added that the decision to join would be a political one, and ventured to say that if the government met resistance, the status quo would remain.

Cracking open a big ol’ can of missile defence would be a risky move for the government, which is already being hammered by one multi-billion-dollar defence program foul-up after another. Between the gold-plated F-35 and a growing legion of angry veterans, does Stephen Harper really want to add the faulty US ballistic missile defence program to the fire?

Mr. Bezan noted that the before making any decision, the government would wait for reports from both the House of Commons and the Senate’s defence committee, which have been holding low-key hearings on missile defence.

On Monday the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence got a detailed assessment of the missile defence system from the best-informed witness yet, and it wasn’t good.

Philip Coyle was the associate director for national security and international affairs in the Obama White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and in the 1990s he was the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester, responsible for more than 200 major defence acquisition programs.

He has spent decades at the centre of America’s nuclear weapons complex, including overseeing nuclear weapons testing during the Carter administration, and devoting over 30 years at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Mr. Coyle told the senators that Canadians were “justifiably skeptical” of US missile defence plans in 2005. “Since 2005 the performance of the GMD system in flight intercept tests has gotten worse, not better,” he informed a likely astonished group of senators, who have been working under the false assumption that the program had improved greatly in recent years.

The ground-based midcourse missile defence system that covers North America intends to use missile interceptors based in the US to intercept enemy nuclear armed missiles as they follow their trajectory to North America through the vacuum of space.

It was built and declared operational by the Bush administration, but has not achieved a successful test intercept since George W. Bush left office. “Since early December 2008, there have been four attempts, but only one successful hit. That’s only 25 per cent,” Mr. Coyle testified.

During the course of their hearings, the senators have listened intently to missile defence advocates describing the malevolence of North Korea and the “threat” it poses to Canada from a nuclear missile strike. North Korea has no such missiles, but as Coyle told the potentially anxiety-stricken senators, “apparently some Canadians believe that participation in US missile defence will somehow guarantee Canada protection from enemy missiles. The GMD system can’t even guarantee protection for the US.”

These tests are highly scripted and controlled, but even so, the interceptor can’t find its target in space. “Shooting down an enemy missile going 15,000 mph out in space is like trying to hit a hole-in-one in golf when the hole is going 15,000 mph,” Mr. Coyle has written.

“If an enemy uses decoys and countermeasures, missile defence is like trying to shoot a hole-in-one in golf when the hole is going 15,000 mph and the green is covered with black circles the same size as the hole. The defender doesn’t know which target to aim for.”

Rumour has it that the question of Canada’s joining—whatever that would entail, exactly—could be considered in the context of the promised review of the 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy, which is expected to be completed within the year, and released before the next federal election.

There isn’t much evidence to suggest Stephen Harper is interested in going down this road. While the missile defence boosters can busy themselves writing op-eds and briefs from the safety of their offices, it’s Mr. Harper who would have to defend the missile defence system before the electorate in 2015.

The NDP has already signalled that their position against missile defence has not changed. In fact, Mr. Mulcair would like nothing more than for Mr. Harper to hitch his wagon to Bush’s old faulty missiles. For Mr. Trudeau, we’ll have to wait and see whether he wants to keep the position of the Martin government when it said “no” to missile defence.

The Harper government controls the agenda of the House and Senate committees. He should drop the curtain on the missile defence hearings and steer the members toward dealing with the 101 other more pressing issues faced by our armed forces.

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