- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2004

MONTREAL — President Bush’s re-election is pushing Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin toward an early decision about whether to participate in the U.S. ballistic-missile shield despite broad public antipathy to the idea.

Bilateral talks are well-advanced on the issue, which calls for permitting the United States to use radar and perhaps place missiles on Canadian soil. A decision is expected within weeks, though officials were uncertain whether it would be discussed when Mr. Bush visits Ottawa on Nov. 30.

But polls show a majority of Canadians are opposed to the idea, and opposition parties have forced Mr. Martin’s minority Liberals to agree to a potentially bruising parliamentary debate on the matter.

David Rudd, the head of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, an independent think tank, said the government had hoped to postpone a decision for as long as possible, but the re-election of Mr. Bush has made that impossible.

Melanie Grewer, Mr. Martin’s assistant director of communications, said lower-level discussions on missile defense between Canadian and U.S. officials haven’t been completed, and there is “very little for the two leaders to discuss” during Mr. Bush’s visit.

But Mr. Rudd said Canada already had taken the most important step toward participating in the program when it agreed in August to a temporary amendment to the agreement governing North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) — the joint military arrangement set up during the Cold War to watch for missiles coming from the Soviet Union over the North Pole.

That amendment permits the NORAD operations center in Colorado Springs to share information it receives from its network of radar installations with U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), the U.S.-only command that controls interceptor-missile batteries being built in Alaska and California.

“By virtue of our membership in NORAD, we have one foot planted in the missile-defense game, because missile defense requires first and foremost detection and tracking, and that’s what NORAD does,” Mr. Rudd said.

James Fergusson, head of the Center for Defense and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba and a leading proponent of Canada’s participation in the program, said the NORAD arrangement already gave Washington all it needed from Canada to proceed with its missile-defense program.

But Canada has technological expertise that could benefit the program, and the system would be more effective in dealing with future threats from the Middle East if interceptor missiles were placed in eastern Canada, Mr. Fergusson said.

Mr. Rudd predicted that Canada’s participation, at least in the early stages of the program, would be limited to its NORAD obligations and sending a few additional Air Force officers to the Cheyenne Mountain command center in Colorado.

But even that could be politically risky for the minority Liberal government, Mr. Rudd said.

Mr. Martin’s own party is deeply divided on the issue, while the separatist Bloc Quebecois and the left-wing New Democratic Party — who have backed the minority Liberals in an informal coalition — strongly oppose Canadian participation in the program.

That means the Liberals would have to rely on their archrivals, the Conservative Party, which in the past has supported participation in the missile-defense program and closer security cooperation with the United States.

But smelling blood, even the Conservatives are being coy.

“Our position at the moment is we are neither for it, nor against it,” said Gordon O’Connor, the Conservative Party defense critic.

“We’re waiting for the government to come forward and tell us what they have agreed to. And they haven’t come forward, they haven’t told us yet what they believe would be involved in the agreement.”

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