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Martin needn't fret about missile defence Add to ...

Earth to federal Liberal policy wonks, Paul Martin included: The weaponization of space is a red herring. For heaven's sake, get over it.

In year-end television interviews, the Prime Minister for the first time sounded a decidedly critical note about U.S. President George W. Bush's missile-defence plan. Canada won't contribute so much as a dime; we must have a significant say in how the missile shield is operated; and in no circumstances can the program lead to the dreaded weaponization of space, which now surpasses global warmingas the Canadian Left's chief bugaboo.Otherwise, the Americans can take a hike. "If, in fact, this became the weaponization of space, Canada, if it happened in 12 years, would withdraw," Mr. Martin insisted.

The Prime Minister was once an excellent businessman, just as he was an excellent finance minister. He's a logical man. He knows very well that Canada will have little say, if any, in how the United States deploys the missile shield beyond Canadian soil. He also knows that, as long as our financial contribution is nil, we have limited room to yammer demands. What Canada does have is the capacity to co-operate in the herculean task of monitoring North America's extensive air space -- or not. But even here, Ottawa's leverage is limited. Because they own Alaska and the world's greatest navy, the Americans can and will do the job on their own, should Canada opt out.

In that light, missile defence is simply an opportunity. Though plagued with technical problems -- yet another test fizzled Wednesday -- the system may one day be able to detect and shoot down incoming ballistic missiles, whether from North Korea or some as-yet-undeclared rogue state. Canada has a long-standing defence relationship with the United States, and a clear interest in protecting North America from attack. The cost of participation would be minimal. The cost of opting out could be steep -- the sidelining of the North American Aerospace Defence Command and the effective ceding of Canadian airspace to unfettered U.S. control. Why wouldn't Canada sign on?

Enter the weaponization of space. Never mind for a moment that missile-defence critics contradict themselves by insisting both that the technology will never work and that it will soon turn Earth's orbit into a deadly thicket of lasers. Assume the technology does work. Would space inevitably be festooned with killer satellites? No. The strategy is defensive. The United States already has virtually invulnerable, undetectable offensive roving weapons platforms that can obliterate any city on Earth within minutes. They're called nuclear submarines.

Strategic competitors of the United States -- China and Russia, to name two -- will argue that an effective U.S. missile shield would make their nuclear deterrent obsolete, thus igniting a new arms race. First, it's odd to hear that multi-kilotonne intercontinental nuclear weapons are now the world's last, best chance for peace. Second, the United States has already indicated a willingness to share the technology with allies, including Europe. This in turn means it would likely just be a matter of time before missile defence was in place north, east and west. And that could make nuclear holocaust an impossibility.

Granted, much of this is hypothetical. But no one can blame the Americans, or anyone else for that matter, for seeking an effective defence against the world's most dangerous weapons, particularly in an age of mass terrorism and mass casualties. Canada should take part. Mr. Martin should stop dithering, stop prattling from the sidelines, stop playing to the anti-American sentiment on Canada's main streets, and do the right thing. The strategic interests of this country demand it.

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