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Where Parties Stand on Star Wars PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Thursday, 17 June 2004 11:18
Ottawa Citizen: In April, Defence Minister David Pratt took a swipe at the NDP and its claims that the U.S. missile defence shield Canada is looking to join is a throwback to president Ronald Reagan's controversial Star Wars plan. "Star Wars is an '80s concept just like Ed Broadbent," said Mr. Pratt, referring to the former NDP leader who has come out of retirement to run in Ottawa Centre. But these days, with a poll showing Mr. Broadbent heading to victory in his riding, and the Pentagon's unveiling of recent plans that would move ahead with the development of weapons in space as part of the shield, the NDP now counters it's Mr. Pratt who is out of date.


Liberal, Conservative positions are entrenched; NDP fights o­n


David Pugliese

This past week, NDP leader Jack Layton vowed to make Canada's participation in the missile shield an election issue.

But it appears that in a political contest where voter anger is focused o­n recent scandals, accountability and government waste, the NDP leader could be facing an uphill battle.

At this point, the sides are well established in the missile defence debate.

The Conservatives are eager for Canada to take part and have repeatedly called o­n the government to sign o­n to the system, which would use ground-based interceptors to shoot down rockets.

The NDP and Bloc Quebecois are opposed, warning it would lead to weapons in space and start a new arms race. Mr. Layton and the Bloc's Gilles Duceppe have accused the Liberals of already deciding to take part in the shield, but keeping that information hidden from the public until after the election.

The Liberals deny that, although they acknowledge they support the idea of a Canadian role in the system.

They say no decision has yet been reached, but there is little doubt the government wants a successful conclusion to negotiations currently taking place. Indeed, Canadian officers have already taken part in missile shield war games as they learn about how the system would work.

On the thorny issue of whether the shield would place weapons in space, Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham has said such claims are in the realm of science fiction. Besides, he notes, Canada would walk away from any missile shield deal if such devices become part of the system. Mr. Pratt has aggressively gone after the NDP, accusing it of scaremongering by linking the shield to Star Wars.

That may be the political line for public consumption, but it's not what Mr. Pratt and Mr. Graham's officials are saying behind the scenes.

Last year, the Defence Department produced several studies acknowledging that weapons in space, some with their genesis under Mr. Reagan's Star Wars program, were to form an important part of the shield in the future.

One study produced last spring acknowledged the shield may pave the way for putting weapons into orbit and could threaten the peaceful use of space for years to come.

American analyst Theresa Hitchens says the Liberal government's claim that weapons in space are not part of the shield is highly misleading.

While such a statement is true now, U.S. President George W. Bush's administration is clearly headed toward launching weapons into orbit, adds Ms. Hitchens of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information.

She notes that in its recent budget request, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency asked for an initial $47 million U.S. to start development of a space-based interceptor to be ready for testing in 2012.

In February, the U.S. air force unveiled its plan to put weapons into orbit and destroy other countries' satellites as part of a strategy that views space as being dominated by the U.S. and its allies. The plan, strikingly similar to the Star Wars scheme, outlines the building of systems such as a space-based radio frequency weapon and anti-satellite missiles.

Canadian defence analyst Alain Pellerin acknowledges space weapons could come at a later stage in the shield's development. But he questions whether that will even be an issue.

"I'm not convinced that the general public is too concerned about having weapons in space," says Mr. Pellerin of the Conference of Defence Associations lobby group.

The dilemma for Canada would come if and when space weapons go into operation sometime after 2012. Does the government of the day then follow through with Prime Minister Paul Martin's promise to withdraw from the shield, which at that point will be fully controlled by the joint Canadian-U.S. North American Aerospace Defence Command?

Not likely, argues Ms. Hitchens. "If you think you had a political problem with the U.S. now over your decision not to support the Bush administration o­n the Iraq war, just wait until you try to leave missile defence o­nce you've signed o­n and it's up and running," she says. "Then watch the fireworks really begin."

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 June 2004 11:18

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