Madam Chair, first, I know one cannot comment on the absence of members or ministers from the House, but on the contrary I would like to commend the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Foreign Affairs who have been present in the House for all of this debate until the bitter end. I think that is worthy of commendation, given their obvious concern and interest for the views of members.
Fifty years ago my father was a jet fighter pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, based mainly out of Comox Air Force Base on the west coast. During that time he flew many dozens of sorties with his other Canadian aircrew as part of our then new joint command with the United States in Norad.
Their job at the time was to intercept Soviet bombers that were coming in over the polar ice cap which at any given time could be carrying nuclear armaments. That is precisely why we created Norad. That is precisely why men like my father and thousands of other Canadian servicemen were the first chain of defence, if you will, against the ongoing threat of Soviet nuclear bombers over the polar ice cap in the 1950s. That was the principle upon which Norad was based.
Our forces authorized those sorties out of a joint command structure based at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado where, since the founding of Norad, a Canadian general and an American four star general would survey the skies over North America's airspace to determine when there was a potential threat and order the interception of that threat.
Today the proposal that we are discussing for a ballistic missile defence system is simply an extension of the Norad principle in which this country has participated for 50 years to take into account new technology and new threats. The fact is that the principal threat no longer is in Soviet bombers, prop planes coming over the polar ice cap. The principal intercontinental ballistic missile threat is just that, intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, or tipped with other potential weapons of mass destruction, not coming from the Soviet Union, but coming from states that may not be rational actors. This is precisely the concern that has motivated the United States, now supported by most of its traditional allies, to explore a land and sea based integrated detection and interception system using ballistic missile technology that could at least diminish the chances of North America and North American civilian populations from being held hostage by states with this kind of offensive missile technology.
I personally do not understand, as somebody who I think has a relatively good grasp of the strategic history of the defence of North America, why there is so much angst and anxiety about taking a 1950s tried and true defence principle where Canada works cooperatively with our allies in the United States and elsewhere to defend the skies over this continent and to defend our people and those of our allies. That is simply the principle of the agreement in which we are being asked to participate.
One thing is absolutely clear, and the defence minister has made this point. Whether or not Canada participates in missile defence and to what extent we participate will make not one whit of difference in terms of whether the United States proceeds with missile defence in its own right.
The only question is whether or not Canada as a sovereign country will willingly participate to ensure that a defence technology which will be employed around our continent will have some involvement from the Canadian government. The question is not whether or not there will be ballistic missile defence. The question is whether or not Canada will have some say in the development and application of this technology, particularly in its use over our airspace.
I believe that just as it was the right thing for us to engage in the Norad agreement 50 years ago, it would be the right thing for us today to say that we are not very keen on the American military releasing ballistic missiles off the Pacific coast, or in the north Pacific off Alaska, or in the north Atlantic, potentially intercepting incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles, potentially in or near Canadian airspace, without our say-so.
I had the benefit of visiting the Norad joint command in Colorado 18 months ago, to talk with the senior-most Canadian general staff there and the American general staff, including the four star general in charge of Norad. We had a chance, with parliamentarians from all parties, to visit the joint command centre.
I learned some very interesting things there, including the fact that Canadian officers who help protect this country were very concerned that if our government does not quickly indicate its willingness to cooperate in the ballistic missile field, the rest of the Norad joint command would become increasingly irrelevant. It really is structured on a 50 or 40 year old threat.
The Canadian senior officers with whom I spoke said that the usefulness and the relevance of Norad to the United States will really be imperilled if we refuse to allow missile defence to come under that joint command, and the Americans go off and put it under a separate command, a strategic command, space command, or some other command structure. If that happens, then essentially Norad will become a cold war relic and the only real integrated joint command we have over continental defence will become largely irrelevant.
That is an outrageous abdication of sovereignty. I accuse my friends in the NDP that their position, not deliberately, would have the unintended consequence of diminishing Canadian sovereignty in the defence of North America and Canadian airspace.
Further, I would like to point out what I said in my intervention to the speech of my friend from Windsor, that far from leading to another arms race, I believe that the effective development and deployment of this defensive technology would diminish and put the cold war arms race in reverse. It already began to do that two years ago when Russia essentially agreed to the American abrogation of the ABM treaty. Concurrent with that was an agreement to reduce each country's warhead arsenal by one-third. That is the largest single achievement in terms of nuclear arms reduction since the beginning of the cold war. Instead of applauding that, instead of looking at that with open and objective minds, the NDP said that this is going to result in an increase in the nuclear threat when in fact it is doing just the opposite.
The critics of this say that even if this technology reaches its greatest possible level of effectiveness, it cannot present a 100% defence shield. That may well be true, but the strategic point of missile defence is this. If there is a madman in a rogue state, let us just say the dear leader in North Korea, the son of the head of state who is now six years deceased although he is still officially head of state in North Korea, who now clearly has intercontinental ballistic missile capacity and potentially nuclear weapons capacity, and he decides that he wants to hold the United States or any other country within his missile reach hostage, he can do that. He can do that and the only defensive strategy left to the United States or its allies is that vile principle of mutually assured destruction, “if you hit us, we'll hit you back and we'll hit you harder”.
I would simply say in closing that if our concern as Canadians is maintaining international order and peace and preventing another arms race and preventing a potential nuclear capacity, then we ought to agree to intelligent defensive systems. We ought to agree to systems like this which replace the offensive strategic logic of mutually assured destruction with a limited but effective land and sea based defence system, which helps defend Canadian and American citizens and which allows us to maintain our sovereignty in these matters.