Hit a bullet, every time

The Globe and Mail, 03 June 2017

It’s a genuine feat to intercept a bullet with a bullet, which is what the Pentagon says it managed to do with this week’s successful missile defence test (Pentagon Successfully Tests ICBM Defence System For First Time, May 31).

Just don’t confuse that with protection from a North Korean missile attack.

The Pentagon still is not close to reliably intercepting missiles under anything approaching realistic conditions (for example, with active counter measures engaged). The problem is, any defence against nuclear attack with less than a 100-per-cent success rate amounts to catastrophic failure.

Even a missile defence system that reliably performed at a 90-per-cent success level would cede all the advantage to the attacker.

Once North Korea manages to mount a warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the continental U.S. (something that isn’t imminent but is likely in the absence of any agreement to end its nuclear program), it faces the relatively simpler challenge of building enough such missiles to stay just ahead of a necessarily less than perfect American missile defence system.

North Korea is already doing that in response to the regional missile defence system (THAAD) the U.S. has now deployed in South Korea, as Pyongyang practises regular and multiple firings of tried and true Scud missiles – of which it can build as many as it thinks it needs to overwhelm the defence.

The real accomplishment of missile defence is to create powerful incentives to accumulate ever larger inventories of offensive missiles.

Ernie Regehr, senior fellow, Simons Foundation; research fellow, Centre for Peace Advancement, Conrad Grebel University College

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What a U.S. missile defence system and a new president mean for South Korea

South Koreans within the firing range of Kim Jong-un’s brandished missiles and nuclear warheads might be expected to welcome protection wherever it can be found, but they remain far from united on the question of hosting American missile defence batteries on their soil.

Indeed, in Moon Jae-in, they’ve elected this week the presidential candidate most critical of the rushed deployment of the United States’ anti-ballistic missile system known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).

Continue reading at OpenCanada.

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Ballistic Missile Defence, Diplomacy, and North Korea

To South Koreans well within the firing range of a regime and leader of dubious stability and demeanour, it might seem eminently sensible to pursue protection from Kim Jong-un’s brandished missiles and nuclear warheads, but those same South Koreans are far from united on hosting American missile defence batteries on their soil. Indeed, they’ve just elected the presidential candidate most critical of the rushed THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) deployment. Whether the new Government revives an all-out “Sunshine Policy” of re-engagement with the North, it should find missile defence a poor substitute for diplomacy.

Continue reading at The Simons Foundation.

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Recalling the Trudeau “strategy of suffocation”

Paul Meyer (a former Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament, he currently teaches international security at Simon Fraser University and is a Senior Fellow at The Simons Foundation, Vancouver) has done the arms control/disarmament community an important service by leading us through a detailed recounting of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s “strategy of suffocation” – an insufficiently recognized Canadian effort in Cold-War disarmament diplomacy (see: Paul Meyer, “Pierre Trudeau and the ‘Suffocation’ of the Nuclear Arms Race.” International Journal 71:3, 2016: pp. 393-408). The following, published at H-Diplo, reviews Meyer’s essay and recounts civil society engagements (notably by Canadian church leaders) with Trudeau subsequent to the “suffocation” initiative and leading up to the “peace initiative” he launched at the conclusion of his political service. Continue reading here.

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Canada is among top military spenders in NATO: look at the actual numbers

Yet another news headline declares “Canadian defence spending among lowest in NATO despite small increase last year.” The Canadian Press/CBC story then opens with a reference to the NATO Secretary-General’s annual report for 2016 which is said to show “Canada lagging behind most of its allies.” In reality, Canada’s defence spending is well ahead of most of its allies – check the 2017 edition of The Military Balance (International Institute for Strategic Studies) and you will find Canada listed as the sixth highest military spender in NATO and the 16th highest globally. That is, in actual dollars spent, only five NATO countries spend more on defence than does Canada (US, UK, France, Germany, Italy), and globally only 15 countries have larger defence budgets than does Canada. NATO, however, prefers to ignore actual expenditures and to focus instead on defence spending as a proportion of national wealth or gross domestic product (GDP). The following challenges the relevance of linking defence spending to national wealth (a version of this article appeared last year in OpenCanada). Continue reading

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Could Trump Close the Door on Canada and BMD?

For Canadians keen on joining the American strategic-range ballistic missile defence system, the Administration of Barack Obama seemed to present the perfect opportunity. Under a president much-admired by Canadians, opposition to signing on to a huge, expensive, and highly controversial Pentagon program would arguably have been considerably muted. Added to that, North Korea’s apparently inexorable progress towards mating a credible intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead might have been expected to spark more intense Canadian interest in protection efforts. But there has never been a groundswell of public support for Canadian involvement in ballistic missile defence, so the issue only got as far as the new Liberal Government asking Canadians, in the context of the Defence Policy Review, whether this might be the time for Canada to pursue a direct role in North American missile defence. And Canadians seem to have responded with continuing ambivalence, an ambivalence likely to turn into outright rejection with Donald Trump’s arrival at the White House. And if that is not enough to close the door on Canada and BMD, last year’s report by the American Union of Concerned Scientists on the still unproven strategic missile defence system should do it.

Read further at The Simons Foundation.

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Hawks & Doves: mixed signals on military engagement

All three mainstream political parties see Canada’s security as heavily dependent on a stable and prosperous world order, guided by rules applying equally to all and that respect Canadian sovereignty and territorial integrity. That in turn predisposes Canada to help shape that kind of world. As usual, the devil is in the details — what policies, mechanisms, and partnerships are needed to achieve this?

Read further at Canadian Dimension (Volume 51, Issue 1: Winter 2017).

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A modest NATO line in Eastern Europe? Defending the Baltics

NATO is now establishing what the Globe and Mail called “a modest NATO force to draw a line in Eastern Europe”1 and what NATO itself calls its “biggest reinforcement of collective defence since the end of the Cold War.”2 Either way, it hasn’t erased doubts about the willingness, or wisdom, of the alliance’s threat to take direct military action against Russia and thereby raise the spectre of nuclear weapons use. Indeed, these eminently rational doubts could sensibly be elevated to the level of firm policy – not only because any military confrontation in serious danger of descending to nuclear use ought never to be regarded an option, but also because redressing Baltic vulnerability to Russian interference has more to do with strong governance than heightened military firepower.

Read further at The Simons Foundation.

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The Arctic and the Seaborne Nuclear Arms Race

Headlines tell of a burgeoning Russian/American naval nuclear arms race and already tens of billions of dollars are being promised and spent in both countries on “modernizing” seaborne strategic nuclear weapons systems. While tactical nuclear weapons have been kept off their attack and general purpose submarines for at least a generation, there are indications they may be finding their way back. In the meantime, there is not yet any international regime or treaty or political will in place or contemplated for the exercise of seaborne nuclear restraint.

Continue reading at The Simons Foundation.

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Circumpolar Military Facilities of the Arctic Five – updated: January 2017

Prepared by Ernie Regehr and Michelle Jackett.

This compilation of current military facilities in the circumpolar region continues to be offered as an aid to addressing a key question posed by the Canadian Senate more than five years ago: “Is the [Arctic] region again becoming militarized?” If anything, that question has become more interesting and relevant in the intervening years, with commentators divided on the meaning of the demonstrably accelerated military developments in the Arctic – some arguing that they are primarily a reflection of increasing military responsibilities in aiding civil authorities in surveillance and search and rescue, some noting that Russia’s increasing military presence is consistent with its need to respond to increased risks of things like illegal resource extraction, terrorism, and disasters along its frontier and the northern sea route, and others warning that the Arctic could indeed be headed once again for direct strategic confrontation. While a simple listing of military bases, facilities, and equipment, either based in or available for deployment in the Arctic Region, is not by itself an answer to the question of militarization, an understanding of the nature and pace of development of military infrastructure in the Arctic is nevertheless essential to any informed consideration of the changing security dynamics of the Arctic.

What follows relies on a broad range of media, government, academic, and research centre sources, all of which are indicated in the footnotes. This paper is regarded as a “work in progress” and continues to be updated as new information and changes in military posture and engagement relative to the Arctic become available.

The listing updated to January 2017 is available for download here.

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