Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Canada must do its part to protect continent

If the U.S. is once again asking Canada to join its antiballistic missile shield on the West Coast to help defend North America against new, long-range, potentially nuclear-capable North Korean missiles - the answer from Ottawa must be yes.

It is plain wrong for Canada to expect Washington to pay all the freight to defend North America. Having Canada in the program would also plug a possible gap in the existing North American shield between airbases at Fort Greely, Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Such a move by Canada would underscore the unity of Canadian and American security interests at a time when U.S. President Barack Obama is considering approving or denying permission to build the Canadian-owned XL pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. That is a project that is crucial to Canada's economic well-being in the 21st century.

Joining the missile defence shield would be in accord with the intense, little-known collaboration between Canada and the U.S. in the selection of drone targets in southern Afghanistan to defend combat troops when they were fighting there. Another not well known fact is that military relations between Canada and the U.S. are so seamless that three Canadian army generals serve in senior positions in major U.S. commands in the states of Washington, Texas and North Carolina. And a Canadian lieutenant-general is always the deputy commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a bi-national organization responsible for defending Canada from airborne threats from Russia and China, and possibly North Korea and Iran. A Canadian rear-admiral was also the deputy commander of the world's largest naval exercise last summer off Hawaii, serving with two other Canadian one-leaf flag officers.

All this is to say that with little fanfare, Canada is already highly integrated into U.S. military planning. So why not include the missile shield, too?

It was eight years ago that Paul Martin's Liberal government and his foreign minister Pierre Pettigrew rejected the last formal U.S. request for Canada to participate in continental missile defence. It was supposed at the time that this had sent a strong signal south that Ottawa would not always do its neighbour's bidding, and that by refusing to join in this part of the defence of North America, it was refusing to join the U.S in a new international arms race.

But the missile shield has never been about an American military offensive overseas or the positioning of missiles with strike capability on Canadian soil. It has been solely about the defence of the continent.

The ground has shifted a lot since 2005. Russia, and especially China, have both continued to improve their long-rang missile capabilities while North Korea and Iran have been investing vast sums to develop intercontinental missiles that they could potentially marry with their nuclear weapon programs.

This is scary stuff, as are the latest bizarre and bellicose antics of North Korea's relatively new leader Kim Jong-un, whose forces have been testing new midrange missiles and have been openly developing the Unha-3 ballistic missile, which is designed to reach targets well inside Canada. It was because of this emerging threat that the U.S. announced a few weeks ago that it was deploying more anti-ballistic or interceptor missiles in Alaska and California and why scientists and engineers with the U.S.-based National Research Council reckoned that it would only take about 40 minutes for a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) to reach North American. The council recommended in a highly technical report last year that there should be a more a robust missile defence capability to cover the continent's western approaches and noted that much of Atlantic Canada was poorly defended if Iran ever achieves an ICBM capability.

While Canada received kudos for taking on a significant combat role for five years in southern Afghanistan, and without the caveats that hobbled most European NATO armies over there, in defence matters, as in politics at home or abroad, the question is usually not what did you do for me yesterday but what will you do for me tomorrow.

It got little attention in Canada but former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton was dismayed last year when Canada rebuffed her request to continue its modest contribution to AWACs early-warning radar crews that operate under the NATO flag in Germany.

This decision was symbolic in all the wrong ways. It not only unnecessarily aggravated NATO and the U.S. at a time when every positive gesture counts as Washington considers a pipeline that will affect Canada's economy for years to come. It also killed a small operation in Germany that did not cost much money.

Furthermore, those couple of hundred Canadian air force pilots and radar operators based there represented Canada's last tangible military contribution to the alliance in Europe. When those crews leave in July it will mark the end of 74 consecutive years of a Canadian military presence in Europe.

Canada must do its part to protect its citizens and North America from North Korean or Iranian ICBM's by joining the anti-ballistic missile shield. It would be grossly irresponsible not to do so.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sweden's Norberg will not defend curling title at Sochi

Sweden's Winter Olympic gold medallist Anette Norberg will not defend her title at Sochi next year, the Swedish Curling Association said in a statement on Wednesday.

Norberg has decided to retire from curling, citing a lack of time and motivation to continue a career that saw her win 23 championship medals over almost 20 years.

Described by the Association as "one of the most successful curling players of all time," Norberg won three world championships and seven European titles in addition to Olympic gold medals in 2006 and 2010.

"Curling has been my life for so many years, so obviously I'm going to miss it a lot," Norberg said in the statement.

"But life as a curling player at elite level is very demanding, and I feel that I lack the time and the dedication necessary."

Despite cementing her place in Swedish sporting history when her team beat Canada in the 2010 final to defend their Olympic title, Norberg was by no means certain of a chance to represent Sweden at the Sochi games next year.

Sweden's curling association has recently preferred to send a team led by Norberg's rival Margaretha Sigfridsson to international competitions.

"Obviously it's sad for the curling world that a profile like Anette has decided to stop playing, but luckily we have other teams that can shoulder her responsibilities," curling association general secretary Stefan Lund said in the statement.

"Anette will not disappear from the curling arena. In some way she will be still here and a part of the exciting journey towards the future that Swedish curling is on."