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Martin’s Fig Leaf

Mark Whittington asks the snarky question I wanted to ask, myself. But, it seems the “slap in the face” isn’t quite what it appears to be:

Except that Canada is up to its neck — by choice — in the shield’s key detection, tracking and identification systems, the networks of radar that are watched every second of every day by joint North American Aerospace Defence Command teams of military personnel in Cheyenne Mountain, Colo. Last summer, the Martin government explicitly agreed to use NORAD, complete with its Canadian component, as the front half of continental missile defence.

Or, as Canada’s next ambassador to Washington, Frank McKenna, put it quite accurately: “We’re part of it now.”

With the NORAD problem solved, there’s no need to try to pry the Canadians out of the mountain or keep them away from missile defence data processing so, in Mr. McKenna’s words, Ottawa “has already given a great deal of what the United States needs.”

That doesn’t sound like poking Uncle Sam in the eye, which may be good politics for a minority government prime minister. But if American outrage was hoped for, it wasn’t evident yesterday. Rather, there was a resigned sense that Canada is a sometimes-reliable ally.

All Mr. Martin has opted out of, really, is joint responsibility for pushing the firing button. The interceptor missiles would still rise from their silos in Alaska and California to kill incoming warheads, whether they are bound for Vancouver or Seattle.

In practical terms, the officer peering at the radar screen may be a Canadian. The officer who determines that the incoming blip is a warhead may be a Canadian. But the decision to fire an interceptor would always be made by an American.

Canada won’t have it own interceptors or radars, but then none were ever planned.

Nor can Canada claim that it has opted out of the concept of missile defence, so long as its military personnel are watching for and tracking that possible threat.

The ostensible refusal to join in missile defense looks more like a political fig-leaf for Paul Martin, enabling him to say that Canada won’t join the hated USericans in their nefarious missile defense system…while doing exactly that.

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