How it plays in the U.S.

Here’s two American views on the Canadian decision not to participate in the U.S. ballistic missile defence program.

From the New York Times (International Section):

“If a missile is going over Canadian airspace, I want to know, I want to be at the table,” Paul Martin said while still running for the leadership of the Liberal Party in April 2003.

His support for a missile defense system was consistent with more than a half century of Canadian national security policy of sharing responsibility for continental defense with the United States, even in times when the two countries sharply disagreed on Cuba, Vietnam and most recently Iraq.

But on Thursday, Mr. Martin, now prime minister, reversed course and said that Canada would not take part with Washington in the development of a missile defense shield, essentially because he faced a rebellion on the issue at a Liberal Party conference next month.

Mr. Martin tried to frame the decision as a matter of priorities, preferring to emphasize increased cooperation with the United States on securing the borders against terrorists and building up the armed forces, even though the Bush administration had asked for little more than moral support for the new system.

Many national security experts, however, consider his announcement to be a fundamental shift in relations, more abrupt even than the decision by Mr. Martin’s predecessor, Jean Chrétien, not to take part in the invasion of Iraq.

“It’s a big departure,” said David J. Bercuson, director of the Center for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary. “Anytime we have had a major evolution in North American defense policy since 1940 the two countries have been together.”

From the Washington Post (page A18):

Canada announced Thursday that it has decided not to participate in a U.S. missile defense system, dealing a symbolic setback to the experimental project and a blunt rebuff to President Bush, who had personally lobbied Canada to join.

The decision by Prime Minister Paul Martin, who had earlier signaled he favored signing on to the system, was an acknowledgment of the deep dislike Canadians feel both for President Bush and his administration’s project to shoot down missiles headed toward the United States.

“We will continue to work in partnership with our southern neighbors on the common defense of North America,” Martin said. “However, ballistic missile defense is not where we will concentrate our efforts.”

His decision has more political than practical impact, since Canada agreed last August to allow its operators at the North American Aerospace Command center in Colorado to share information on incoming missiles, a key concession that had been sought by the United States.