What does “no” mean?

Paul Martin said no, Canada does not want to be part of the U.S. ballistic missile defence program. But what exactly does “no” mean here?

Canada has already agreed that NORAD will now watch for incoming ballistic missiles. There were no other demands made by the U.S. So what isn’t Canada going to do as a result?

According to the Toronto Star, Mr. Martin insisted that Ottawa “would expect to be consulted” before the U.S. tried to shoot down an incoming missile over Canada, saying:

“We’re a sovereign nation and you don’t intrude on a sovereign nation’s airspace without seeking permission.”

According to today’s Globe and Mail:

U.S. officials at the Missile Defence Agency said that under ballistic missile defence, interceptors from launch silos in Alaska and California are aimed out across the Pacific and that their trajectory would take them nowhere near Canada.

Even if it did, the officials said, the interceptors would be out of the atmosphere and, therefore, outside of sovereign airspace within a minute or two of being launched. The actual intercept — a collision in space — is designed to occur between 160 and 300 kilometres above the Earth, beyond the atmosphere.

“There’s no flying over Canada …..,” the intercept is to happen way out over the Pacific as far from North America as possible,” Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the agency, said.

A U.S. official said that Mr. Martin is hiding behind a smokescreen and that missile defence has nothing to do with Canadian airspace.

“Martin knows that ….. he was just saying it for the political theatre,” the U.S. official said.

Canadian officials confirmed this:

The Canadian government never seeks outside approval to fly its surveillance satellites over other countries.

“We don’t have to ask permission and we don’t ask permission,” said Mike Taylor, director of government relations at the Canadian Space Agency.

“Its not sovereignty issue,” he said.

So the government’s decision is reduced to political pandering to the supposed majority of Canadians who are against missile defence. Yet it is still no clear exactly what, if anything, this decision means, other than the fact that the U.S. sees Canada not as an ally, but as an entity whose decisions cannot be depended upon.

It surprises me that some Canadians seem to support this flip-flop. The Liberals were voted in with Paul Martin suggesting that he supported missile defence. Now he changes his mind, and that’s ok.

I have no doubt that relations with the U.S. would be much improved if decisions were merely communicated honestly, by a leader whose word means something, as opposed to someone like Mr. Martin, whose decisions are based solely on what will get the Liberals re-elected..