While it has not received the same coverage as the cross-border disputes over lumber and beef, the proposed American-sponsored Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system has nevertheless polarized Christians on both sides of the border.
The controversy made headlines in Canada during the past month. During U.S. President George W. Bush’s first visit to this country December 2, he surprised Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin by bringing the subject up unexpectedly in public. Martin responded that he wanted to “make sure that there is no weaponization of space.”
The subject also arose in mid-December, when Martin announced that Canada would only consider very limited participation in the American program.
BMD involves using sophisticated radar and intercept missiles to create a protective shield around North America. President Ronald Reagan proposed the concept in 1983. It was reviled by the Soviet Union, and widely ridiculed by peace activists — who derisively labeled it ‘Star Wars.’
The determination of President Bush to revive Reagan’s vision is attracting increasing attention. Critics fear a potential militarization of space, wherein fallible weapons would orbit the earth, primed to shoot down hostile missiles with no consideration of the potential consequences. Supporters, meanwhile, maintain that such a system is both workable and vitally important — and indeed, is essential to national security in the post-Cold War era, due to terrorist threats.
However, progress in developing BMD has been slow. The Missile Defense Agency announced that a planned flight test, costing $85 million, failed December 14 — after the interceptor missile never launched from its test site. The previous test, held December 2002, also failed when a warhead didn’t detach from its booster rocket.
While some BMD tests have been successful, a Los Angeles Times editorial recently insisted that: “the only tests that have succeeded were rigged; the missiles being intercepted were equipped with homing devices, something a real attacker probably wouldn’t be considerate enough to include.”
Canadian Christians on both sides of the issue have recently weighed in with strong opinions. The Toronto-based Christian Coalition International Canada (CCIC), which describes itself as “a vibrant majority, proudly Christian,” took maverick independent MP Carolyn Parrish to task in a December 23 statement, characterizing her as an “irresponsible loud mouth.”
CCIC cited a Reuters article about Parrish’s notorious reference to American supporters of BMD as “idiots,” and responded that the MP “should be asked to resign, or should be subjected to a Parliamentary Ethics disciplinary action for her indiscreet and diplomatically damaging comment.” Further, the organization said that Parrish had jeopardized “good relations with Canada’s best ally, most significant trading partner and friendly neighbour.”
Generally, however, official Canadian Christian responses to BMD have been overwhelmingly negative.
A recent open letter to Martin from the Canadian branch of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) maintained that BMD “would be futile in relation to attacks such as those struck against the United States on September 11, 2001 … There are serious questions as to its technical feasibility, even to intercept limited ballistic missile attacks. Further, it appears to represent a major step away from seeking security through agreements on arms control and disarmament — an arena in which Canada has long played a strong and effective role — and turns, instead, toward a greater reliance on military might.”
The letter added: “The biblical call to seek security by doing justice and caring for the needy — rather than in ‘chariot and sword’ — is profoundly relevant.”
Richard Schneider, president of the Canadian Council of Churches, also wrote to Martin in late October, stating: “The elimination of nuclear weapons is the only reliable means of protecting Canadians and all humankind from the threat of nuclear annihilation …
There is no substitute for the moral, legal, and political imperative of nuclear abolition, and . . . strategic ballistic missile defense systems undermine nuclear abolition efforts.”
Further, he emphasized, “it is a God-ordained imperative that we should strive always to ‘beat swords into ploughshares,’ and not the reverse.”
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada issued a statement November 25, asserting: “As Christians, our hope and trust can never be in a nuclear ‘future.’ A nuclear ‘future’ (with either land based nuclear weaponry or space based weaponry) implies that, as a people, we are in favour of obliterating and eliminating thousands — if not millions — of people, as well as destroying vast tracts of the planet(s) and surrounding environment that God entrusts to us. A nuclear ‘future’ implies that our hope is in weaponry and not God.”
This polarization has also been seen among American Christians, as demonstrated by an exchange that took place in Christianity Today four years ago.
BMD supporter Charles Colson maintained that missile defense was preferable to the ‘Mutual Assured Destruction’ (MAD) approach to arms control which had governed relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Colson wrote: “MAD was a Faustian bargain, but it worked: throughout the half-century of the Cold War, neither side launched a strategic missile, and Soviet imperialism was contained. But today the world has changed dramatically. We are the lone superpower facing new threats from rogue states. And despite some embarrassing test failures, our strategic defense capability has greatly advanced.”
Colson also cited a Christian intellectual tradition: “The Augustinian ‘just-war’ formulation, which has historically informed Western thought, holds that the use of force must be in a just cause, ordered by competent authority, and with the right intention. Missile defense protects a civilian population, which is just; the federal government is a competent authority; and the intention in defensive action is right by definition.” BMD, he declared, “meets these standards better than MAD,” and he insisted that “Cold War relics should no longer deter us from adopting a nonaggressive, more just defense policy.”
In their response, Darryl and Tricia Gates Brown maintained that Colson was misinterpreting the ‘just war’ concept, and asserted: “National missile defense [NMD] research has been enthusiastically supported by the Pentagon’s top four weapons contractors — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and TRW — all of whom have contributed generously to the 25 most ardent supporters of NMD in the Senate. The bottom line: NMD would earn these solicitors of weapons a very hefty profit.” Christians, they contended, “should carefully scrutinize the rhetoric of those who stand to profit, either financially or politically, from the development and deployment of an NMD system.”
Further, they insisted, “the vocation of every Christian is to model for the world the character of God’s kingdom by choosing the way of self-giving service and by putting absolute trust in God’s justice and protection rather than in the machinations of man. When measured against this vocation, investing in and trusting in an expensive, unreliable system to blow up incoming missiles in midair appears both ludicrous and idolatrous.”
“Missile defense is a realistic initiative in light of new threats,” said author Alex Moens, professor of international politics at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. A Christian, Moens recently released The Foreign Policy of George W. Bush: Values, Strategy and Loyalty. He told CC.com that the president’s plan “includes not just the U.S., but North America — and we should be involved in the protection of our own country and our own people. America is willing to take all the risks and take all the costs, so we have a very good proposal in front of us.”
Donald DeMarco, a Christian who is professor emeritus of philosophy at St. Jerome’s University in Kitchener, Ontario told CC.com that he believes most Canadians are not sufficiently informed on the issue. He dismissed the desire to avoid the weaponization of space as “weird,” contending that the concept doesn’t have much meaning. “It implies somehow that space is sacred and we don’t want to do anything with it,” he says. “We live in space. We have to do something with it.”
CC.com also spoke to Ernie Regehr, director of the Ontario-based Project Ploughshares. In November, the organization presented a brief on BMD to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
Regarding the recent failed test, he said: “It’s evident that this is, after all, ‘rocket science.’ And it’s one more piece of evidence that [the U.S.] is an awful long way from a functioning system. It doesn’t make sense for Canada to be involved in this experimental system.”
The Pentagon evidently plans to spend an estimated $50 billion over the next five years on BMD. Regehr said he thinks that “the U.S. itself will start to waiver,” and contended that Congress would not be in favour of spending that money when there’s “nothing to show for it.”
Bush said during his recent visit that he hopes the U.S. and Canada can “move forward on ballistic missile defense cooperation, to protect the next generation of Canadians and Americans from the threats we know will arise.” But Martin replied in mid-December that Canada will only participate if it does not have to contribute funds, if no missiles are based in Canada, and if Canada has a say in how the system is run.
Martin “is buying time for political reasons,” Moens opined, adding that this approach ignores the urgency of the situation. “I would say it’s important that Canada act now . . . It’s important that Christians realize that there is the role of the government to protect the country and its people.” BMD, he insisted, is “a defensive action, not offensive. Defense is moral, defense is good.”
But Regehr said he believes that, as a result of BMD, Russia and China will increase their nuclear arsenals — thus expanding the threat against North America, instead of reducing it. “In reality, [BMD] is counter-productive — and it’s no longer a moral option. No system will work 100 percent of the time.”
The only credible means of defense, he added, “is preventing [missile] use … not defending against them after they’ve been deployed.”