By Tim Naumetz. Published on Jan 11, 2018 4:49pm
Canadians don’t have to wring their hands over whether the country should sign on to the U.S. ballistic missile defence system, says a former top defence adviser to President Barack Obama.
Washington is paying more attention to bigger Canadian defence issues such as the long-delayed acquisition of a fleet of new modern fighter jets, Lindsay Rodman, former director of defence policy and strategy for Obama’s National Security Council, said in a Canadian interview streamed earlier this week.
Rodman, a temporary U.S. expatriate who now is an international affairs fellow at the University of Ottawa, said in a podcast interview with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute that the missile defence question is not a major issue in U.S. military and security circles.
“The question of ballistic missile defence has been really surprising to me since I came to Canada a little over a year ago now,” Rodman said in the interview with Global Affairs institute vice-president David Perry.
“It is just not on the forefront of anyone’s mind in the United States, but it is one of the first things that any Canadian wants to talk to you about the U.S. American alliance,” said Rodman, an attorney who also served in the Pentagon as Obama’s senior adviser for international humanitarian policy.
“The U.S. is much more concerned with just making sure that NORAD is healthy, that the NATO alliance is healthy, that our homeland defence is being well supported, and we know that we don’t depend on Canada for ballistic missile defence.
“We do depend on Canada’s fighter capability in terms of how we’ve planned our North American defence, so making good on the promises that Canada has made is going to be more important than new promises that Canada could make in the future, which would be something like ballistic defence.”
The Global Affairs Institute offered the podcast up earlier this week, but the interview was recorded on Dec. 18, the same day U.S. President Donald Trump released his administration’s first national security strategy.
It was only two years after President Obama released his second national security strategy, which Rodman said should have been in place for four years under the normal U.S. four-year cycle for renewing national security and military strategies.
While explaining U.S. views on Canadian defence positions — particularly the first Canadian defence strategy released by the Trudeau government last June — Rodman told Perry that while Canada’s overarching defence positions have rarely diverged after a change of government, Trudeau’s new personal and political approaches to Canada’s role in the world may have made a difference.
“I would say that Justin Trudeau, just by nature of his international sort of celebrity status, brought a new cachet to Canada, and that’s pretty useful,” she said. “Certainly, being in Canada now and learning the ins and outs about the political system a little bit more, I can appreciate the nuances in Canada’s position much better.”
Canada’s new defence policy specifically ruled out Canadian involvement in U.S. ballistic missile defence, even after the topic had been raised multiple times in four months of cross-country consultations that preceded the defence review in 2016.
Still, by last December, even Trudeau signalled that the government has not yet ruled the possibility out, and several military experts have advocated Canada’s participation in a series of House of Commons and Senate committee hearings.
“For a very close ally like Canada, the most important thing is interoperability,” said Rodman. “We not only depend on Canada to potentially help us out in the world, but in terms of our homeland defence there’s no one we depend more on than Canada. We really need everything to be interoperable.”
The most important question facing the government as it slowly moves toward a 2025 target for acquiring a fleet of 88 new fighter jets could be how the most sophisticated warplane in the world — the Lockheed Martin F-35 strike fighter — fares as it goes through a competition that will decide which aircraft Canada will buy.
Interoperability with U.S. warplanes has been a central part of the argument favouring the F-35 acquisition for Canada.