Missile Defence: Round One

An insider's account of how and why Canada said no to George W. Bush -- and why this issue won't die. By Steven Staples. James Lorimer & Company Ltd. 248 pp

By Shirley Farlinger (reviewer) | 2007-01-01 12:00:00

James Lorimer was so impressed with Steven Staples's successful campaign against missile defence he suggest Steve write a book. Good idea!

Man has dreamed of conquering space since Buck Rogers flew around with that leaf-blower on his back. Soon it was Star Trek and Star Wars, a term which Reagan hated. Then the Pentagon flew Vision 2020 -- oddly named, considering the lack of vision involved in trying to boss the world from space. How visionary are nuclear weapons circling overhead looking for evil Darth Vaders?

It's apt that the Polaris Institute, whose name refers to the North Star (not to the nuclear submarine), led the charge against missile defence.

The star of the book is surely Steven but he admits he wasn't alone in the campaign: Sarah Kemp was with him all the way. Staples tells the story from his point of view using quotes from his brush with the pundits of missile defence. In spite of knowing the outcome, the reader is caught up in the suspense of whether the grassroots can really win. If the book also seems like a how-to manual on organizing a grassroots campaign against implacable foes, that's because it is. Here are some of Staples's tips for winning.

Missile defence seemed to be a done deal, which the 2004 amendments to NORAD tended to confirm. The pundits argued that missile defence did not mean the militarization of space, though at the same time Vision 2020 confirmed the weapons-in-space scenario. Were they just spaced out?

For Steven it was important to contact Canadian experts such as Peggy Mason, Canada's former Ambassador for Disarmament, Douglas Roche, the anti-nuclear senator, and Mel Hurtig, author of Rushing to Armageddon. But Staples says, "My past experience has shown that US military personnel were always in high demand by Canadian media, especially when their message ran counter to the policies of the US and Canadian governments." Retired Lt-Gen. Robert Gard,Jr. was whisked from meetings to radio shows to press conferences with his message "We're spending money on a system that most probably won't work against an unlikely threat while we're under-funding programs designed to counter the more likely threat."

Slowly public opinion, as shown by the polls and noted by the Liberals, turned against missile defence.

However, there are critics such as Ottawa's Richard Sanders, who caution against Steven Staples's claims of victory. According to this argument, it is a mistake to believe that Canada has actually stayed out of the US Ballistic Missile Defence program. There are too many ways in which Canada has quietly continued offering its support and participation, without actually declaring so.

In any case, there's a new government full of men with visions of spacecraft in their heads. So Round Two will be coming up. And Steve Staples will be there.

Reviewed by Shirley Farlinger of Toronto.
Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2007

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2007, page 28. Some rights reserved.

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