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A Deadly Missile

Neil Macdonald — April 1983

The weapons testing agreement signed between the Canadian and American governments has made possible the testing of a frightening new weapon in Canada — the cruise missile. The cruise is unlike any weapon yet developed, and puts an entirely new face on “nuclear diplomacy.”

On February 10, l983. the Canadian and American governments capped off months of negotiations by signing an agreement on the Canada-US Test and Evaluation Program. By signing this umbrella agreement, Canada has opened the way for new weapons, including the cruise, to be tested in Canada.

When Canadians first learned of the negotiations, nearly a year ago, they expressed their opposition in demonstrations, referenda, and public opinion polls. Nonetheless. Allan MacEachen. Canada’s Minister for External Affairs. only announced to the House of Commons that the Program was ratified at the same time as the agreement was being signed in a secret ceremony in Washington D.C.

Unfortunately, this secrecy is all too typical of the way in which the Liberal government runs its affairs. Ottawa entered into this agreement against the wishes of the Canadian public and without consulting Parliament. In effect, our democratic process has been ignored.

Although the Program is an umbrella agreement, whereby each weapon test must be individually approved by the two governments before it can be held, Parliament will have no part in approving any test. This is to be left up to the Cabinet. It is by no means certain that we can depend on the government to keep the cruise missile out of Canada.

Three characteristics of the cruise set it apart from any other nuclear weapon yet developed: (1) its sophisticated guidance system; (2) its pinpoint accuracy; and (3) its size.

The cruise missile has a highly advanced navigation system, combining an inertial guidance device with a course correction mechanism called a TERCOM “terrain contour matching.”

The TERCOM stores data in digital form of the terrain along its intended flight path. These data are compared with readings of the terrain constantly taken by the missile’s radar altimeter during the missile’s flight.

In this manner, the TERCOM corrects the inertial guidance system, bringing the missile to within 100 m. of the target. The cruise flies at 850 km./h, which is a relatively slow speed for a missile. However, the navigation system permits the missile to fly almost at tree-too level, and its flight can be programmed to take advantage of cover offered by the terrain and to avoid known radar bases. This, along with the fact that the cruise is only 6 m long, makes the missiles virtually undetectable.

Arms control negotiations are taking place to establish treaties that will depend on verifiability. The production of a new weapon that is too small to be verifiable jeopardizes the prospects of reaching such an agreement. From spy satellites that monitor such matters, the cruise will resemble an ordinary torpedo.

The business end of the cruise will carry a nuclear warhead of up to 250 kilotonnes in explosive power. This is small by today’s standards. However, one should keep in mind that this “small warhead” is at least ten times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

The cruise missile can be launched either at sea, from land, or from the air. The missile launchers are mobile, and can be readily concealed, making it almost impossible to verify the number of cruises that would be deployed. The air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), which is launched from specially fitted B-52 bombers, is the version which the Americans want to test at Cold Lake, in Alberta. Alberta was chosen because the terrain there is supposedly similar to the terrain which the missile would encounter in the Soviet Union.

Despite what many arms proponents claim, both superpowers have a rough nuclear parity; that is, they both have the same capacity to destroy civilization. The doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” implicit in this parity has so far helped to prevent a nuclear war, according to deterrence theorists.

However. the cruise threatens to upset this fragile balance. The Americans insist that the cruise is not intended as a first-strike weapon, that it is meant only to strengthen the West’s defences. They may very well be sincere in their claim that the cruise is only meant for added deterrence. Yet if this is the case, the Soviets can no longer feel secure from a limited nuclear attack. The cruise is well-suited for accurate and effective strikes on military bases and missile sites. Given this new vulnerability, the Soviets may conclude that in any attack, their only choices would be either total defeat, or a full-scale nuclear response of their own.

This choice is especially compelling when the Soviets hear American rhetoric bout “winnable nuclear exchanges” or “surgical strikes.” There really is no guarantee that a limited attack will not escalate into full-scale nuclear holocaust.

After all, we will never know what constitutes a reasonable, or limited, response to a nuclear attack, until one is actually upon us. If that ever happened, it would be extremely difficult, in the heat of battle, to react with restraint. Obviously, no one can afford the luxury of experimentation to find out the answer.

The United States has always claimed that they must respond to the Soviets’ buildup of nuclear armaments, and that the cruise is merely another element in the West’s defensive strategy. However, the Americans were the ones who started the arms race in the first place. They invented the atom bomb, and they were the first to use it against human beings.

The Americans have consistently taken the lead in nuclear technology, of which the cruise is the latest, and most sinister, offspring. Meanwhile, they continue to deny their responsibility to end the arms race, claiming that “the whole thing is the other side’s fault to begin with.” The Soviets, of course, are just as guilty of this denial

The cruise missile poses a graver threat than ever before, not just to the security of one nation, but to the survival of the entire world. We cannot permit such a weapon to be tested on Canadian soil. One thing leads to another. Allowing the testing will irrevocably draw Canadians ever deeper into the nuclear arms race In effect, we will be telling the world that we support the Reagan Administration’s suicidal nuclear policies.