North Korean nuclear missiles can hit North America, but Canada can’t expect to be defended by the United States, according to testimony at the Standing Committee on National Defence on Thursday.
“We’re being told in Colorado Springs that the extant U.S. policy is not to defend Canada,” said LGen Pierre St-Amand, deputy commander of NORAD.
That means that U.S. ballistic missile defence would likely not be used to help Canada in the event of a North Korean missile launch.
“The threat from North Korea is real,” said Mark Gwozdecky, an assistant deputy minister with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. However, North Korea doesn’t seem to be targeting Canada, he said. “They tell us that they don’t see us as a threat.”
All the same, “Pyongyang has now clearly demonstrated a real capability to reach North America,” Stephen Burt, the assistant chief of defence intelligence for the Canadian Forces intelligence command said.
There’s no proof that they have a fully-functional nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile, but he expects that they will imminently develop one. And, he warns, they are also believed to have chemical and biological weapons – though they probably couldn’t target North America with those.
Gwozdecky went on to say North Korea’s actions and continued pursuit of nuclear weapons are motivated by a single goal: the regime’s survival. And although a nuclear-armed North Korea is very worrying, he said that nearby countries like South Korea are also at risk of being attacked with conventional weapons.
North Korea has stepped up its tests of nuclear weapons recently, and regularly threatens South Korea, the U.S. and Japan with annihilation. “The four islands of the archipelago (of Japan) should be sunken into the sea by the nuclear bomb of Juche. Japan is no longer needed to exist near us,” the government declared Thursday.
U.S. President Donald Trump also threatened North Korea in turn, warning of “fire and fury” in a statement over the summer.
Gwozdecky said there is a “significant” risk that misinterpretation of intent or miscalculation could lead to an unintended escalation of tension, perhaps even military conflict, which would have massive consequences.
“Thousands could die in a matter of minutes should military conflict erupt.”
Canada is calling for diplomacy and de-escalation, he said.
Canada has long refused to join the U.S. in a continental ballistic missile defence program. A spokesperson for the Minister of National Defence said that although the Liberal government’s new defence policy doesn’t change that position, it “commits the Government of Canada to examining, through NORAD modernization, territorial defence against all perils, including threats from cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and other future technologies to provide Canadians with greater security at home.”
North Korea first launched an ICBM in July and has conducted six confirmed underground nuclear detonations, according to Burt. In one missile test, it even overflew Japan.
South Korea warned this week that its northern neighbour could launch another ICBM as soon as Saturday, when the country celebrates its founding anniversary or in October, during another holiday.
With files from the Associated Press