If conversation at your dinner table ever gets dull, I suggest you pull out a globe and challenge someone to stretch a rubber band to show the flight path between North Korea’s nuclear launch sites and Chicago.
Guess who Kim Jong-Un’s missiles will fly over?
If you’ve ever driven to Fairbanks and wondered why the Pentagon put a missile defence base at Fort Greely, now you’ll understand. Especially with new North Korean missile tests on the front page.
To further enliven your dinner conversation, ask your guests to speculate about what will happen if North Korea launches a missile and our friends in Alaska actually succeed in shooting it down with one of their 40 Raytheon Exoatmosperic Kill Vehicles. Where will the wreckage of the missile and its nuclear warhead fall to the ground?
Actually, it’s a trick question. “Exoatmospheric” means the Alaskan anti-missile system is supposed to blow up enemy missiles outside the atmosphere, in space. However, the post-explosion bits and pieces will fly in all directions and some chunks will probably come towards us.
Something similar happened when the Soviet Union’s nuclear-powered Kosmos 954 satellite fell out of space in 1978 and scattered itself along a 500-kilometer debris path from Great Slave Lake across the N.W.T.
It remains highly unlikely that the North Koreans would launch a nuclear missile. But, unfortunately, their missile capabilities have been improving a lot faster than their political stability. The BBC reports that the regime is testing the KN-08 missile, which would have the range to hit Chicago.
It would seem irrational for North Korea to launch and risk retaliatory incineration by the Americans. But cast your mind back to other dictators and what they have done in their final days in the bunker. More than one has indulged in risky moves or issued scorched earth orders in revenge for their impending fall.
This is why, in March 2013, President Obama ordered the number of interceptors at Fort Greely increased from 26 to 40. There is another base in California, and there have been plans pushed at various times to put additional bases on the East Coast and Poland.
Canada does not contribute to the U.S. ballistic missile defence system for North America. Prime Minister Paul Martin decided not to participate in 2005. However, the government in Ottawa is now said to be actively reconsidering this decision.
Back in 2005, the scheme was politically tainted by association with President Bush. Since then, Canadians have seen that even President Obama — a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, as you’ll remember — was in favour of it. Furthermore, advances in missile technology by North Korea and other rogue nations have continued at an alarming pace. The Trump administration has also been pressing Canada to spend more on defence, as we habitually show up near the bottom of NATO league tables.
What does all this mean for the Yukon? It’s not the first time our location has unexpectedly become strategic. In 1941, after the US Navy lost control of the Pacific, we turned out to be on the route for a new wartime highway to Alaska. And on the air route to ferry warplanes from US factories to the Russian front.
While we are extremely unlikely to be a target, Vancouver is at (slightly) more risk. It was where Seth Rogan’s movie The Interview was filmed. The North Korean dictator was apparently enraged by how the Canadian filmmaker portrayed him as a moronic, deranged party boy. Security agencies believe he ordered his spies to undertake the damaging 2014 hack into Sony Pictures and phone in bomb threats to theatres.
There is not much the Yukon can do about the issue. Missile defence is a federal responsibility.
I seem to recall that the City of Whitehorse declared Rotary Peace Park to be a nuclear free zone, but a quick Google search didn’t confirm this. I looked at the city’s Rotary Peace Park policy. It regulates mobile refreshment stands” but not mobile missile launchers or other nuclear-related paraphernalia. In any case, I think we can assume that North Korean missile-flight planners would ignore Whitehorse city council.
If Canada signs on to North America missile defence, there will likely be new radar stations and missile batteries deployed in Canada. But since the Americans already have Fort Greely in the northwest corner of the continent, I imagine any new deployments would be in Nunavut or Newfoundland. The missile route from Iran to New York goes right over St. John’s.
Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He is a Ma Murray award-winner for best columnist.