11/03/2015 02:16 EST | Updated 11/03/2016 05:12 EDT

Trudeau Urged To Join Ballistic Missile Defence, Involve NATO In Arctic

OTTAWA — A panel of leading defence and security experts say Canada's new government should take the politically sensitive step of joining the U.S. ballistic missile defence program and talk with NATO about how to improve military deterrence in the Arctic.

The Centre for International Policy Studies released a report Tuesday that could provide the Justin Trudeau's Liberals with a road map to implement some of the party's ambitious military and diplomatic proposals.

The study group includes the country's former overseas operations commander, a former NATO ambassador who served as cabinet secretary for intelligence, a former diplomat who has experience as a treasury board official and two notable defence analysts.

Paul Martin's Liberal government opted in 2005 not to join missile defence _ a decision the Harper government was reconsidering before it was defeated in the Oct. 19 election.

Bob McRae, who represented Canada at NATO until 2011, says no government has wanted to touch the subject for years, but noted the world has changed and that it's important for a Canadian to be in the room in a crisis when decisions are made that affect the security of the country.

When it comes to overall defence policy, the report makes a series of recommendations. Among them: mending a frayed relationship with the United Nations; participating in more peacekeeping operations and putting forward a "credible'' position on climate change, which the authors argue is a security issue.

"Splendid isolation is not option for Canada,'' McRae told a discussion group at the University of Ottawa on Tuesday.

James Mitchell, who started his career as a diplomat and spent time as an assistant cabinet secretary, said "Canada can and should be doing more in the world.''

Retired lieutenant-general Stuart Beare, who commanded Canadian troops overseas, said it's important the new government to do its homework in terms of delivering a comprehensive security and defence policy and it needs to answer fundamental questions about complex, emerging issues: "Why do we care? What are the Canadian interests at play?''

A newly assertive Russia means Canada should push NATO to develop contingency plans for military action involving allies who border the Arctic Ocean.

But the most contentious among the recommendations would be joining ballistic missile defence — known as BMD. A decade ago, there was fierce opposition to the proposal, which the NDP described as an attempt to weaponize space.

McRae said Canada is virtually alone among its allies in not participating.

At the moment, when U.S. commanders talk about ballistic missile defence at NORAD, Canadians are required to excuse themselves — an uncomfortable point two former Liberal defence ministers made in testifying before the Senate last year.

The report places a lot of emphasis on a return to dealing with multilateral institutions, such as the UN, where the new government should ``take immediate steps to restore Canada's standing.''

Elinor Sloan, a defence analyst at Carleton University, says re-engaging with other nations, including those Canada might not agree with, is key, particularly in the war against the Islamic State.

The outgoing Conservative government routinely thumbed its nose at the UN and diplomats _ speaking to The Canadian Press on background because they were not authorized to talk publicly _ said the country was often shut out of meetings and sometimes considered a disruptive presence, especially on climate change.

The report's authors say they want to look forward.

"Where did Canada lose it's way at the UN? I don't think it's useful to go back over past stories,'' said McCrae. "Let me phrase it in this way: It's extremely important for any prime minister of Canada to attend the UN General Assembly to be seen, to be heard and to be voicing Canada's interests and its priorities. That goes without saying.''

The Liberals have already signalled they're willing to mend fences internationally and contribute more to peacekeeping.

Separately, the new government needs to do a better job of surveillance in the Arctic — something that might be addressed with the Liberal promise of buying high-endurance drones.

Defence academic Stefanie Von Hlatky, of Queens University, also said the government needs to also remind itself about some brutal lessons learned by both Canada and NATO during more than a decade of fighting in Afghanistan.

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