I recently wrote about RADARSAT-2‘s history and its relevance to Canadian Arctic Sovereignty. There are also military applications to this Earth Observation Satellite that, if acted on, could make Canada party to and equally at fault to any violations of International Law that might occur.
While most of Canadian foreign policy is in sync with our neighbours to the south, it is not always the case – as we know with Iraq. It is possible, however, that RADARSAT-2 may be available on demand to facilitate wars – perhaps even pre-emptive ones – in contrast with Canadian interests and principles. Canada controls the export of military goods and technologies to countries deemed a threat to Canada, are involved in an imminent threat of hostilities, are under UN sanctions, or whose governments have a recurring record of human rights violations. Why should remote sensing data be treated differently?
Cutbacks to the U.S. remote-sensing programs have made it seek imagery elsewhere. MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) anticipated this application while building RADARSAT-2 and signed a contract with the U.S. Air Force to test its usefulness in combat situations. Steve Staples, of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs, pointed out two brochures produced by MDA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to promote the uses of RADARSAT-2:
The first one … would be fairly reflective of what Canadians would expect RADARSAT satellites to be doing. It promotes offshore and continental oil exploration, crop monitoring, ice mapping, and disaster monitoring.
However, there is another application, and there’s another brochure to go along with it that MacDonald Dettwiler has produced to tout the uses of RADARSAT-1 and 2; it’s from their defence systems. It points out that MacDonald Dettwiler sees space-based technology for surveillance and command control systems, and here they say: “We represent a new breed of defence contractor – using commercial space and information management technology to solve the surveillance and command control problems of defence customers.” So I fear that what we are seeing with our overall space agency is that these green uses of our satellite technology are being taken over by these more black uses – military uses – of our systems, and I think this is of great concern to Canadians.
The concern about RADARSAT-2 from the view of the U.S. is that hostile groups or countries could purchase high-resolution images of U.S. facilities and forces. The Canadian government sought to address those concerns through a treaty, signed by then Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy and U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright in 2000, the results of which were deemed “commercially confidential” and remain unpublished.
NASA was supposed to launch RADARSAT-2 in 2001 in exchange for a certain amount of data. The concerns of the U.S. government led to a series of delays which led to the satellite finally being launched in December of 2007 – 6 years later then planned – on a Russian-made Soyuz FG rocket.
Canadian taxpayer dollars have payed for a satellite that could be used to help fight other countries’ wars. In some cases those wars might be illegal or otherwise contrary to Canadian interests and principles. This raises serious issues of international law. Since RADARSAT-2 is licensed and controlled by Ottawa the use of its data could make Canada party to any military action – and equally at fault to any violations of international law.