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Australia could become a NMD target

18 Jul 2000

Melbourne South News

Accepting the United States proposed nuclear missile defence shield would make Australia a target, former prime minister Malcolm Fraser warned today.

The warning comes after visiting US Defence Secretary William Cohen foreshadowed the use of the joint defence base at Pine Gap near Alice Springs to detect missiles as part of the scheme, which was yet to get final approval.

But Mr Fraser joined a coalition of more than 40 environmental and peace groups in warning the shield project could start a new arms race.He said Australia should not jump to participate in a program aimed solely at protecting the United States and should not depend on US support in the face of a military threat in return.

"Any government that agreed ... to a proposal to participate in giving an anti-ballistic missile defence shield to the United States alone, any government that contributed to that would be jeopardising Australia's own security," he told the ABC". An Australian government cannot just accept what the United States says, what the United States wants."

"An Australian government has to judge our own national interest, our won national security interest and requirement and the needs and desires of the united States do not necessarily conform with what is necessary for the security and integrity of Australia."

Yesterday Labor hedged on committing itself to supporting the US National Missile Defence even though it permitted Australian bases to be used for early warning of Scud missile launches during the 1991 Gulf War.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Laurie Brereton said NMD had the potential to severely damage world prospects for disarmament.He said the Howard Government should come clean on its involvement in NMD and its implications for Australian security.

"We believe that national missile defences are a thoroughly unhelpful development. Labor in office would very closely review any involvement by Australia," he said. Mr Cohen yesterday foreshadowed a possible Australian role in NMD."Australia plays an important role in early warning and ... we would expect and hope that that would continue into the future if there is an NMD," he said yesterady.Defence Minister John Moore said Australia would wait to be asked.

The joint Australia-US defence base at Pine Gap serves as a ground station for US Defence Support Program early warning satellites, replacing the older facility at Nurrungar. After the 1991 Gulf War, Labor proclaimed the use of Nurrungar for its role in detecting launch of Iraqi Scud missiles, allowing early warning to coalition forces and civilian populations.That would also have facilitated coalition retaliation against Scud launching sites.

"I trust that the important role played by the joint defence facility Nurrungar in the Gulf War will further enhance public appreciation of its significance for maintaining peace and stability, both globally and regionally," then Labor Defence Minister Robert Ray said in November 1991.

Mr Cohen and Mr Moore yesterday signed an agreement for enhanced co-operation on defence equipment and industry which will have important implications for the Collins submarines. Mr Moore said the agreement provided extensive access to US technology needed to bring the trouble-plagued Collins boats into operational service.

"There's been months of negotiations with the (US) State Department and the Pentagon to make sure that this agreement gives us the access to the required levels of technology," Mr Moore said.

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