The Guardian September 5, 2001


Stop National Missile Defence

by Hannah Middleton and Denis Doherty

Over the years Pine Gap (NT) has quietly been converted into a front-line 
base for the controversial US National Missile Defence (NMD) system.

The Australian Government supports the use of the US military facility at 
Pine Gap for NMD  even though the Government does not know what it is 
supporting.

On July 16 last year, the then US Defence Secretary William Cohen said in 
Australia that Pine Gap had been "very much" involved in NMD since October 
1999.

Yet two days later on July 18, Alexander Downer said the Australian 
Government did not know" if Pine Gap had been involved in National Missile 
Defence tests  an astonishing statement by the Foreign Minister of an 
ostensibly sovereign state.

The parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties said in 1999 that 
MPs were kept in the dark about information that was given to the US 
Congress or was publicly available.

Members complained that although US Congress officials had visited Pine Gap 
and received classified briefings about its functions, the Treaties 
Committee was "entrusted with less information than can be found in a 
public library".

In fact Pine Gap has been used to collect data on ballistic missile 
launches for over 30 years. In May 1992, the then US Defence Secretary Dick 
Cheney confirmed that the US bases in Australia had a role in the Strategic 
Defence Initiative ("Star Wars").

The satellites controlled by Pine Gap monitor missile telemetry and the 
exhaust plumes of missiles. These two pieces of information reveal the type 
of missile, its range, speed, trajectory and number of warheads  all of 
which is crucial information if missiles are to be shot down with an NMD 
system.

NMD has the potential to trigger a new nuclear arms race in the Asia-
Pacific region and seriously undermine global disarmament and non-
proliferation agreements. Australia's security will not be advanced by such 
developments.

A February 16 Russian Foreign Ministry statement said that even the 
geographical remoteness of Australia will not save it from the adverse 
consequences of the undermining of strategic stability and the 
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The Labor Party has been critical of NMD and supported a Senate resolution 
introduced by the Democrats on June 29, which calls on the US not to deploy 
NMD.

However, ALP opposition is clearly cautious and qualified. Labor Shadow 
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laurie Brereton, and Shadow Minister for 
Defence, Stephen Martin, said in a media statement on July 17: "Labor in 
government will very carefully review the issue of possible Australian 
involvement in the NMD program..."

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