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former IAEA Director-General

Australia Volunteers for Missile Defense
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Australia announced Dec. 4 that it would like to take part in the evolving U.S. missile defense system, although it has yet to determine exactly what it can contribute or what role it could play.

Both Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill and Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer issued statements saying Australian participation benefited its strategic interests because of the growing proliferation of ballistic missiles. They also pointed out that participation in the proposed U.S. defense could be a boon to Australian industry. The Bush administration has allocated approximately $25 billion to missile defense since taking office three years ago.

Australian participation could include detecting ballistic missile launches, developing ship- and ground-based sensors, or participating in other research and development work, according to Hill. Downer stated, “The nature of our participation will depend on many factors including our own strategic defense needs, regional considerations, industry capabilities and financial considerations.”

The opposition Australian Labor Party did not immediately object to the government’s announcement despite speaking out earlier this year against such a possibility. Bob Brown, leader of Australia’s Greens Party, urged the Labor Party to find its voice and oppose the government’s move to join “George W. Bush’s dangerous adventure,” which he warned could spark an Asian arms race involving China and others. Beijing issued no formal statement on Australia’s announcement.

The Bush administration has made a concerted effort to enlist foreign governments in its missile defense efforts, but few have made solid commitments. The United Kingdom has consented to upgrading a radar on its territory to track long-range ballistic missiles, and Canada agreed earlier this year to explore joint projects with the United States. (See ACT, July/August 2003.)

Posted: January 1, 2004