Australia and the United States
have signed a pact to develop a controversial missile defense shield. President
Bush made the project a priority after the terrorist attacks in New York and
Washington in 2001. But critics have questioned its cost, viability, and Australia's
need for such a system.
Australia's government says it need a way to protect its shores from ballistic
missiles, even though at the moment the remote continent faces no threat from
So Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
signed a pact Wednesday in Washington to develop and test missile defense systems,
as well as establish joint training centers.
Mr. Hill says his government is committed to this ambitious project. "We
have a responsibility to address not only the threats of today but the threats
that we might face in the future," he says.
Australia joins a long list of countries, including South Korea, Japan, Britain,
and Israel, which are working with the United States on its missile shield.
Development is in its early stages. Eventually the program aims to have the
ability to track and destroy incoming ballistic missiles through advanced radar
It is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars during the next five years.
The Pentagon plans to develop sea-based interceptors, fit lasers to planes,
and to explore the use of firing rockets from space. Part of the missile screen
is expected to be deployed later this year in Alaska. There is also a proposal
to equip a new Australian destroyer with missile-defense technology.
Defense analysts say the joint project is aimed at the danger posed by North
Korea - which is developing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles to deliver
Opposition politicians in Australia believe the development of a defensive
shield could have a destabilizing effect on the country's Asia-Pacific neighbors
and could spark an arms race with China.