SYDNEY, Australia (ABC News Online, Dec. 4) - Australia is to join the United States research program for a defense system to shoot-down ballistic missiles.

Federal Cabinet has decided to accept the U.S. invitation to take part in research on destroying long-range missiles in mid-air.

Defense Minister Senator Robert Hill says nations in Asia, including China, have been told of Australia's involvement.

Senator Hill says the Australia-U.S. joint facility at Pine Gap in the Northern Territory and Australia's over-the-horizon radar expertise will be used in the research.

"It's missiles being launched from land or from sea to defeat a ballistic missile that's been fired - to defeat it either in the launch phases, the cruise phase, or on re-entry into the atmosphere," Senator Hill said. "The technology is already there to do it. The exercises that are taking place have been successful on land and on sea."

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says the proliferation of long-range missiles could be a future threat to Australia's security and interests.

Mr Downer says several countries in unstable regions are developing ballistic missiles.

"I want to make this perfectly clear - missile defense systems are purely defensive; this is not an offensive system," Mr Downer said. "It seeks to protect the territory and forces of the United States and its allies from ballistic missile attack and it will help deter rogue states from acquiring ballistic missile technology."

Mr Downer told Parliament that Australia has briefed countries in Asia about its decision to join the anti-ballistic missile research. He says Japan and Britain are also supporting the U.S. program.

Opposition leader Mark Latham says Labor will seek more information on the commitment before deciding whether it is in the national interest.

But Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown has condemned the Government's decision to join the program.

"It's a so-called defense shield for America, it offers no guarantees to Australia," he said. "It's simply an obscene catalyst for a new arms race sucking money out of what we should be doing for this planet."

December 5, 2003

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