Canberra, Oct. 18 (CNA) Australia will likely fuel a regional arms race among Taiwan, mainland China, Japan, and North and South Korea by upgrading its spy base in Pine Gap, Alice Springs, to be used in a scaled-down version of the US Star Wars missile defense system, experts said.
In an interview with the Central News Agency (CNA) on Monday, Dr. Gary Klintworth, a former strategist for the Defense Intelligence Organization and a China-Taiwan expert at Australian National University, said the new Theater Missile Defense (TMD) system would become the first step in a new arms race in Northeast Asian countries because they want to try to outdo each other in missiles and counter-missile technology.
He said Taiwan has already acquired Patriot missiles from the United States, and they could serve as part of the TMD system.
But if Taiwan is included in the TMD system, China is expected to increase production of missiles, creating greater risk to the Northeast Asian region, Klintworth said.
"It will be a big challenge to all countries concerned on how to reduce tensions as a result of such an arms race," he said, adding that "the mutual risk is likely to increase."
He said, "The TMD system will not only fuel an arms race, but also creates instability in the region, which must be handled seriously and carefully."
He said the TMD system could proceed soon because Japan, Taiwan and South Korea have acquired defensive missiles from the United States, and once the TMD system is installed, it would likely be upgraded to a National Missile Defense (NMD) system, which is a major part of the Star Wars program.
The daily newspaper The Australian on Monday also reported that in Pine Gap, Australia could indirectly play a role in fueling the arms race because the spy base there would play a crucial role in the new TMD system.
The daily quoted US Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters as revealing that the joint US-Australian base would be more important in the US early-warning system for detecting missile launches than the previous base at Nurrungar near Woomera in southern Australia, which was closed recently.
The new spy base will have a new Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) installed and is due to begin operations in 2004, the daily reported.
"We see this as absolutely critical to the functioning of theater missile defense and ultimately to national missile defense as well," Peters said.
The daily also quoted other analysts as warning that TMD would spark an arms race as China, Taiwan, Japan and both Koreas scramble to match each other's ability to fire and defend missiles potentially carrying nuclear warheads.
"It's like Russian roulette. The Chinese will say, 'Well OK, we'll give you a few more chambers in the revolver.' They'll just increase their production of tactical missiles, and say, 'Guys, we don't like this, but if you insist on trying to neutralize our deterrent, we'll have to take appropriate steps to make sure you don't become a base for US aggression," a senior analyst told the daily.
Klintworth said the TMD system could undermine the anti-ballistic missile treaty, which has served as a major factor in arms control over the past 25 years.
The US Senate recently rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and that could only increase the chance of an arms race rather than decreasing it, Klintworth told CNA. (by Peter Chen)
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