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Aus Defence Minister Robert Hill IV with Radio 5AN


Minister for Defence Media Mail List

INTERVIEW WITH DAVID BEVAN

Radio 5AN

8:50am, Wednesday, 16 July 2003

Missile defence, Solomons, North Korea

Journalist: Do we need to join up to a Star Wars Junior?

Senator Robert Hill: Hello David. Well we need missile protection and the issue is whether you seek to become part of the United States national missile shield, which is a massive project - far too big for us to even contemplate. However there are parts of the project that may be of value to us such as having the capability to protect troops on the ground or to protect ships or strategic assets from incoming missiles. And so we do need the capability in my view to protect such assets from ballistic missiles.

Journalist: Now this has been dubbed Star Wars Junior. What is Star Wars Junior? It's not the big Star Wars program which is totally beyond our resources and it may be beyond the United States resources. What do we get for Star Wars Junior?

Senator Robert Hill: Well if you go back to President Reagan's times, Star Wars was really about having some capability in space to intercept intercontinental missiles. That was found to be far too futuristic so what's being developed in the United States now is a capability to destroy missiles at their lift-off point, to attack them and destroy them during the cruise phase often from naval ships. And you might have read of some of these intercepts over the Pacific islands. And then a capability, if you've missed in the first two instances, to attack the missile as it re-enters the atmosphere. And so the United States is building vehicles to do that in Alaska and has further plans to build others in the United States. Now that's why I say that is a massive program and far beyond us. However, in terms of some of those capabilities that may be of particular use to us and as I said the need to better be able to protect ships from missiles that are fired from far afield or to protect troops on! the ground, and then that part of so called missile shield, national missile program, there may be an opportunity and a value for Australia.

Journalist: I'm sorry if this is a silly question, Minister, but does this sort of program involve or have to involve some sort of nuclear weapon?

Senator Robert Hill: No. No. No. At one time they were talking about using a nuclear weapon because of its great destructive capability to hit the incoming missile. But that's not part of the project. And it certainly wouldn't be any part that we were interested in.

Journalist: Now meanwhile, our troops in the Solomon Islands. What are the protocols that have been announced regarding the rules of engagement?

Senator Robert Hill: Rules of engagement haven't yet been settled. Government will consider that next week. We're waiting on the legislation that has to be passed through the Solomon Islands Parliament, expecting that to be completed on Thursday of this week. That will put into legislative effect the invitation the invitation that we've received from the Governor-General of the Solomon Islands to lead a Pacific force to support the Solomon Islands in its efforts to support law and order. That force would be primarily a police-led force because it is still a civil problem, this breakdown of law and order, it's just that it's such a breakdown they can't deal with it themselves. But because of the weapons of some of these criminals it's believed the police need military back-up, military support, in case they encounter a capability they are not equipped to match.

Journalist: And is that just a formality, sorting out the rules of engagement? Or could our involvement in the Solomon Islands come unstuck?

Senator Robert Hill: Settling rules of engagement is never a formality because each operation is unique. And this one as I've just put to you, in terms of a military operation to support a police operation, is certainly unique and it'll involve not only Australians but contributions from New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji and Papua New Guinea - so that's going to be another complexity. It's going to be led by Australia both at the civilian level and at the military level. So determining the rules of engagement, the rules under which our military have to operate, is actually quite an important and technical issue. And as I said we will settle on that early next week.

Journalist: Minister, we've only got a minute or two before the nine o'clock news, but can I put this to you, that as concerns over North Korea continue to grow and there's some doubt about exactly what Australia's involvement will be in terms of intercepting North Korean ships should we go down that path. Given all of the questions that have been raised about the statements made by the Federal Government before we got involved in the Iraq war, does that make it all the more difficult for you to take the Australian public along a course of action vis a vis North Korea?

Senator Robert Hill: I guess you should ask the public that, rather than me. We have to address each of the threats as we see them and we do seriously see threats associated with weapons of mass destruction as one of the great challenges that the international community now faces. North Korea would seem to be back on its path towards developing its nuclear weapons capability. We think that's hugely destabilising on the Korean Peninsula. But we're also concerned about the potential of North Korea exporting its nuclear capabilities, either weapons or pre-cursors to weapons which would lead to greater proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction and therefore greater threat to Australia. So the concept of intercepting illegal transfer of weapons of mass destruction is one that's of interest to most nations around the world. And at the moment what we're working on is whether it's feasible and viable and whether it could be achievable and in a safe way.

Journalist:

Senator Robert Hill: , Defence Minister, thanks for your time.

Senator Robert Hill: Okay David.

ENDS


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