Sat, 06 Dec 2003

Australia-U.S, missile plan worries Indonesia

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia has criticized Australia's decision to join the United States program to develop a missile defense shield, saying that the defense shield would not solve regional security issues.

Indonesian ministry of foreign affairs spokesman Marty Natalegawa said on Friday that the program would ignite an arms race and heighten instability in the region.

"These things offer more uncertainties and potential complications rather than solutions," Marty said.

"Indonesia's general position is that we are not attracted to the idea," he remarked.

He said that Indonesia believed that the defense system should be built within the region, by strengthening confidence building among countries.

The official was commenting on the recent decision by Australia to join what has been termed the "Son of Star Wars" program, designed to shoot down ballistic missiles.

Australia's foreign minister Alexander Downer told parliament Thursday that the decision was "strategic" as a long-term measure "to counter potential threats to Australia's security and its interests from ballistic missile proliferation."

Downer did not specify which countries posed a threat to Australia; in Asia, North Korea has a nuclear weapons program and ballistic missiles.

It was reported earlier that the U.S. had allocated some US$50 billion over five years to build a missile defense system with the initial, rudimentary, capability to shoot down incoming warheads by next September.

Spokesman Marty said that Indonesia is still studying the impact of Australia's decision on security in the region.

He said that Canberra had informed Jakarta about the decision, but underlined that there should be more consultation between the two countries, given the likely influence on Indonesia's security.

"A decision by a government for a process of this magnitude will no doubt be responded to and scrutinized by other governments in the region, not because of any ill-intentions, but simply because this is such an important decision and we want to look at what it means for our security as well," Marty said.

Downer is expected to begin his three-day visit to Indonesia on Sunday evening, to participate in talks with the Council for Security Cooperation in Asia Pacific (CSCAP).

Marty said there were no specific plans to discuss the decision at the meeting, but that it was possible for Downer to raise the issue during the meeting, with his Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirayuda.

During the visit, Downer is scheduled to pay a courtesy call to President Megawati Soekarnoputri and hold meetings with Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, National Police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar and State Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Hendropriyono.

Marty said that the visit will focus on cooperation in the war against terror, as well as other issues of bilateral relations, such as the plan to hold a counter-terrorism conference in Bali early next year.

Downer will be accompanied by Australian ambassador for counter-terrorism Les Luck and Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty.