Canberra discussing missile plan with Jakarta

AUSTRALIA’S CRUISE MISSILE PURCHASES

Jakarta warns it could spark arms race, but says it recognises the right of any govt to pursue its own defence policies.

Indonesia has welcomed an effort by Australia to explain its plans to buy long-range cruise missiles, even as it warned that the ‘risks of misperceptions’ could spark a regional arms race.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said Jakarta recognised the ‘legitimate right of any government to pursue its own defence policies’.

But he added that Australia should have consulted countries in the region about a major plan that entailed purchasing the first air-launched missiles in South-east Asia.

‘Policy announcements, unless accompanied by the requisite sharing of information, can easily be misunderstood by others,’ he told The Straits Times.

‘Who are the weapons directed against? Who is Australia’s enemy? If countries don’t know the answer to this, it will only encourage an arms build-up,’ he added.

He said that ‘after a 24-hour gap’, Indonesia and Australia had opened ‘diplomatic communication’.

Canberra had announced earlier it planned to acquire air-to-surface cruise missiles able to destroy air and sea targets up to 400km away in a move to safeguard Australia’s military advantage over its neighbours when its F-111 strike bombers are retired.

The range of the new missiles, which will begin coming into service in 2007, would be up to four times the range of any missile now available to the air force, The Australian newspaper reported.

Prime Minister John Howard said the decision to spend up to A$450 million (S$546 million) to buy the cruise missiles for its F/A-18 fighters and P-3 Orion maritime patrol planes was based purely on Australia’s defence and did not signal hostile intent.

‘The important thing is the defence of Australia … we make decisions based on Australia’s defence interests,’ he said. ‘Our regional neighbours will understand why we have done this.’

Bilateral relations between Jakarta and Canberra have been rocky since 1999, when Australia led an international intervention in the former East Timor following a violence marred vote for independence from Jakarta.

Reflecting how ties have cooled, a study by a think-tank this week revealed that Australians ranked Indonesia as the greatest military threat to their country.

Asked whether Indonesia could get caught in an arms race due to the Australian move, Mr Natalegawa told reporters: ‘Security with the region, not security against the region. That is Indonesia’s position.

‘That is how we feel and therefore we are not, to be honest, overly paranoid by this recent announcement.’

Arms build-up

Who are the weapons directed against? Who is Australia’s enemy? If countries don’t know the answer to this, it will only encourage an arms build-up.’
– Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa

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