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Tuesday, 30 May 1989
Page: 2981

Senator McMULLAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I refer to the test firing by India of an intermediate range ballistic missile, as reported on 22 May. Does the Australian Government regard this as a significant change in the Indian Ocean strategic environment and, if so, what is the Government's response to such a change?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I should say in general terms at the outset that the introduction to any region in the world of ballistic missiles of greater than tactical range is likely to make that regional security environment more tense and less stable, especially if such weapons were to be associated or suspected of being associated with chemical or nuclear warheads. United States intelligence, at least as reported in the press, suggests that more than 15 countries, including India, Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, Israel and Egypt, are now engaged in developing long range ballistic missiles. If any country introduces this type of weapon, others in the region are likely to follow, diminishing as a result the security of all states in the region.

Australia has very carefully noted Prime Minister Gandhi's public statements about the launch, statements to the effect that AGNI is a research and developmental vehicle, not a weapons system, and that India has set an example to the world of a refusal to convert nuclear capability into nuclear weapons and wishes to keep it this way. The Government will continue to urge that governments think long and hard about the implications of developing operational long range missile forces. May I say finally that I will have the opportunity to discuss these matters in New Delhi with relevant Ministers at the end of next week.