Howard says he will sign up

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 February, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 February, 2004, 12:00am

Australia has said it will sign up to the US missile defence system, with Prime Minister John Howard saying that to do otherwise would be 'recklessly negligent'.

Mr Howard interrupted his summer break last month to meet the United States' highest-ranking military officer, General Richard Myers, in Sydney.

'It stands to reason that if there is available to us a mechanism that can provide us with defence against a missile attack in the future we would be foolish, in fact recklessly negligent, not to take advantage of the opportunity of acquiring that capacity,' Mr Howard said.

No timetable has been set for Australia's involvement, although a memorandum of understanding with Washington is expected to be drawn up in the next few months. Australia also has announced it plans to buy air defence destroyers for the navy.

The ships can be fitted with the powerful SM3 missile, capable of shooting down long-range ballistic missiles.

The leader of the opposition Labor Party, Mark Latham, said the missile umbrella would be too expensive and risked upsetting Australia's neighbours.