- Senator Gareth Evans' comments to the
Australian-American Association on November 21 leave no doubt about the
Labor government's support for the continued presence of joint Australian-US
spy bases here. He said, "The threat of superpower nuclear confrontation
may have passed, but the need for [US bases, Pine Gap and Nurrungar] unequivocally
- There is plenty of other evidence which
spells out the government's position in favour of the US bases and a continued
military -- including nuclear -- alliance with the US. Speaking after his
presentation to the International Court of Justice hearing on the legality
of nuclear weapons on October 30, Evans said, "Nothing I have said
today should be regarded as impacting on any alliance relationship we have
with the US or anyone else".
- Evans argues that the bases are particularly
important post-Cold War for arms control verification -- in this case the
commitments in a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which may be signed next
- Yet Pine Gap's arms treaty verification
role is estimated to be as little as 0.3% of its activity. According to
bases expert and ANU academic Des Ball, "The undeniable fact is that
Pine Gap is concerned with espionage", and the information gathered
"undeniably enhance[s] US strategic nuclear war-fighting capabilities".
- Pine Gap, North-West Cape, Nurrungar
and around 30 other sites make up the "joint US-Australia" facilities.
Pine Gap is the most important installation and one of the largest satellite
ground control stations in the world. It controls a small number of geostationary
signals intelligence satellites, "the most secret of all US intelligence
- Eavesdropping in space
- In the 1960s, there was much technical
expansion of electronic communications in space. Satellites equipped with
powerful receivers were strategically positioned to eavesdrop on selected
communications. The satellites act as giant microphones which can accurately
pick up even minor transmissions and rebroadcast them to receiving stations
(such as Pine Gap) on earth, which then process or redirect the signals.
- The first generation of satellites, launched
in 1970 the year Pine Gap became operational, were designed to spy on Soviet
missile developments and for general espionage in Asia. They were used
during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, in Vietnam, and later to spy on China.
- A second generation was launched in the
mid-1970s, especially designed for communications surveillance -- for example,
conversations and radio communications between Soviet military commanders.
- The development of third generation satellites,
launched in 1978, was stepped-up after the 1979 fall of the Shah forced
the closure of US eavesdropping bases in Iran.
- A fourth generation, Magnum, was launched
on the space shuttle Discovery in January 1985. These were huge receivers
designed to pick up information on Soviet missile tests, and military and
diplomatic communications. From 1983, Pine Gap was expanded to receive
the increased volume of signals from these satellites.
- Nurrungar was established in 1971 as
a US military communications base. Its main role is to monitor nuclear
explosions and missile launch activity and convey the information to the
US. It is the main overseas station for the US Defence Support Program
- New lease
- In 1988 a new 10-year lease for the US
facilities was signed by then Prime Minister Bob Hawke, without parliamentary,
caucus, cabinet, let alone public discussion. The agreement specified a
three-year notification period which required the Australian government
to give notice in 1995 to close both Nurrungar and Pine Gap in 1998, when
the leases come up for renewal.
- When the agreement was renewed in 1988,
Australia arranged to have greater access to the information collected
by the bases. The notification period was also increased due to the "specific
benefits to Australia of long-term access to their capabilities",
- Hawke and defence minister Beazley then
admitted what they had previously denied -- that the bases are used to
collect electronic intelligence not simple "communications".
Beazley said the bases "serve Australian interests" by giving
Australia access "to information essential to our defence requirements".
Part of the rationale for signing the renewal agreements was the ability
to collect secret intelligence on countries such as Indonesia (now an Australian
co-conspirator to steal oil from the Timor Gap).
- Australian personnel was increased and
an Australian deputy commander appointed at each base. The significance
of these changes was aptly expressed by two November 1988 Financial Review
headlines: "Bases now spy for Australia" and "Bases now
have spying role in South East Asia".
- Gulf War
- The increased Australian role in the
bases did not change their espionage and war-fighting functions. In the
Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition (AABCC) submission to the 1991
international Commission of Inquiry into the Gulf War, Hannah Middleton
detailed the role the bases had played.
- Middleton linked the Australian contribution
to the Western-led alliance in the Gulf War to the numerous violations
of international conventions governing the conduct of war.
- Greater attention was given to Nurrungar,
said Middleton, because the DSP operations could be portrayed as defensive
by giving early warning of Iraqi SCUD missile launches against Israeli
and Saudi/US targets. Nurrungar also played an offensive role by giving
data on activities in the Gulf area that allowed the Western alliance to
target its massive bombing raids.
- The AABCC submission also documents how
"North West Cape, as a naval communications base, was locked into
the US command and communications structures in the Gulf, relaying signals
to surface vessels and submarines", and that operations at Pine Gap
helped make the massive US offensive against Iraq possible. Pine Gap intercepted
electronic and radio signals from the Iraqi forces and provided information
on Iraqi air and ground defences, troop deployments and military infrastructure.
- During a May 1992 visit, US defence secretary
Dick Cheney confirmed that the US bases in Australia had been used in the
Gulf War. US Chief of Staff during the war, Colin Powell, also recently
admitted that he ordered detailed planning for a nuclear strike against
- The bases were also, according to Cheney,
to play a role in the Strategic Defence Initiative or "Star Wars".
The Keating government agreed last May to collaborate with the US in developing
the newer version of Star Wars, developed by the US Pentagon under the
Clinton administration. The Theatre Defence Missile project, as it is called,
threatens the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and has sparked concern
about a new nuclear arms race.
- The federal government's 1994 defence
White Paper reaffirms support for both the US nuclear weapons and the joint
role of policing Asia and the Pacific to secure Australian and US strategic
and economic interests. Despite the Keating government's professed commitment
to nuclear disarmament, the White Paper states: "We will continue
to support the maintenance by the US of a nuclear capability adequate to
ensure that it can deter nuclear threats against allies like Australia".
- Walden Bello, in People and Power in
the Pacific: The Struggle for the Post-Cold War Order, notes the Australian
government's role in steering the South Pacific Forum to set up a nuclear-free
zone that doesn't exclude existing US and Australian nuclear involvement
in the region. He concludes that Australia has fostered economic dependency
and subordinated the interests of the Pacific Island states to its own
interests, including its alliance with the US.
- His conclusions are reflected in the
government's White Paper: "Our alliance with the US helps to sustain
the US engagement in [Asia and the Pacific] which supports our interests
and those of the region as a whole".
- The White Paper says that the government
will continue to operate the US bases; Nurrungar and North West Cape may
be phased out around the end of the century, but it "expects that
Pine Gap will remain a central element of our cooperation with the US well
into the next century".
- The current agreements entrench Australia
in US preparations to fight a nuclear or conventional war, and expand Australian
facilities for spying on Asian countries. They reflect the Australian and
US governments' mutual interest in a military -- including nuclear -- alliance
to defend their imperialist interests, especially in Asia and the Pacific.
If the Keating government was serious about peace and human rights in the
Asia-Pacific region, not to mention nuclear disarmament, it would order
the US bases out now.