Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has warned that Australia must be prepared to
respond to an emerging arms race across the Asia-Pacific region. Mr. Rudd says
the Australian Defense Force will be built up to meet the challenge. From
Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.
The Australian leader says the modernization of military forces across Asia means that his country needs to bolster its defenses, over time.
In his speech late Tuesday to retired soldiers, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd did not spell out which countries could pose a threat in the future.
Military planners in Canberra, though, are wary of China's rapid arms build-up and the expanding might of Indian forces. Neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia are also beefing up their defenses.
Mr. Rudd did say, however, that existing tensions in the Asia-Pacific region cause concern, including China's claims on Taiwan and "unresolved flash points" arising from border disputes between other countries.
The prime minister says his government must be aware of the changes taking place in the neighborhood and that Australia has to make sure its forces could "answer the call" if needed.
"As nations grow and become more affluent, they also update their military forces. We see this in our own region," said Rudd. "We see a substantial arms build-up over time. We need to be aware of the changes taking place, and we must make sure that we have the right mix of capabilities to deal with any contingencies that might arise in the future."
Australia has a relatively small military, which has been stretched in recent times by deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.
A 10-year plan to modernize its capabilities is under way, including the purchase of fighter aircraft, cruise missiles and helicopters, as well efforts to build a larger army.
Kevin Rudd has said that Australia, which is a close ally of the United States, wants to maintain its status as a global "middle power," capable of exerting diplomatic influence on its more powerful neighbors and allies.