US Base at Nurrungar closes
by Denis Doherty Nurrungar, the US Airforce base at Woomera closed officially on October 12. This base, used to track missiles, was an important part of the US nuclear and conventional fighting strategy. The base was the target of many successful demonstrations in the late '80s and early '90s. The base was used to track missile launches through the Defence Support Program (DSP) which has become obsolete. The satellites were sensitive to the infra-red plume from the back of missiles, and once alerted they were able to track the missile during its journey to a target. Of course it was sold the public with various stories, all with the theme that the base was benign and purely defensive. The reverse was true. The base was offensive and designed to help target US weapons. It was not until the Gulf War that the public saw how offensive the base was. Using this base along with other weapons the US was able to carpet bomb parts of Iraq where the US had detected scud missiles. The Nurrungar base was the scene of many demonstrations. It was targeted by Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition with actions in 1989, 1991 and 1993. During the 1989 rally one demonstrator penetrated the inner security area. This precipitated the dispatch of Australian troops to "protect" the base by the then ALP Defence Minister Kim Beazley and now Opposition leader. These actions resulted in an average 500 arrests per occasion and brought the reality of the base to the general Australian public. During this period public support for US bases in Australia dropped to 52 percent from a high 80s mark. However, the closure of the base does not represent progress but a redirection of Nurrungar's functions to another site. These functions have been gradually moved to Pine Gap. The closure of Nurrungar was first signalled some years ago. The first real sign of change in the roles of Nurrungar and Pine Gap came in 1996 when new radomes (golf ball type buildings) were built at Pine Gap. The staff at Pine Gap was increased by 15 per cent at the same time. Later in 1996 it was announced that the co-operative arrangement between the US and Australia would be altered to allow space-based ballistic missile early warning. This development is dragging Australia into conflict with China and means that the perception of Australia in the region as a part of US foreign policy will deepen. These missile systems are part of the modified star wars concept of the Reagan era. The closure of Nurrungar is sweet and sour. Sweet that there is one less US base and sour that it represents a new descent into militarism.
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