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Australia\'s role in Korea

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COMMENTS

24 November 2010 09:38

Commander Justin Jones is Navy Fellow and maritime advisor to the MacArthur Foundation Asia Security Project at the Lowy Institute.

Setting off nuclear test explosions on home soil or test firing a Taepodong-2 missile is one thing. Sinking the sovereign warship of another state, with the death of 46 lives, is quite another. It was described as 'unquestionably the most belligerent and provocative incident since the 1953 armistice was established.'

The sinking of the Cheonan has now been matched by an unprovoked artillery attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. The attack has reportedly resulted in the death of one South Korean marine, injuries to 14 and destruction of houses and other civil infrastructure.

Earlier in the year, North Korea busied itself touting that any public assertion of its culpability in the sinking of Cheonan would  be construed as a declaration of war (ironic, noting that the Korean War still exists under the terms of an Armistice). China's response was a typically opaque deflection of the facts. Not exactly what might be hoped for from the former leader of the Six-Party Talks and the only state to exercise real influence over Pyongyang.

What will be China's response this time' More to the point, what will be South Korea's and America's response' The US is no longer encumbered by combat operations in Iraq. Will the attack be taken to the UN Security Council for deliberation' Or, given the lukewarm response to Cheonan, will consideration be given to initiating combat operations on the Korean Peninsula'

As we ponder the what-ifs, it is worth reminding ourselves that Australia remains an integral member of the United Nations Command in Korea. In fact, the current Commander United Nations Command (Rear) in Japan is an Australian. Australian officials were involved in the investigation of the Cheonan sinking and the incident was a topic of discussion at the May 2-2 talks in Japan, between the Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs from Australia and Japan.

Any escalation in hostilities on the Peninsula as a consequence of the sinking of Cheonan and yesterday's attack is very likely to involve Australia in some capacity. In light of the recent Afghanistan debate, the Australian Government and public may face further difficult decisions.

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