The Saturday Paper - - The Week Contents - Hamish McDon­ald

Aus­tralia staunch on US de­fence ties. Korean War legacy. Trump in civil war ter­ri­tory. Tony Jones's book reignites Balkan hos­til­i­ties.

When Mao Ze­dong sought to de­scribe China’s al­liance with Kim Il-sung ’s North Korea, he said they were “as close as lips and teeth”.

This week, Mal­colm Turn­bull also reached for anatom­i­cal analo­gies. To stand by Don­ald Trump’s Amer­ica in the cur­rent Korea cri­sis (and keep the Manus–Nauru deal on track) he de­clared that “in terms of de­fence, we are joined at the hip”.

It makes you squirm. But for­tu­nately we may be spared fol­low­ing our Si­amese twin into a nu­clear ex­change. Tues­day’s an­niver­sary of Ja­pan’s sur­ren­der in 1945 passed with Kim Jong-un de­cid­ing to forgo his gen­er­als’ sug­ges­tion of brack­et­ing Guam with mis­sile warn­ing shots. He would “watch a lit­tle more the fool­ish and stupid con­duct of the Yan­kees”.

The Amer­i­cans will still go ahead with their yearly war games with South Korea next week, at which Aus­tralia will have its usual to­ken pres­ence.

China this week told North Korea openly that it would not come to its aid if it started a war with the US, as Mao had done in 1950, but it would do so if the US at­tacked, at least un­til the cur­rent pact ex­pires in 2021.

Bei­jing also gave or­ders to start im­ple­ment­ing the lat­est UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil sanc­tions, which will cut North Korea’s ex­ports by a third. The ap­par­ent source of North Korea’s as­ton­ish­ing ad­vance in mis­sile ca­pa­bil­ity –a cash­strapped for­mer Soviet mis­sile fac­tory in Ukraine – was also re­vealed by Lon­don’s In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies. Kim’s rock­etry progress may now slow.

All this points to Wash­ing­ton ac­cept­ing North Korea’s lim­ited nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity, as it did with China’s decades ago, and ap­ply­ing the logic of nu­clear deter­rence that has worked so far.

Talks with the North may then cen­tre on ways of re­duc­ing ten­sion re­sult­ing from con­ven­tional forces. The Amer­i­cans and South Kore­ans could of­fer to scale back their ex­er­cises and ad­vance forces, no­tably, if the North also pulled its ar­tillery ar­ray along the de­mil­i­tarised zone fur­ther back into its ter­ri­tory, out of range of Seoul. Mu­tual recog­ni­tion by the North and South, and of the North by the US, could be part of a peace treaty re­plac­ing the 1953 truce.

Korea’s on­go­ing war

Mean­while, in all the past weeks’ ten­sion, there has not been any ref­er­ence by Australian po­lit­i­cal lead­ers of any obli­ga­tion to de­fend South Korea. On one side, it has been all about show­ing al­liance loy­alty; on the other about lack of in­de­pen­dence, fol­low­ing the US again into war.

Only Peter Jen­nings, of the Australian Strate­gic Pol­icy In­sti­tute, pointed out that Aus­tralia does have a na­tional in­ter­est in South Korea. It’s our fourth-largest trad­ing part­ner, and a ma­jor source of tourists and stu­dents. We had 340 sol­diers killed and 1200 wounded de­fend­ing what has since be­come a vi­brant, cre­ative democ­racy.

The Australian Na­tional Univer­sity’s An­drew Selth points out, in the Lowy In­sti­tute’s blog The In­ter­preter, that our obli­ga­tion to South Korea stems not so much from ANZUS as from our par­tic­i­pa­tion in the 17-na­tion UN force dur­ing the Korean War. North Korea, China and the UN Com­mand (on be­half of mem­bers in­clud­ing Aus­tralia) signed an armistice only in 1953. The Korean War con­tin­ues, at least for­mally.

Aus­tralia re­mains one of the UN Com­mand’s few ac­tive mem­bers, with its de­fence at­tachés in Seoul and Tokyo in­volved (one com­mands the rear ech­e­lon in Ja­pan). Some of Aus­tralia’s mil­i­tary equip­ment pur­chases, such as the army’s Abrams tanks, can only be ex­plained by a new Korean war con­tin­gency.

After the armistice was signed at Pan­munjom, the 17 UN com­bat­ants is­sued a for­mal state­ment that “if there is a re­newal of the armed at­tack ... we should again be united and prompt to re­sist”, Selth points out. “Aus­tralia has never re­pu­di­ated any of the obli­ga­tions con­tained in this doc­u­ment, which en­vis­aged fu­ture hos­til­i­ties ex­tend­ing be­yond the penin­sula.”

Trump’s civil war

Trump was back in civil war ter­ri­tory this week – lit­er­ally so, after the vi­o­lence that broke out in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia, last Satur­day over the re­moval of a statue of Con­fed­er­ate gen­eral Robert E. Lee.

Trump re­peat­edly drew a moral equiv­a­lence be­tween the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups – some wav­ing as­sault ri­fles – who op­posed the re­moval, and the anti-racism counter-pro­test­ers who were hit by a white su­prem­a­cist driv­ing his car into them at high speed, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and wound­ing 19. For­mer KKK leader David Duke praised Trump. After cor­po­rate chiefs quit his two busi­ness ad­vi­sory groups in dis­gust, Trump dis­solved these fo­rums and thereby much of his re­main­ing eco­nomic cred­i­bil­ity.

In the back­ground, a civil war has been rag­ing in­side the White House. The Char­lottesville in­ci­dent re­newed pres­sure for Trump to dump his alt-right ad­viser Steve Ban­non. Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Gen­eral H.R. McMaster, has been steadily knock­ing off the more ex­treme con­ser­va­tives Trump had in­stalled on his staff, and would clearly like to see Ban­non off the premises as well.

The week be­fore the vi­o­lence, Bre­it­bart News, which Ban­non founded, was re­port­ing that the “old­est pro-Is­rael group in the coun­try had com­pleted its anal­y­sis of … McMaster’s be­hav­iour and de­ter­mined him to be a threat to Trump’s agenda”.

This refers to the Zion­ist Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Amer­ica, founded in 1897, which has been a hard­line op­po­nent of con­ces­sions to the Pales­tini­ans. Cur­rent pres­i­dent Mort Klein is re­garded as close to Ban­non and ac­cuses McMaster of be­ing soft about Is­rael and un­se­ri­ous about the threat of rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror­ism. Ac­cord­ing to the Ax­ios web­site, he’s called for Trump to “re­as­sign” McMaster “to an­other po­si­tion where he can do no fur­ther harm on these crit­i­cal na­tional se­cu­rity is­sues”.

Jones’s his­tory war

Tony Jones, host of the ABC’s Q&A pro­gram, has reignited the miniBalkan wars that used to play out around Australian ci­ties be­tween Croa­t­ian na­tion­al­ists and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the for­mer Yu­goslavia.

On his sab­bat­i­cal ear­lier this year, he wrote a thriller based on the

1972 armed in­cur­sion into Yu­goslavia by 19 Croa­t­ian ex­iles from Aus­tralia and else­where who hoped to spark an up­ris­ing. They all died, some in a shootout with govern­ment forces on a Bos­nian moun­tain, others ex­e­cuted after cap­ture. Jones builds a fic­tional sur­vivor into his yarn, called The Twen­ti­eth Man, along with a prob­ing fe­male Aussie re­porter who gets to the truth of it all.

In this ex­er­cise Jones was closely ad­vised by for­mer ABC col­league Mark Aarons, son of the late Australian Com­mu­nist Party chief Laurie Aarons, and by Kerry Milte, Lionel Mur­phy’s fed­eral po­lice ad­viser at the time of the late Whit­lam-era at­tor­ney-gen­eral’s fa­mous “raid” on ASIO head­quar­ters to find out what the spooks were hid­ing about Croa­t­ian ex­trem­ists, such as the fas­cist Us­taše.

Some younger Croa­t­ian-Aus­tralians − who this week wel­comed the pres­i­dent of the post-Yu­gosla­vian na­tion of Croa­tia, Kolinda Grabar-Ki­tarović, to Aus­tralia – are irked that Jones has raked up the old Us­taše slur. They’ve also turned up the amaz­ing co­in­ci­dence of an­other thriller based on the same in­ci­dent, by Yu­goslav au­thor Đorđe Ličina in 1979, also called The Twen­ti­eth Man, or Dvade­seti Čov­jek in Croa­t­ian.

When the pub­lic li­brary of Ryde, in Sydney’s north-western sub­ur­bia, agreed to a book launch event next Tues­day they were ex­pect­ing the usual bunch of elderly book­worms, not the irate Croats who have reg­is­tered with the lo­cal po­lice plans

• for a protest out­side.

White su­prem­a­cists and sup­port­ers march through the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia cam­pus in Char­lottesville be­fore the Unite the Right rally last week­end.

HAMISH McDON­ALD is The Satur­day Pa­per’s world edi­tor.

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