May 6th 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Shocking truth behind soaring power prices

CANBERRA OBSERVED Malcolm Turnbull on the front foot during U.S. VP's visit

VICTORIA Doctors in Secondary Schools program sidelines parents

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Pro-EU technocrat unlikely to solve France's malaise

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE 'Equality' a false promise to end 'discrimination'

GENDER POLITICS NSW, Tasmania scrap Safe Schools program

NORTH KOREA Will to engage enemy key to Korean Peninsula

NATIONAL CENSUS Typical family: married mum and dad, two kids

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE Gay intolerance puts on its pushy corporate face

EUTHANASIA Nitschke award goes to couple of artists

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Rare win for the family at UN women's commission

OBITUARY Servant of the public and God departs in peace

MUSIC Allan Holdsworth: Unparalleled technique

CINEMA The Fate of the Furious: Families, fast cars, fantastic action


BOOK REVIEW Two views of our future redundancy

BOOK REVIEW Mounted Division in the Great War

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Will to engage enemy key to Korean Peninsula

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, May 6, 2017

Korea is the most dangerous flashpoint left over from the Cold War. There was never a treaty to give finality to the war. The Korean War ended in July 1953 with an armistice, more or less where it started, along the 38th Parallel of Latitude.

I can still remember in primary school donating my few pennies to the South Korean orphans, who were in dire straits, condemned to live in utter, irremediable poverty. After the Korean War, the South was agrarian and poor, with almost no industry. The North was industrialised and seemed likely to prosper.

Kim Jong-un and friends reproduce the crowd scene in “Annie”.

Of course, South Korea , or to give it its correct name, the Republic of Korea (ROK), is now one of the world’s richest nations with an economy based on manufacturing industry and high technology. Its government is a form of democracy, not perfect perhaps, but better than most countries in Asia.

North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to name it correctly, is the world’s first communist monarchy. By the way, the DPRK is very touchy about its place in the world and calling the DPRK “North Korea” will cause major ructions if you are addressing a DPRK official.

The Kim family dynasty is now in its third generation. Kim Il-sung was the Supreme Leader for 46 years, from the establishment of the DPRK in 1948 until his death in 1994. He was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-il, who ruled from 1994 until his death in 2011. Kim Il-sung’s grandson, Kim Jong-un, is the current Supreme Leader and Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

Kim Jong-un is the second son of Kim Jong-il, by his consort Ko Yong-hui. Although not a great deal of news emerges from the secretive state, it seems that the succession from the second to the third generation of Kims was somewhat unstable.

Until the end of World War II, Korea was a Japanese colony. Japanese colonialism was a very bitter experience for the Koreans. Unlike the Taiwanese, who were also subjects of the Japanese Emperor and have fond memories of the Japanese, the Koreans detest the Japanese. They wanted no part of the Empire of the Rising Sun.

At the end of World War II, two competing power centres and two strongmen emerged on the Korean Peninsula: Kim Il-sung in the North, centred on Pyongyang; and American-educated Syngman Rhee, the first President of South Korea in 1948, who was overthrown by a student uprising in 1960.

The South Korean capital of Seoul is only 65 kilometres from the Demilitarised Zone, so close that it is within artillery range of North Korea. Seoul’s gleaming high-rise towers need no more than accurate artillery fire to be splintered into shards of glass.

One might ask: is Korea worth fighting for? The Korean Peninsula is like a dagger pointing at the heart of Japan. Korea is a strategic prize of great importance. The North Koreans have already lobbed ballistic missiles into Japanese waters.

China, another party with a keen interest in Korea, does not want an ally of a potentially hostile power, the United States, abutting its border. But China cannot prevent North Korea doing something that China does not want it to do. The relationship between China and North Korea could be compared to the owner of a junkyard dog: the junkyard dog is never entirely under the control of its master. The impression is that the leverage China has over North Korea is quite substantial; it is, for example, North Korea’s predominant trading partner. But this leverage is not always effective.

The gross imbalance of power between North Korea and South Korea and its main ally, the United States, would seem to cede any major conflict to the South Koreans. After all, the total population of North Korea is just under 25 million, around the same as Australia. The population of South Korea is double that of the DPRK, and the population of the United States is 320 million.

This oversimplifies the circumstances under which any war would be fought. North Korea is a mobilisation society. That is, under North Korea’s Songun policy, the Army is the central institution of society. Society is devoted to projecting military power. North Korea has 700,000 active front-line personnel and 4.5 million active reservists. Kim Jong-un is the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.

South Korea has 625,000 active military personnel and 3.1 million reservists, making it one of the world’s largest standing armies. Of course, North Korea is one of the world’s most impoverished societies. The mobilisation of society, totally devoted to perpetuating the Kim regime and menacing its enemies, keeps the nation destitute.

The Korean War (1950–53), occasionally referred to as “the Forgotten War”, was fought by the United States and its allies, under the aegis of the United Nations. The Korean War: Australia in the Giants’ Playground, by journalist Cameron Forbes, outlines Australia’s role in this conflict.

The United States still has troops in Korea, some 28,500 from the four main services. They cannot, by themselves, defeat the North Koreans, but they are intended to function as a tripwire. That is, as they will be in harm’s way in the event of any North Korean attack, this will automatically involve the U.S. in the defence of its ally, South Korea.

The U.S. and the South Koreans have a variety of regular combined military exercises. Yongsan Garrison, the main U.S. base in Seoul, is virtually in the centre of Seoul. When I visited the area in 1982, it was like a little piece of America. The area surrounding the base, known as Itaewan, is a magnet for tourists and foreign residents.

Most of the commentary regarding North Korea has been concentrated on its nuclear capabilities. In discussing strategic capabilities, two things must be considered. First, the nuclear weapon. The weapon must first be developed, then miniaturised so that it will sit on top of a missile. Second, there must be a delivery system. The missiles, which seem to be the only feasible delivery system for North Korea, must by ballistic missiles capable of attacking their enemy.

It may be possible for North Korea to hit Tokyo, but it does not seem to be able to hit Los Angeles or New York. North Korea does not seem to have reliable SLBMs (submarine launched ballistic missiles). As for MIRVs (multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles) this seems to be way beyond the North Koreans technical abilities just now.

In all, the North Koreans have one great advantage over their adversaries: they are prepared to die in battle and the prosperous South Koreans are not. War is not inevitable, but may become so one day.

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