The Guardian • Issue #1992

Australia’s military deal with South Korea: a hidden past

On 13th December 2021, Australia signed an unprecedented billion-dollar defence contract with the Republic of South Korea (ROK) that will undoubtedly further increase tensions between Australia and the socialist countries of the People’s Republic China (PRC) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The Australian Defence Force’s contract with the South Korean company Hanwha is for thirty self-propelled howitzers; fifteen armoured ammunition resupply vehicles; and weapon locating radars that help find enemy artillery. Hanwha will also build military tools in Geelong, creating 300 jobs. The contract is the fulfilment of a plan initially announced in 2019, and positions Hanwha as a frontrunner for Australia’s planned AU$30 billion contract to build infantry fighting vehicles for the army. This military agreement elevates our status to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, following on from the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement (KAFTA), signed on 12th December 2014. This comprehensive bilateral trade agreement is expected to increase the economic benefits between Australia and our fourth-largest trading partner, South Korea.

The historic signing occurred during a four-day visit by President Moon Jae-in, who laid wreaths at the Australian War Memorial and the nearby Australian National Korean War Memorial, commemorating the shared sacrifices of the Korean War. The Australia-ROK military relationship began with Australia’s participation in the United Nation Command (UNC) in the Korean War (1950-1953), in which some 17,000 Australian personnel served and 340 died.

Moon’s gesture symbolically coincided with the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and South Korea, having established full diplomatic relations in 1961. The ROK Consulate-General opened in Sydney in 1953 and was elevated to embassy status with a chargé d’affaires in January 1961. In June 1962, Australia opened its Embassy in Seoul. The timing also marked 71 years since the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) entered the war on 1st November 1950, forcing the UN troops back from its border, along the Yalu/Amrok River. Australia and North Korea are technically still at war, which is seen today in Australia’s hard-line foreign policy towards China, a DPRK supporter during the war.


To understand why the ROK-Australia military deal was done, it is important to understand the history behind the agreement. The truth of what happened in June 1950, and what followed, has been buried for decades beneath a narrative woven from disinformation, deceit and lies by the Australian government. The history between Australia and the ROK raises a number of important questions. Why did Australia so quickly join the UN forces to attack North Korea? Why did we defend the brutal ROK dictatorship and call it a fight for democracy? Why were the atrocities committed by UN forces and the ROK government against the Korean people covered up? 

The conflict in Korea began with its occupation by the Japanese Imperial forces in 1910, which stayed in control even after the end of the war on the 15th of August 1945. US forces arrived in September 1945 and immediately dismantled the state, to be replaced by the United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK). According to General John R Hodge, the military governor, the US mission was to “break down this Communist government.” To prevent an inadvertent clash with Soviet forces, Korea was divided along the 38th Parallel. 

The US Office for Strategic Services (OSS, the forerunner to the CIA) selected Dr Syngman Rhee as president of the ROK. Far from being a benevolent democracy, this pro-US puppet government immediately carried out massacres of anyone suspected of Communist leanings. The 2010 Truth and Reconciliation report reveals that the ROK government had murdered up to 1.2 million people. 

The Australian government knew full well that President Rhee was not a beacon of peace and democracy but a vicious anti-Communist killer. Patrick Shaw, head of the Australian diplomatic mission in Tokyo, wrote that at the British consulate he was known as “a dangerous fascist, or lunatic.” Rhee’s government was not an elected democracy but a brutal dictatorship, kept in place by the Department of Defense. Yet this is the government that Menzies sought to protect by sending in Australian forces.

US websites state that it was the North Koreans who attacked with an unprovoked invasion on Sunday, 25th June, 1950. Most US Websites simply state that “North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) invaded South Korea,” even though there is ample evidence that the opposite is true, that the South Koreans attacked first, and then the North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel to attack the ROK troops already amassed there. A declassified Soviet telegram from Pyongyang to a Russian operative clearly states that North Korea was attacked first. The radio report to the Ministry of Internal Affairs on the 25th of June. 1950, reads: “Early on the morning of 25th June, 1950, troops of the so-called ‘army of national defence’ of the puppet government of South Korea began a surprise attack on the territory of North Korea along the entire 38th Parallel.” The DPRK then sent troops into the ROK as self-defence. 

However, the US Army Center of Military History webpage claims: “North Korean forces cross border with South Korea. North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) numbers approximately 135,000 men; Republic of Korea (ROK) Army contains 98,000 soldiers.” This figure neglects to add that the US had four divisions in Japan and the 7th Fleet and the 5th Air Force were available for support. Australian websites simply state that “North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) invaded South Korea.”

John Foster Dulles, special advisor to President Harry S Truman, flew into Seoul via Tokyo on 17th June, 1950 and examined the South Korean positions along the 38th Parallel: “If the war goes to plan, the communists will eventually lose their domination over North Korea.” According to Kim Jun Hyok in his DPRK-US Showdown (2014), Supreme Commander Kim Il Sung ordered a counter offensive: 

“When the enemy launched a surprise attack on the north, five out of eight divisions of the south Korean army formed the first echelon and the remaining three the second echelon and their main group was concentrated along the 38th parallel, especially the main roads in Uijongbu and Seoul in the north of the Han River.”

The National Museum of the Marine Corps website explains that the United Nations Security Council was called into an emergency session. The Soviet Union boycotted the session because Taiwan was granted a permanent seating on the United Nations but not the PRC. The DPRK had not been granted representation either. What the website fails to mention is that this boycott allowed anti-Communist governments to push through The United Nations Security Council Resolution 82, which authorised UNC forces to assist the ROK to push the DPRK forces back above the 38th Parallel. Twenty-one UN nations responded with troops, ships, aircraft and medical teams. Within two days of the war’s beginning, US President Harry S Truman had committed US navy and air force units to aid South Korea. By the end of the month, he had authorised US ground forces to be deployed to the peninsula.

Prime Minister Robert Gordon Menzies (1949–1966), co-founder of the Liberal Party in 1944, came to power in 1949 with a commitment to dissolve the Communist Party in Australia, firmly believing that Communism was a great scourge and danger to the “Free World.” The Menzies government passed the Communist Party Dissolution Act in October 1950 and signed the ANZUS treaty with the USA and New Zealand in 1951. Australia was already heavily involved in the Malayan Emergency, or the Anti–British National Liberation War (1948–1960), a guerrilla war fought in British Malaya by the communist pro-independence fighters of the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA) against the military forces of the British Empire. British and Australian bombers dropped more bombs in Malaya than the US would later drop on North Vietnam. Australian troops later trained US troops in jungle warfare in the Vietnam Conflict. 

On 28th June, three days after the commencement of the Korean War, Robert Menzies committed Royal Australian Navy (RAN) assets to the Korean War. Following the US, Australia was the first country to commit units from all three military services to Korea. An Australian Navy frigate joined the conflict on 29th June, followed by the Royal Australian Air Force’s 77 Squadron, flying P-51 Mustangs, led by Wing Commander Lou Spence. It flew the first ground support operations over Korea, becoming the first British Commonwealth and UNC unit to see action in the War. Menzies clearly laid bare his staunch anti-Communism by giving Australia a strategic role in defeating the DPRK.

Over the next few weeks, 77 Squadron flew numerous sorties against KPA forces slowing down the North Korean advance. On 1st July, HMAS Bataan and HMAS Shoalhaven left Japanese waters to escort US troop ships to Pusan, Korea. The 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, from the Australian component of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces (BCOF) in Japan, was committed to ground operations in South Korea on 26th July. 

In mid-July General Douglas MacArthur was appointed Supreme Commander of the UNC forces in Korea, and ordered the landing of marines of the 1st Marine Division at Inchon on 15th September. Two days later, UN troops took part in the breakout from Pusan, where the ROK troops were trapped. The US bombers dropped more bombs on North Korea than they did during all of the Second World War. Every village, town and city were levelled, leaving millions homeless. MacArthur said that whoever controls Korea controls the coast from Vladivostok to Singapore, alarming the Russian and British governments on the US’s true intent in the peninsula. In the end, this was the first major war the US fought at the start of the Cold War, which it effectively lost, and seventy years later is still trying to win. By the time of the Armistice on 27th July, 1953, over 2 million people, two per cent of the Korean population, had been killed. Wing Commander Dick Cresswell later said of Australia’s role in the vicious war: “I wasn’t new to operational command nor to the ground attack role except this war in Korea was a very different, and very ugly war.” 

The US government learnt from its mistakes in the Korean War and went on to overthrow the elected governments in Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia and Brazil. It continued its war against Communism in Vietnam, Laos, Africa, and Latin America. Its foreign policies have not changed, as seen by the overthrow of governments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

That the Menzies government sent troops to defend President Rhee’s brutal government says much about the Liberal Party of the time, and now. The LNP is still defending the ROK and continues the war against the DPRK and its defender, the PRC, for a war we lost 70 years ago. The present government continues along the path set by Menzies, supporting Capitalist countries, no matter how brutal the government, and destroying Communism, no matter how much it is supported by the people. Australia is setting up a military alliance with the USA, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, against the socialist countries of the DPRK and China. What horrors that will lead to, time will tell.

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