Australia — Interview with Defence Minster Stephen Smith about NKorea

DAVID SPEERS: Join­ing us now to look at the devel­op­ments on the Kore­an Penin­su­la is the Defence Min­ster Stephen Smith.
Min­is­ter, thanks for join­ing us.
These new threats from North Korea today about more attacks if the alleged provo­ca­tion con­tin­ues from the South, what do you make of that?

STEPHEN SMITH: I think the good thing is that in the last 24 hours, frankly all we’ve seen has been rhetoric. I regard that as a good sign and the provo­ca­tion, frankly, is the reverse. South Korea, the Repub­lic of Korea, has con­duct­ed itself in a very restrained and exem­plary way in the face of enor­mous provo­ca­tion this year and pre­vi­ous­ly.

DAVID SPEERS: Which isn’t easy for it, you would think. A very ner­vous pop­u­la­tion there.

STEPHEN SMITH: And this com­ing off the back of the tor­pe­do­ing of the Cheo­nan, their corvette, the loss of 52 lives and on this occa­sion real­ly irre­spon­si­ble, unpro­voked bat­tery attack, artillery attack with the loss of lives and injuries to civil­ians.

So it’s a ter­ri­ble devel­op­ment of events that we’ve seen…

DAVID SPEERS: Do you know what’s pro­voked it yet? Are you any clos­er to know­ing what sparked this?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, North Korea, as the For­eign Min­is­ter has said, is one of, if not the most imper­vi­ous regimes in the world. So it’s very dif­fi­cult get­ting into their mind­set.

What we do know is we’ve had the ter­ri­ble inci­dent in the last 24/48 hours, the Cheo­nan, the unveil­ing of fur­ther devel­op­ments, bad devel­op­ments so far as their nuclear pro­gram is con­cerned and in the last cou­ple of years fur­ther attempts at mis­sile and deliv­ery sys­tem tests.

DAVID SPEERS: But after the events this week, has Aus­tralia changed its defence pos­ture at all, or are we like­ly to?

STEPHEN SMITH: No and no. We are first­ly, in terms of the bilat­er­al rela­tion, we have a very strong rela­tion­ship with South Korea, with the Repub­lic of Korea. Our col­lab­o­ra­tion on the defence and secu­ri­ty and strate­gic front has enhanced in the last cou­ple of years. In the next cou­ple of days I’ll speak to their Defence Min­is­ter, Defence Min­is­ter Kim. I saw him recent­ly in Hanoi for the ASEAN+ Defence Minister’s Meet­ing that we’re both par­ties.

But we have a very strong rela­tion­ship with them which goes back to the Kore­an War in the 1950s. But we pro­vid­ed tech­ni­cal and sci­en­tif­ic assis­tance for them when they were inves­ti­gat­ing the Cheo­nan. They, of course, look to their ally in the first instance, the Unit­ed States, for sup­port but we are giv­ing them every sup­port in terms of our sup­port for action in the Unit­ed Nations Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil on the nuclear issues, our con­dem­na­tion of North Korea’s con­duct on the Cheo­nan and our con­dem­na­tion of their con­duct recent­ly.

DAVID SPEERS: If things did esca­late though, in this very uncer­tain sit­u­a­tion on the Kore­an Penin­su­la, could this be a sit­u­a­tion where Aus­tralia becomes mil­i­tar­i­ly involved?

STEPHEN SMITH: First­ly, we should always take these things step by step. That’s the first point. And in the cur­rent envi­ron­ment, the cur­rent con­text, I see that as being most unlike­ly. So we’re a very long way from that. Indeed, I think if you look at South Korea’s restrained response, the Unit­ed States indi­cat­ed it wants to take time to con­tem­plate how it wants to respond and sup­port the Repub­lic of Korea. This is seen as a calm and restrained response, which is a good thing.

The first thing we want to do is to de-esca­late to avoid mis­cal­cu­la­tion or fur­ther inci­dents, get the thing back onto an even keel and then work through, whether it’s through the Unit­ed Nations, whether it’s using, for exam­ple, the Six Par­ty Talks to effec­tive­ly hold North Korea to account.

DAVID SPEERS: Has Chi­na done enough this week in response?

STEPHEN SMITH: Gen­er­al­ly we have said to Chi­na on North Korea gen­er­al­ly and nuclear issues, Chi­na does need to use its influ­ence. And in the past we’ve said we’d like to see Chi­na use its influ­ence more.

One good sign that has emerged this week is that on the Cheo­nan issue, for exam­ple, Rus­sia was quite silent. We’ve already seen For­eign Min­is­ter Lavrov come out with a robust state­ment indi­cat­ing that Rus­sia, the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion, believes this is a most unwel­come devel­op­ment.

So we’re pleased that Rus­sia has been more active on this issue…

DAVID SPEERS: What about Chi­na?

STEPHEN SMITH: We would like to see, and we’ve said this in the past, pub­licly and pri­vate­ly to Chi­na, we’d like to see Chi­na seek to use its influ­ence on North Korea more. It does have a good rela­tion­ship with North Korea, both his­tor­i­cal­ly and at present, so it is impor­tant for Chi­na to seek to use its influ­ence on North Korea.

DAVID SPEERS: does China’s actions this year over some of those ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­putes with Japan over the South Chi­na Sea, does that give you a bit of a wor­ry that they may not be will­ing to step up to the plate inter­na­tion­al­ly on this one?

STEPHEN SMITH: I don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly see the link. Every­one knows, includ­ing Chi­na, that North Korea is high­ly prob­lem­at­ic and dif­fi­cult to engage. Chi­na, of course, is a par­ty to so called Six Par­ty Talks, which is the region­al and inter­na­tion­al insti­tu­tion that we’ve been using, the inter­na­tion­al community’s been using, to influ­ence North Korea on nuclear issues.

But in terms of Chi­na and ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­putes either in the South Chi­na Sea or the East Chi­na Sea, it’s impor­tant first­ly to bear in mind that Chi­na is not the only coun­try where there are ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­putes in that part of the world, first­ly. Sec­ond­ly, we had a very good meet­ing at the ASEAN + Defence Minister’s Meet­ing about this very issue.

Australia’s been asked with Malaysia to co-chair an expert work­ing group through that region­al Defence Minister’s meet­ing, and that’s a good devel­op­ment. But we have said when, for exam­ple, Gen­er­al Guo, the Vice-Chair of the Chi­nese Mil­i­tary Com­mis­sion was in Can­ber­ra ear­li­er this year, we made the point to Gen­er­al Guo that in these issues we don’t take sides in terms of a ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­pute, but we do want to see these issues resolved in accor­dance with inter­na­tion­al law, in accor­dance with the law of the sea and in a man­ner which doesn’t bring con­cern or ten­sion to the region.

The open­ness of sea lanes and respect for the law of the sea are very impor­tant for us as an island con­ti­nent. We are very eco­nom­i­cal­ly depen­dent on sea lanes through that part of the world and gen­er­al­ly.

DAVID SPEERS: Min­is­ter, can I ask you about anoth­er mat­ter? Final­ly, Afghanistan — as this year draws to a close and I sup­pose the fight­ing sea­son in Afghanistan tends to wind down as they head into the win­ter months as well, what progress can you point to this year in Afghanistan?

STEPHEN SMITH: Domes­ti­cal­ly first, I think the Par­lia­men­tary debate was a very good thing to do. I think that’s giv­en a much wider and bet­ter appre­ci­a­tion of the chal­lenge that we face and what we’re try­ing to do. So that was a good thing.

Sec­ond­ly, the Lis­bon Sum­mit was very suc­cess­ful. It’s drawn togeth­er all of the strands of the mil­i­tary and polit­i­cal strat­e­gy and the com­mit­ment to tran­si­tion and we now have a very good group of key play­ers from NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al Ras­mussen to Gen­er­al Petraeus, a very good group of play­ers, com­ple­ment­ing per­son­al­i­ties to dri­ve the mis­sion.

The regret, and I’ve said this in the Par­lia­men­tary debate, the regret is we’ve now got a very good mil­i­tary and polit­i­cal strat­e­gy and can move to imple­ment it, but we are years late. The great regret of this is that the dis­trac­tion of Iraq, not get­ting to a defined strat­e­gy much quick­er sees us being in Afghanistan for a longer peri­od of time.

DAVID SPEERS: Would you agree that there hasn’t been enough on the ground improve­ment this year?

STEPHEN SMITH: No. We think — and Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al Ras­mussen said it, Gen­er­al Petraeus said it, our own CDF says it and the Prime Min­is­ter and I have said it in our gen­er­al remarks — we think we’ve made progress in the last six months or so.

We are now in the tra­di­tion­al wind­ing down as win­ter emerges. The expec­ta­tion is that there will con­tin­ue to be fight­ing, it will con­tin­ue to be dif­fi­cult, it will con­tin­ue to be dan­ger­ous. The Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force will con­tin­ue to do its job, includ­ing the use of spe­cial oper­a­tions and spe­cial forces. But there will be some­thing of a wind down.

So when spring re-emerges, that will be, we think, a key time. It will enable us to see whether we’ve con­sol­i­dat­ed gains and will also enable us to see whether the Tal­iban come back in strength or force. So next year will be a very impor­tant year, but we do think we have made a lot of progress into, to use the mil­i­tary ter­mi­nol­o­gy, in seiz­ing ground and deny­ing the Tal­iban of ground and space. And whilst we’re cau­tious about it, we are qui­et­ly, cau­tious­ly opti­mistic that we have made some ground on that front.

But more impor­tant­ly, we think we’ve made some ground on the train­ing front and the Afghan Secu­ri­ty Forces being able to plan and take charge of the secu­ri­ty for the Par­lia­men­tary elec­tions this year was a good sign. They are also devel­op­ing their own capac­i­ty.

We don’t want to be there for­ev­er, but we can’t leave tomor­row. So the only way to suc­cess­ful­ly meet our objec­tives is to put the Afghan Secu­ri­ty Forces in the posi­tion of being able to lead those secu­ri­ty oper­a­tions. We still believe we’re on track to do that and meet the inter­na­tion­al community’s ambi­tion of a tran­si­tion by the end of 2014. DAVID SPEERS: Defence Min­is­ter Stephen Smith, thank you.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you very much.

DAVID SPEERS: You don’t want to give us a heads up on the anti-siphon­ing announce­ment we’re about to go to? You were there in Cab­i­net, of course, this morn­ing.

STEPHEN SMITH: I’ll leave it to my name­sake Stephen, I’ll leave it to Sen­a­tor Con­roy. I’ll just rejoice in the last Ques­tion Time for this year.

DAVID SPEERS: Indeed. We wish you well and a good Par­lia­men­tary break as well. Thanks for your time.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much.

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Aus­tralia

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low GlobalDefence.net on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →