The Cold War and the Crisis in Korea
How was Australia involved?
The Australian government during the Korean War was firmly anti-communist...
Sir Robert Menzies the Prime Minister championed the unsuccessful Anti-Communist Dissolution Bill of 1950; however, when the Korean War broke out, Menzies, who was Eurocentric in his world view, did not support Australia committing military forces to the conflict. Sir Percy Spender, the Minister for External Affairs, was of a very different persuasion. Spender saw that Australia’s vital security interests in Asia and her diplomatic relationship with the United States were directly affected by the situation in Korea. It was Spender who pushed for an Australian military commitment to both fight communist aggression in Korea and cement a firm alliance with the United States. Spender’s Korean War alliance with the United States would eventually evolve into the ANZUS treaty. Spender made the decision to commit Australian military forces to combat in Korea without consulting the Prime Minister who was overseas. Menzies, when presented with the fait accompli of Australian military action in Korea, adapted quickly to political realities and publicly proclaimed his support. There was very little political or community opposition to involvement in the Korean War within Australia. The Opposition Labor Party agreed that communist aggression in Korea needed to be answered with firm resolve, and in the wider community the overwhelming majority of people supported the war effort. Only a very small fragment of the Australian population, composed mostly of local communists, opposed the Australian commitment.
The Korean War marked a point at which Australia recognised that it was in Asia and not elsewhere that its vital security interests lay. The War was also the catalyst for the formalisation of Australia’s military alliance with the United States in the ANZUS treaty.