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‘This would see a nuclear arms race’

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

As North Korea tested another ICBM this week, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop explained the seriousness of the threat from Pyongyangto an MRC National Security Network Breakfast in Canberra. Here is an edited transcript:

Since World War II like-minded countries have sought to create a world out of chaos and ensure that we didn’t again see a world war with the devastating impact of the Second World War.

This international rules-based order has served us relatively well in terms of peace and prosperity. In fact, the greatest expansion of prosperity in human history has occureed under this international rules-based order. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty.

But as our white paper notes, this international rules-based order is under strain. It’s being challenged by some nations for short-term gains. Others are promising the false hope of protectionism and and isolationism. But one of the most egregious challenges to the international rules-based order comes from North Korea and its pursuit of illegal ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. North Korea is in direct violation of eight UN security council resolutions that prohibit the development of its weapons program.

The security council is the upholder of international law and the promoter of global peace and security. It is made up of five permanent members: the US, UK, France, Russia, China. Over the years they have disagreed on many issues but they are unanimous in their condemnation of North Korea’s current behaviour and in their belief that diplomatic and economic sanctions must be imposed on North Korea to compel it back to the negotiating table.

It is true that the first UN sec council resolution to ban North Korea’s weapons programs was in 2006 but we are aware that their ballistic missile program began in the 1970s and its nuclear weapons prog probably in the early 90s.

Even when North Korea under Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung entered into written agreements to freeze their illegal activities and in return receive aid and other benefits, we now know that North Korea was cheating on those commitments from the outset. North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs have increased dramatically since Kim Jong-un became supreme leader in December 2012. In fact of the six nuclear weapons tests carried out by North Korea, four have been under Kim Jong-un.

North Korea has been on a trajectory to develop a capacity in ballistic missiles irrespective of the approach of successive US administrations.

The September 2017 test was a 100-kilotonne hydrogen bomb. That is seven times more powerful than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

North Korea presents a threat to our region, and globally. It has an ambition to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile to which it will attach a miniaturised nuclear device that is capable of reaching Japan and the mainland US. So as the pace and scale of its programs increases, it presents and even greater threat.

There are some who now say that Australia should remain silent in the face of this threat. There are some who say Australia has no business even voicing an opinion on North Korea’s behaviour.

But consider the implications if North Korea is allowed to continue unchecked and fulfil its ambitions. The authority of the UN security council would be severely diminished. The standing of the permanent five great powers would be severely damaged. South Korea and Japan would be increasingly vulnerable. The US would have no alternative but to increase the military and defensive presence in South Korea, Japan and Guam, and that would lead to corresponding tensions elsewhere in the region. If North Korea is allowed to get away with this, what if countries like Iran, who may wish to follow a similar path, thinking there is little to lose by doing so? If Iran were to become nuclear capable, how would Saudi Arabia and others respond? This would see a nuclear arms race regionally and globally.

And while Australia is not the primary target, I believe that morally, diplomatically, strategically, we must add our voice to the collective effort of nations who are seeking to compel North Korea back to the negotiating table.

One of the great tragedies of the story of North Korea is the humanitarian toll that the regime’s actions have taken on the people of North Korea. It’s probably not all that well known that prior the commencement of the Korean War on the 2nd of June 1950, North Korea was by far the richer part of the Korean peninsula.

Of course the war had a devastating effect on for the entire peninsula. But what a divergent path the south and the north have taken. South Korea opened its doors to the world - an open market economy, a robust democracy. South Korea is today 18 times richer than North Korea.

Australia will continue to be calm and resolute in calling for collective action to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table. And we will do everything we can to pave a better path for the people of North Korea. Thank you.

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