North Korea’s Nuclear Missiles: The Fantasy and the Reality of Australia’s Response

On 4 July 2017 North Korea fired a missile from their territory that landed in the Sea of Japan.  Western commentators immediately labeled it an ICBM with the capability of reaching Alaska, and by implication, the north of Australia.

The “threat” posed by North Korea’s missile test has dominated the strategic commentaries ever since.  It was personified by a major article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 8 July 2017 by political editor Peter Hartcher.  Hartcher quoted a number of defence “experts”, all of whom assumed:

  • That it was, in fact, an ICBM;
  • That North Korea had, or would shortly have, the capacity to fit a nuclear warhead to the missile;
  • That such a development posed an existential threat to Australia; and,
  • That Australia had no current defence against such a development and there was therefore an urgent need to acquire an anti-missile defence system to protect Australia.

In support of that last point, Hartcher quoted Foreign Minister Julie Bishop saying that “North Korea is a threat directly to Australia,” and former G.W. Bush adviser Mike Green, now of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, that Australia should “absolutely” be considering setting up a missile defence system.

There is an acknowledgement, quoting Labor defence spokesman Richard Marles, that there is doubt that the Defence Department has any confidence in the efficacy of American anti-missile defence systems, and that for Australia the “risk is too small…

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