Nobody seriously believes that, if North Korea launches a nuclear attack anytime soon, that Australia will be one of its priority targets. Australia nevertheless has more to lose than most countries, if the current situation escalates.
We know that North Korea has detonated several atomic devices and has also (successfully) tested its second intercontinental ballistic missile. Reports had been suggesting that North Korea possessed 15 to 20 nuclear bombs along with extensive chemical stockpiles. Intelligence now puts its nuclear arsenal at up to 60 nuclear devices and seems to confirm that it can miniaturise nuclear warheads to fit on ballistic missiles. There are some lingering doubts whether it has warhead re-entry capability at present.
North Korea (if it is to believed) also reported a successful test (in February) of what it said was a hydrogen bomb, and is also known to have a fleet of about 60 submarines, some of which are capable of being adapted to launch missiles.
Analysts now project that North Korea will have the capability to hit the US mainland, including possibly its east coast, with a nuclear missile within the next year (and could already have such ability), and that it has the capacity to mass produce missiles.
It is generally believed that North Korea is driven by internal insecurity, which makes it act aggressively and pretend that there is a continuing external threat to its existence. The temperament of its leader is also a key influence. (All the Kim dynasty leaders are said to have shown the "big six" personality disorders commonly associated with dictators: sadistic, antisocial, paranoid, narcissistic, schizoid, and schizo typal.) By focussing on external enemies and initiating confrontations, Pyongyang apparently aims to minimise the risk of internal unrest and to rally its people. North Korea reportedly has defence forces numbering about 1.1 million (of mixed modernity in equipment), and spends 25 per cent of its GDP (of only about $US1500 annually per person) on its military, despite barely managing to feed its people.
North Korea's historic enemy, stemming from a period of colonisation, is Japan. In the Korean War, its chief enemies were the US and South Korea (and in recent years it has regularly named the US as its main enemy). Other nations that provided supporting troops in the Korean war included Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, France, Thailand, and the Philippines. The North's major allies during the Korean War were China and Russia. During that war, large numbers of Chinese forces joined the North Koreans late in the conflict (saving the North from defeat), while Soviet airmen covertly flew North Korean aircraft.
Internationally, North Korea has form for a litany of crimes including murder, kidnapping, bombing passenger aircraft, drug trafficking, people smuggling, arms trafficking, and counterfeiting. Within North Korea, the UN reported compelling evidence of torture, execution and arbitrary imprisonment, deliberate starvation, and an almost complete lack of free thought and belief. China effectively is responsible for allowing the Kim hereditary dictatorship to survive, and accounts for about 75 per cent of all trade with North Korea.
There is a growing view, especially the US, that North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles should have been stopped long ago by precision US military strikes (despite the likelihood of retaliation focussed on the South or on Japan). The US and North Korea came very close to armed conflict in 1994 after Pyongyang refused to allow international inspectors access to its nuclear facilities as required under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That crisis was resolved diplomatically. North Korea ended up pledging to denuclearise but only paid lip service to its commitment, while the US did not take decisive action.
Donald Trump and other US leaders in recent times have said the North Korean regime is too unstable for the US to tolerate its possession of nuclear missiles capable of targeting the US. Such intervention (now that North Korea has made considerable progress with its weaponry) has become a much more dangerous option.
For the moment, the US is said to be relying on increased trade sanctions. The latest US-drafted UN resolution bans North Korean exports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood. China would not agree to tougher sanctions, notably on supply of oil. President Donald Trump praised new sanctions, saying they will have a "very big financial impact".
Despite all this, it is widely believed that the North Korean regime will not respond to trade sanctions and will continue with its nuclear and missile programmes.
A leading North Korea expert from Kookmin University in Seoul, said: "If we are talking about denuclearisation, let's be frank, - nothing is going to work. (The) North Korean government is determined to remain nuclear, and it will remain nuclear. Period. If it means massive economic disaster, they will not care," he told CNN.