The ICAS Lectures

No. 2003-0509-GHG

Australia's Role for Peace and Security in Northeast Asia:
North Korea's Missiles, Nukes and WMD

Glenda Gauci

ICAS Spring Symposium &
Humanity, Peace and Security
May 9, 2003 12:00 PM - 5:45 PM.
U.S. Senate Dirksen Office Building Room 106
Capitol Hill
Washington, D. C.

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Biographic Sketch & Links: Glenda Gauci

Australia's Role for Peace and Security in Northeast Asia:
North Korea's Missiles, Nukes and WMD

Glenda Gauci


  • Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today on Australia's approach to North Korea.
  • In doing so, important to note from the outset that the approach Australia takes to the Korean Peninsula is driven by many of the same considerations that drive US policy and our policy approaches are broadly consistent
  • It is also true that Australia's approach is driven by specific national interests.
  • The STRATEGIC context for us is straightforward
  • The Asia Pacific region is home to the world's six largest armies (China, the United States, Russia, India, North Korea and South Korea) and, after the Middle East, the world's three most volatile flashpoints - the Taiwan Straits, the Korean Peninsula and Kashmir.
  • We want to use our influence, as part of broader international efforts to help ease tensions in these places.
  • The Korean Peninsula lies at a strategic cross roads between China, Japan, the United States and Russia and its stability has enormous implications for the wider East Asian region, including Australia
    • The consequences of a security breakdown on the Korean Peninsula would be immense
    • Immense not only for the immediate region of North East Asia region, but also for Australia and the major powers.
  • The strategic engagement of the United States in the Asia Pacific is a key stabilising influence in our region. US engagement underpins the stability and prosperity of the region and the US presence on the Korean Peninsula is a critical component of that wider regional engagement.
  • Australia's four top trading partners - Japan, United States, China and South Korea - would be directly affected by any security crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
  • In addition, Australia has long-standing non-proliferation credentials. We are committed to finding a peaceful resolution to the current tensions on the Korean Peninsula.


  • In May 2000, Australia resumed diplomatic relations with North Korea, after an interruption to relations of some 25 years.
  • Our reason for resuming formal ties was motivated by the Government's strong belief that dialogue and engagement would help secure peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula
  • Our engagement with the DPRK does not mean that we accept or condone the policies of practices of the North
    • Indeed, we believe that the ideology of the North and the behaviour of its government, at home and abroad, are abhorrent to many of the values cherished by Australians and Americans.
  • The Australian Government's approach was guided by the idea that engagement with the DPRK was better than further isolation and sanctions
    • Isolation and sanctions have little impact on the DPRK regime because it does not care about the welfare of its people or about the stigma of the regime being snubbed internationally
  • It is a policy that seeks to strike a strong balance between deterrence and dialogue.
  • We also do not equate dialogue and engagement with concessions - dialogue is an important part of diplomacy and our aim is to do what we can to contribute to international efforts to bring out the North - through encouragement, coaxing, cajoling or whatever - into the international community.
  • We believe that we must deal with the reality of the situation on the Korean Peninsula
  • In taking this step to re-establish diplomatic relations, the Australian Government did not stand to gain much in a bilateral sense - bilateral trade is negligible (indeed the North has outstanding debt with Australia).
    • The Government wanted to do what it could as part of international efforts - principally by the major players, the United States, Japan and South Korea - to ease tensions on the Peninsula.
  • In taking this step, we made clear to the North that we were prepared to reward positive movement and good behaviour. By the same token, we delivered firm messages on proliferation and human rights and made clear from the outset that we would not ignore negative movement by North Korea.
  • Our Foreign Minister Mr Downer visited North Korea in October 2000
  • North Korea was permitted to establish an embassy in Canberra last year.
  • Our Ambassador in Beijing is accredited to North Korea.
  • Australia has been a strong supporter of the US-DPRK Framework Agreement and the work of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation (KEDO). Australia is the largest single non-executive contributor to KEDO- having provided $22 million to date.
  • The Australian Government strongly and actively supports the ROK's engagement policy with the DPRK. We consider it a framework within which the North and the South could reconcile their differences and cooperate more closely.
  • And we supported, and continue to support dialogue. We were pleased that North Korea, China and the United States have started the process of getting dialogue on track in a multi-party setting.
    • And we are pleased that North-South Ministerial-level talks have resumed.

Fast forward to now - Actions by North Korea

  • North Korea has expelled IAEA inspectors. It has shut down nuclear monitoring equipment.
  • It has withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty
  • North Korea has reactivated its 5 Mwe nuclear plant at Yongbyon, shut down since 1994.
  • It may or may not have started reprocessing spent fuel rods to extract weapons-grade plutonium
  • It has a history of violating its armistice obligations and provoking skirmishes with South Korean and US forces
  • It has deployed hundreds of Scud and large numbers of no-dong ballistic missiles, capable of striking targets throughout South Korea, and almost all of Japan.
  • In 1998, North Korea test-fired a more powerful rocket, the Tae- po-dong 1, over northern Japan. And it has threatened to cease its self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile flight testing.
  • North Korea has confessed its nuclear ambitions and may or may not already have a crude nuclear weapon, may have restarted production and has threatened to export nuclear material and arms components.
  • There are well founded suspicions that North Korea has explored the possibility of developing chemical and biological weapons programs
  • And there is clear evidence that North Korea has sold - and seeks to sell - its missiles and missile technologies to countries and regions of concern to us.

Current Australian approach

  • North Korea's actions and rhetoric are raising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
  • It risks undermining a global consensus to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and the regimes that are in place to uphold and enforce those norms.
  • The Australian Government's firm position is that it is up to North Korea to verifiably and irreversibly dismantle is nuclear weapons program.
  • After North Korea made its nuclear revelations to Assistant Secretary of State Jim Kelly last October, an Australian delegation went to Pyongyang to put Australia's concerns, and that of the international community, to North Korea.
  • We made clear to the North Koreans that they must
    • Renounce their weapons of mass destruction ambitions
    • Abandon recent moves to restart suspect nuclear facilities
    • Reverse their decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty regime; and
    • They must cooperate fully with the IAEA in complying with its safeguard obligations.
  • These points were registered very firmly in over eleven hours of meetings with North Korean officials and an 80 minute meeting with the North Korean Foreign Minister Paek
  • We reminded Pyongyang that the United States had made it clear that it had no intention of invading North Korea (although all options were on the table).
  • We continue to use its Ambassador and Embassy in Canberra as a channel to deliver firm messages and the Australian Government's and international community's concerns about its actions and intentions.
  • The Australian Government has supported efforts by Washington, Seoul and Tokyo to find a solution.
  • We consult and coordinate regularly - most recently in discussions between Prime Minister Howard and President Bush last weekend at Crawford.


  • The Australian Government has taken a number of steps in response to North Korea's recent actions and statements.
  • Australia's firm support for the United States on Iraq was our strongest message to North Korea about the need for it - North Korea - to disarm.
    • On 30 April this year, Prime Minister Howard made our position clear. He said
    • "In our [Australia's] view, if the world fails to deal once and for all with the problem of Iraq and its possession of weapons of mass destruction it will have given a green light to the further proliferation of these weapons and it will undo 30 years of hard international work, including by Australia, which has been designed to enforce not only conventions on chemical weapons but also the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty..... The world, particularly our own region [the Asia Pacific] is rightly concerned about North Korea. North Korea has blatantly violated its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and so far from the challenge of North Korea, overshadowing the challenge of Iraq, it adds greater urgency and relevance to Iraq. Because if the world cannot disarm Iraq it has no hope of disciplining North Korea. .... These reasons for our [Australia's] urgent commitment to the cause of disarming Iraq must be seen against the background of the different world in which we now all live."
  • Australia's firm position and cooperation with the United States on the war on terror comes from a fear that terrorist groups may obtain nuclear weapons and material from irresponsible states that possess these weapons and materials.

North Korea as a criminal state

  • Another area of dialogue between Australia and the United States relates to long-standing claims that there is official North Korean involvement in illicit smuggling, particularly of narcotics.
  • You may be aware that Australian authorities seized a vessel, the Pongsu, about 35 nautical miles south-east of Newcastle (a little north of Sydney) on 20 April this year.
  • There were very heavy seas and the vessel had sought to escape Australian authorities. Defence Special Operations Forces were used in the operation because they were the best prepared for the difficult circumstances of the task.
    • The vessel is registered in Tuvalu and is owned by a North Korean company.
  • Law enforcement authorities seized 50 kilograms of heroin (with an estimated street value of over AUD 70 million) in western Victoria, which is believed to have been imported into Australia by the vessel
    • 34 people, including the majority of North Korean crew have been remanded in custody in Victoria
    • one person found dead appears to have been connected to the import of the heroin.
  • The Prime Minister announced the seizure by reinforcing that the action [quote] "sends a clear signal to international drug traffickers that Australian authorities are determined to stop [the] illegal import of drugs and will do whatever is necessary to ensure that the people responsible face the full force of Australian law."
  • Criminal investigation are underway and it is difficult to say much more about the case for this reason.
  • What I can say is that Australian officials have spoken formally to the North Korean Embassy on a number of occasions in relation to this incident and the Embassy is giving it full cooperation. Officials from the North Korean company that owns the company have been assisting law enforcement enquiries.
    • It is difficult to assess whether there is any official North Korean involvement but we have warned North Korea that the bilateral relationship could be damaged should evidence emerge implicating DPRK officials in the targeting of Australia as an illegal narcotics destination.
    • The North Korean Government has denied any official involvement.
    • North Korean official media has since accused Australia and the United States of engaging in false propaganda, expressing surprise and regret at the Australian action.

Other bilateral responses

  • The Australian Government has put our bilateral relationship with North Korea on hold to underline our dissatisfaction with North Korea and to encourage it to engage more constructively with the United States.
  • We have frozen plans to establish a diplomatic mission in Pyongyang. We have no plans in place at this stage for our Ambassador-designate to present credentials in Pyongyang.
  • We have rejected requests by the North Korean embassy in Canberra to increase the size of its diplomatic mission beyond its current five-person limit. We have resisted requests to change our position on travel and access limitations on North Korean embassy staff in Australia.
  • Australia's food aid and humanitarian assistance to North Korea has totalled about AUD 39 million since 1996-97. It is channelled through multilateral agencies.
  • The Australian Government remains deeply concerned by the terrible suffering experienced by the people in North Korea and we have said we will continue to respond to requests for humanitarian assistance.
    • In February this year, we contributed a further $3 million to the UN World Food Program for North Korea.
    • And we are continuing other forms of assistance, targeting children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and the elderly. We also continue to provide facilities (eg blankets and generators) to North Korean hospitals.
  • But we have suspended other technical assistance programs that were established after we re-established diplomatic relations.
    • For example, The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research was training North Koreans in soil and pest management, crop production and biotechnology related to rice production.
    • The Australian National University was training North Koreans in market economics
    • We had helped DPRK statisticians so that the nutritional needs of North Koreans can be identified.
    • And we have made clear to the North that it cannot expect further economic cooperation with us or with the rest of the world if it chooses to continue down its nuclear path.
  • The bottom line
  • North Korea has made itself an outlaw state by withdrawing from the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and, by its many words and actions, flouting international conventions and custom.
  • The Australian Government supports the United States' position that means that all options are on the table for dealing with North Korea
  • The Australian Government believes firmly, and will work steadfastly, for a diplomatic and peaceful settlement to this issue
  • The answer to a settlement is in North Korea's hands - it must verifiably and permanently dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
  • It will take time.
  • We have to ensure that North Korea does not proliferate in the meantime.
  • We are consulting and working closely with the United States and other allies and friends - in Japan, South Korea and elsewhere - to find a political settlement if North Korea comes to its senses.


  • To sum up, the Australian Government has taken an approach that we believe protects and advances our national interest and contributes to US and international efforts to bring peace and stability to the Korean Peninsula.
  • Our aim is to ensure that North Korea abandons its weapons of mass destruction programs once and for all.
  • It is a unique approach, blending firm messages and actions - such as on the Pongsu case - with dialogue.
  • We have expressed our preparedness to provide further assistance and help if North Korea does the right thing.
  • We have made clear that we will have no hesitation in responding if North Korea does not.
  • A central tenet of our approach is to consult closely with, assist and coordinate our efforts with those of the United States, Japan and South Korea
    • These governments have expressed their appreciation for our contribution.
  • The Australian Government remains hopeful - and is actively supporting - diplomatic efforts to resolve the North Korean situation.
    • It is going to take sustained international dialogue and action and much patience to deal with North Korea.
    • We welcome the recent trilateral talks and commend China's role in it and we hope that a second round of talks - ideally with Japan and the ROK involved - can take place.
    • We strongly encourage China to continue to play a constructive role in the process of dialogue.
    • We have strongly urged North Korea not to walk away from the dialogue
  • And the Australian Government will continue to work actively to contribute to efforts to bring about a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the situation.

9 May 2003
Glenda Gauci
Minister Political
Australian Embassy, Washington.

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