Today in history: Remembering the surprisingly tenable North Korean ICBM emergency

The massed battalions of The Oz were quickly brought up to the front


Many hundreds of hours ago now, our foreign affairs community and parts of our media were consumed by the North Korean ICBM emergency. Hard to believe in these modern times, but true!

Time for a special Club Troppo look back to a different era.

So little remembered is the emergency now that it feels like it happened almost in another month. But back in early July of 2017, foreign policy experts and media analysts alike called it “an unambiguous game-changer“. Barnaby Joyce, as acting prime minister, declared the situation “untenable”. The Australian devoted several newspaper pages to it, deploying all its major weaponry short of Paul Kelly. US senator Lindsey Graham – a Republican only occasionally described as “insane” – suggested a first strike against North Korea. President Donald Trump leapt into action, deploying not just tweets but tweets with exclamation marks: “Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”

Slowly, over the course of almost countless minutes, these events faded from the national memory. We learned to accept the nuclear weapons capacity of a small state in great tension with its neighbours, something that had occurred virtually never before in history.

Why did the situation not escalate as so many thought it could? That will forever remain a mystery. The theory now most widely believed is that President Trump’s canny policy of constructive non-engagement moved the world away from a nuclear confrontation.

A few eccentric observers constructed an unlikely theory that the US and its allies simply had no ability to make a credible threat against the DPRK regime, given South Koreans’ squeamish determination not to start a nuclear war with their relatives. But of course, if this theory were true, the bulk of observers on the ground would have made more of it at the time.

The past is truly another country. Andorra, perhaps, or San Marino.

About David Walker

David Walker runs publishing consultancy Shorewalker DMS (shorewalker.net). David has previously edited the award-winning INTHEBLACK business magazine, been chief operating officer of online publisher WorkDay Media, held policy and communications roles at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia and the Business Council of Australia, and run the website for online finance start-up eChoice. He has written professionally on economics, business and public policy since 1987 and spent three years in the Canberra Press Gallery for News Limited and The Age.
This entry was posted in History, Politics - international. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Today in history: Remembering the surprisingly tenable North Korean ICBM emergency

  1. Sancho says:

    Don’t forget the many variations on this graph that hit the internet, showing Australia within striking distance of Nork nukes.

    It’s totally accurate if you add only a few thousand kilometres of range and several hundred percent more accuracy.

  2. Greg Tangey says:

    The past is truly another country. Andorra, perhaps, or San Marino. Would that it were Grand Fenwick – the mouse that roared.

    • David Walker says:

      I considered all sorts of references to The Mouse That Roared and eventually concluded that in this day and age, no-one would recognise them. Thank you for restoring my faith.

      P.S. The film is based on a surprisingly enjoyable little book originally intended to be titled (and published in the UK as) … The Wrath of Grapes.

      • Nicholas Gruen says:

        The Author of the Mouse that Roared, Leonard Wibberley dated my father’s beautiful first cousin in Santa Monica for some years towards the end of both or their lives. They came and visited us on the farm for a while on one occasion. Sadly it was a bit of a forlorn relationship. I think they were happy together when they were together, but Leonard, being Irish and I presume Catholic, was tortured about his estrangement from his former wife.

        I like The Wrath of Grapes.

  3. Nicholas Gruen says:

    The Author of the Mouse that Roared, Leonard Wibberley dated my father’s beautiful first cousin in Santa Monica for some years towards the end of both or their lives. They came and visited us on the farm for a while on one occasion. Sadly it was a bit of a forlorn relationship. I think they were happy together when they were together, but Leonard, being Irish and I presume Catholic, was tortured about his estrangement from his former wife.

    I like The Wrath of Grapes.

  4. Greg Tangey says:

    I shall look out for Mr Wibberley. Any time you need a reference point for the decline and fall of Emmanuel the Macron don’t forget Steinbeck’s Short Reign of Pippin IV.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.