Korean missile crisis: suddenly distance is no longer the tyranny

Korean missile crisis: suddenly distance is no longer the tyranny, by Greg Sheridan.

“History’s a game that’s played for keeps. But for most Australians, it’s a dimension of reality that’s only found on TV — don’t you agree?

“The reason that Australia’s half asleep is that it’s outside history. The Japanese nearly woke us up, but they didn’t quite get there. So we went on sleeping. I wonder who will wake us up? Sukarno? The Communists in Asia?”

Thus spoke Aubrey Hardwick, intelligence operative, in Chris Koch’s novel Highways to a War, set in the 1970s.

Kim Jong-un has offered Australia an invitation to history. It’s an unpleasant invitation, and one we can’t refuse. …

It is true that all through the Cold War, Soviet and later Chinese nuclear missiles could have successfully targeted Australia. We know now that Cold War nuclear deterrence was more fraught than we thought at the time, but nonetheless there was an inherent stability about dealing with great big and mature powers such as Moscow and Beijing.

The North Korean breakout is immensely dangerous in its own right. And it signals the kind of world we are ever more likely to live in. At the end of the period of a little more than a decade that the Obama agreement with Iran covers, the mullahs will be in possession of a rich nation and a massive nuclear industry with full international approval. If they choose to weaponise it no one will stop them. A world of ever more complex, multidimensional, regional and intercontinental interlocking arrangements of mutual nuclear deterrence will be vastly more intricate than the Cold War.

This, by the way, is what a world without US strategic dominance looks like. The US stopped its allies, such as Taiwan, South Korea and others, from acquiring nuclear weapons. The Chinese have signally failed to stop their ally, North Korea, from doing likewise.

A North Korea with nukes and ICBMs won’t stop at 60. In due course it is likely to possess 100, 200 or more. …

Australia is losing its protection:

Australia has mostly stood benignly beside the worst of history because of our geographic distance from the main centres of conflict and the security we have derived from our alliance with great powers, first Britain, then the US. What is happening to those two protective features?

The first three trends are wiping out our security of distance. These trends are: missile technology, offensive cyber capabilities and the global spread of Islamist jihadism. They severely compromise our geographic advantages.

Our alliance is still immensely valuable but consider these three trends: the US is less dominant than before and has for the first time in many decades a president who sometimes speaks against US alliance commitments; China is pursuing an increasingly assertive posture, seeking strategic hege­mony in our region; and most importantly, the giant historic project of liberalisation and democratisation seems to have stalled, if not altogether come to an end.

There is no longer any ground for thinking China and Russia are on any long-term path to democracy and liberalisation. Nor are many of the other countries of our region, such as Vietnam and Cambodia. Around the world, and in our region, democracy has gone backwards in many countries. This means that the reassuring idea we once had, that we were on a path of political convergence with our region, is no longer realistic.

hat-tip Stephen Neil