Security and strategic experts have defended Malcolm Turnbull’s declaration of support for America if North Korea launched an attack as the “only practical” response to the situation.
Mr Turnbull drew criticism, including from Greens leader Richard Di Natale, who said it made Australia a “target” after saying Australia stood by its allies and would invoke the ANZUS treaty if North Korea moved forward with its threats to fire missiles into the US territory of Guam.
“So be very, very clear on that,” Mr Turnbull told 3AW Radio on Friday.
“If there’s an attack on the US, the ANZUS Treaty would be invoked and Australia would come to the aid of the United States, as America would come to our aid if we were attacked.”
The government was silent on the issue on Saturday, in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s assertions America was “locked and loaded” in the face of the North Korean threats.
But international security director at Lowy Institute, Euan Graham, said he believed too much was being made out of Mr Turnbull’s comments, which he said was a reasonable response to the current situation,
“It wasn’t a blank cheque commitment. What he said was ‘Australia would invoke ANZUS if North Korea attacked the United States and that second proviso is the key point,” he said.
“He is not saying that Australia would support a pre-emptive US attack or become military involved in that – in effect what he was doing was stating the obvious, which is if there was an aggression against the US, I think everyone assumes in the system and I think probably in the wider public too, that Australia would come to the aid of the US.
“So, in a sense, I think what he was doing was the … old adage – it is better to offer something before you are asked, but the inevitably is the US would expect the Australians to get involved in something like that.”
Executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute Peter Jennings agreed. He said given Australia’s interests in the region and on the Korean Peninsula it would be inevitable the nation would become some way involved.
“Korea is our fourth largest trading partner, we have about 8000 Australians who live in South Korea and a significant large amount of people who visit for business and tourism at any one time,” he said.
“We also had some quite key dependencies on South Korea – a third of our jet fuel comes from South Korea, so if we have a war on the peninsula, we are going to very quickly face serious shortages of aviation fuel.”
The opposition has remained in lock-step with the government in national security issues.
“The best form of security for Australia is a safe, stable region, with this issue resolved,” Opposition’s defence spokesman Richard Marles said.
“While we should work towards that with every country in the region, China remains the country best-placed to help bring this to resolution.”