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We'll go to war if we must

July 12, 2003

AUSTRALIA was prepared to go to war against North Korea if diplomatic efforts and a weapons control crackdown failed to curb its nuclear ambitions and trade in missiles, John Howard warned yesterday.

The Prime Minister's comments will up the ante in a tense nuclear stand-off with the rogue state. They came a day after Australia signed up to an aggressive US-led strategy that could see the navy within months intercepting North Korean ships suspected of trafficking.

Responding to North Korea's latest threat to launch a nuclear war if threatened by the US and its allies militarily, Mr Howard said Australia and its allies would go to war with North Korea only as a last resort.

"The question of how we deal with North Korea is a very difficult question ... we would like (the nuclear crisis) solved diplomatically ... but we can't walk away from the issue.

"Nobody wants to go to war with anybody about anything ... it's always very much a last resort thing and one to be avoided," Mr Howard told Sydney radio.

Mr Howard's comments followed 11 countries, including Australia, agreeing to intercept North Korean ships and aircraft suspected of trafficking in weapons of mass destruction as part of a global crackdown on the trade.

The 11 members of the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative have agreed to start military training exercises from as early as September.

Mr Howard said while the interception plan was designed to convince all rogue states to give up their weapons of mass destruction, it would also bring pressure to bear on North Korea to give up its nuclear program. "It would be wrong to see (an interception force) as a ploy to send a warning shot to the North Koreans.

"(But) if they (diplomatic and arms control measures) help to build up the pressure on the North Koreans to behave in a more reasonable fashion, then that's a good idea," Mr Howard said.

US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, who is driving the interception plan, has indicated it could be broadened to include more than the current 11 countries.

Mr Bolton said among the countries he would like to see sign up were countries that allowed so-called flag-of-convenience ships. Flags of convenience allow ships to operate outside shipping regulations.

Labor's foreign affairs spokesman, Kevin Rudd, said any legal backing for interception of ships on the high seas should be sought via the UN.

Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett said the strategy would fail without South Korea and China, adding Australia was simply bowing to the US again.


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