Bishop warns nuclear weapons could spread throughout region

Nuclear weapons could proliferate throughout the region if the world fails to stop North Korea's nuclear ambitions, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has warned.

But Ms Bishop believes Pyongyang could be prevented from threatening its neighbours "if we make it clear that any attack against the US or its allies will be met with an overwhelming response", and has not given up on deterrence through diplomatic means.

North Korea is expected to undertake another missile test - which would further inflame regional tensions and provoke the ire of US President Donald Trump - shortly, possibly to coincide with the 19th Chinese Communist Party congress later this month.

In an opinion piece for Fairfax Media, Ms Bishop stressed the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, China, Russia, UK and France - must take the lead in defending the system of international law and enforcing existing resolutions that ban trade and investment in North Korea.

Julie Bishop is confident Kim Jong-un's nuclear ambitions can be halted.

Julie Bishop is confident Kim Jong-un's nuclear ambitions can be halted.

"A failure to enforce the existing resolutions and check North Korea's ambitions could embolden other nations to act illegally in pursuit of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction," Ms Bishop said.

"The result would be an increase in the proliferation of nuclear weapons and diminution of the credibility of agreements preventing the spread of these weapons, the intensification of rivalries in sub-regions such as Northeast Asia and the Middle East involving existing and new nuclear powers, and the exacerbation of international disorder more generally."

Some of the countries that could acquire nuclear weapons as a possible deterrent to North Korea include Japan and South Korea, as well as Iran, Saudi Arabia and even Turkey.

The Foreign Minister spoke to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for close to an hour on Monday about the threat posed by North Korea. Ms Bishop and Defence Minister Maris Payne will depart for South Korea on Wednesday for meetings with President Moon Jae-in and their ministerial counterparts.

The pair will also visit the demilitarised zone and meet the US general in charge of UN forces in the country, Vincent Brooks.

Ms Bishop said Australia supported the US position that 'all options are on the table' - including the use of military force - to deter North Korea.

"This threat of nuclear attack against another country is arguably the most dire of our times. The regime has publicly stated its objective is to produce a nuclear armed ICBM missile capable of reaching the United States. That would bring Australia - a key United States ally - within range, even though we would not be a primary target."

Ms Bishop told Fairfax Media that she discussed at length with Mr Tillerson "a collective strategy of a 'peaceful pressure campaign' - his words - and a multi-layered approach where the US works with its partners to implement sanctions and diplomatic pressure".

"It's a campaign of constant and increasing pressure on North Korea with the aim of compelling North Korea to return to the negotiating table."

In another sign of her determination to isolate North Korea, Ms Bishop this week blocked a North Korean soccer team from visiting Australia to play in the Asian Football Confederation U-19 Championship in country Victoria.

Mr Tillerson has led the US diplomatic effort, and behind the scenes his country has kept open several back channels to the North Korean regime despite President Trump publicly dismissing the prospect of a diplomatic solution with the rogue state.

The US and Australia have welcomed China's recent decision to impose tougher sanctions on North Korea, including limiting the export of petroleum products and the importation of textiles, which came after Western leaders called for China to do more and crack down on the North, which relies heavily on its huge neighbour.

President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have traded insults and threats for months amid a series of nuclear weapons and missile tests.

North Korea has undertaken six nuclear tests and is thought by the United States to have between 30 and 60 nuclear warheads, according to a report in the Washington Post.

Australia has faced calls to sign a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, which dozens of countries have signed, but has not done so.

This story Bishop warns nuclear weapons could spread throughout region first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.