But an Australian think-tank says after 16 years, hope for diplomacy is all-but dead and the path ahead looks a lot like the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
Speaker: Dr Rod Lyon, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Stephen Smith, Australia's Foreign Minister
MOTTRAM: On top of its second nuclear test and its raft of short-range missile launches last month, North Korea's now keeping open the option of uranium enrichment as a second path to fuel nuclear weapons while U-S President Barack Obama has warned the U-S is no longer willing to reward such behaviour. The International Crisis Group -- which focuses on conflict prevention -- has issued a report urging that while a deterrent posture be maintained and tough sanctions imposed, diplomacy by the main player, the United States, be given another chance. But in an analysis earlier this month, the Canberra-based think-tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said North Korea's latest nuclear test is more troubling than past provocations at many levels, and that in particular it undermined not only the six-party talks but the broader philosophy of a negotiated settlement.
Dr Rod Lyon was author of the analysis. He says the proposition that it may be possible to induce Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program has been te sted through two U-S presidencies and has been found wanting.
LYON: 16 years later we've got a North Korea that's go more plutonium, has done more ballistic missile tests and has now conducted two nuclear tests.
MOTTRAM: There is certainly general agreement that there is no easy answer to the question: what's the alternative. Doctor Lyon says Doctor Lyon says Washington appears unwilling to continue down the path of incremental nuclear dismantlement by North Korea.
LYON: We're not going back to the six-party talks to rehash all the old stuff again and we're probably not even going back to a bilateral relationship in which the regional countries that are U-S allies start to think they're being outplayed by a North Korea that's cozying up to the US and wanting to be treated as an equal with the U-S, but if you go past that option, then I think you're into some risky options, yes, much tighter economic sanctions that have the word blockade associated with them or there might even be some options that have a military component to them.
MOTTRAM: And the world is poised to begin stopping and searching North Korean ships as part of a stepped up sanctions plan, leading in turn to escalated rhetoric that Pyonyang considers such moves to be a declaration of war.
A military component could include a western attack against North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear facility, the source of its plutonium. That, Doctor Lyon says, would cap the North Korean nuclear program, but wouldn't end it. And the risks include potential regime collapse inside North Korea and possible hostilities on the Korean peninsula.
Australia agrees its an alarming situation. And Foreign minister Stephen Smith says the international community's repsonse has been robust, with the U-N security council unanimously applying sanctions and naval interdiction measures through resolution 1874.
SMITH: The onus is on North Korea. Having said that, I do very strongly believe and I've made this point before that we do need again to find some way of bringing North Korea back into a dialogue. Our starting point for that is the six party talk process.
MOTTRAM: But minister after 16 years of trying to denuclearise, we now have a North Korea that is clearly much more nuclear capable than ever before, is it now time to contemplate a more forceful robust response, perhaps even a military attempt to decapitate if you like that nuclear capacity?
SMITH: Well I certainly think that the security council resolution was itself a forceful and robust and unanimous response by the international community. the international community is not advocating, has not support military intervention at this point in the cycle.
MOTTRAM: Australia is maintaining that the intractability of the North Korea nuclear issue does not warrant giving up on a process that saw slow and steady process in the past. Stephen Smith also warns that bilateral U-S/North Korea talks are a tactic by Pyongyang to get out of its six party obligations.