North Korea’s decision to barge its way into the nuclear club is a cause which unites the international community. No-one likes the idea of nuclear weapons in the hands of North Korea, and although the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty has been breached before, this is by far the worst case.

But international co-operation has taken so many hits over the last few years it’s going to be hard to put together a consensus approach now. One of the biggest stumbling blocks is that the US administration — and its ally in Canberra — is not only deeply sceptical of the United Nations, but seems hostile in principle to the idea of talking to its perceived enemies.

Teddy Roosevelt was right when he said that diplomacy should “speak softly and carry a big stick”. George W Bush likes carrying (and using) the stick, but he hasn’t perfected the soft-speaking bit yet. What’s needed now is the strongest possible package of sanctions that North Korea’s neighbours can agree on, which can be used as a lever for negotiations.

Unilateral action won’t work because without international consensus, North Korea won’t believe that the Americans are serious about making — and keeping — a deal.

The real point of carrying a big stick is to avoid ever having to use it. Which is presumably why Kim Jong Il has built himself a nuclear bomb — for deterrence, not use.

At least that’s what we hope.