In late 2011, then foreign minister Kevin Rudd wrote an opinion piece warning Australia about the threat of missile attack from North Korea — a “cruel, totalitarian state” — which he claimed could “prove to be our worst nightmare”.

Matters have heated up since then. A failed North Korean missile test in March 2012 was reportedly headed in our direction, and the US State Department issued a personal warning to Foreign Minister Bob Carr. And North Korea tested a nuclear weapon as recently as February of this year.

Suddenly, what Australia thinks about this area of conflict does matter. In January, Australia and the other 14 members of the UN Security Council unanimously voted to adopt sanctions against North Korea under Resolution 2087. These imposed travel bans and asset freezes on some senior officials.

In response to the latest nuclear test in February, the most recent resolution strengthened and intensified the sanctions in place since the first test in 2006. For Australia, these sanctions mean a ban on supplying, selling or transferring all arms and related material to North Korea as well as a long list of items, materials, equipment and technology that relates to ballistic missile programs or weapons of mass destruction.

These impositions have only served to aggravate the regime further. While Pyongyang continues to conduct missile and nuclear tests in clear violation of Security Council resolutions, its nullification of the 1953 truce to end the Korean War stands as the most problematic of its retaliatory actions so far.

North Korea’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003, the most comprehensive international agreement to halt the spread of nuclear weapons, still draws widespread condemnation; consequent six-party talks and other negotiations about its suspected — and self-professed — nuclear program have failed to reach a suitable compromise.

Dr Leonid Petrov, a Korean Studies expert from Australian National University, considers the situation to be more serious now than it was a few months ago.

“Technically, North Korea is now openly at war with South Korea; but not only South Korea but also the United States and the other nations that participated in the Korean War, including Australia,” he told Crikey. If the armistice agreement is defunct from North Korea, hostilities can be resumed. If war resumes, it will first of all affect South Korea. In that region, South Korea is the main ally of the United States as well as Australia, so generally if the war returns into the hot stage, it looks like Australia will find itself in the war.”

With increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, continuous threats from an ambitious new leader Kim Jong-un, a ramping up of US military drills in South Korea, Pyongyang’s nullification of the 1953 Korean Armistice and the latest propaganda video of an imagined attack against Washington, could Australia truly be in harm’s way?

Not according to Petrov. “North Koreans don’t have any intention to attack Australia,” he said. “They didn’t event test an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile].” The gravest fear is of North Korea developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of mounting a nuclear warhead.

Petrov believes it was wrong for Carr to block the re-establishment of the North Korean embassy in Canberra (the embassy had packed up and left in January 2008, in the early days of the Rudd government). “Australia should be more proactive in engaging North Korea in trade and economic co-operation, cultural exchange and visits. These would be advisable in helping Australia and North Korea to maintain peaceful and productive relations. By doing that, Australia would secure its place in the camp of North Korean friends rather than enemies.”

Australia has long been on alert to a threat from the north. The 2009 Defence white paper considered “threats posed by ballistic missiles and their proliferation, particularly by states of concern such as North Korea”. Recently, the National Security Strategy also flagged the tensions and unstable environment on the Korean Peninsula.

Pointing to the two nuclear tests conducted by North Korea in 2006 and 2009 and the imminent destabilising transition of power, Rudd wrote in The Daily Telegraph: “We, in Australia, have no cause for comfort.” He detailed the rogue regime’s development of the the Taepodong 2 — a long-range missile that was tested in 2006 but crashed shortly after take-off — put Australia well within its purported 9000km range, with Darwin lying 6000km and Sydney 8500km away.