When the lunatics take over the asylum, living in a remote corner of the South Pacific has its advantages.

With President Trump threatening to sort out North Korea, and Kim Jong-un responding with threats of a "super-massive pre-emptive strike" that would "nuke" the United States out of existence, distance is certainly a friend to nurture.

Which means keeping our heads down and not going out of our way to prod and poke the "rogue state".

Behaving like Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who went all hairy-chested by backing US policy against North Korea declaring "all options are on the table" was asking for trouble.


And she got it, with the North Koreans taunting back that backing the US against North Korea "will be a suicidal act of coming within the range of the nuclear strike".

The experts say Kim Jong-un's longest range missiles can just reach the northern tips of Australia.

Thanks to distance, and weather circulation patterns, New Zealand is safe from either a direct Korean strike or subsequent nuclear fall-out.

Not that I'm suggesting that gives us open licence to heckle from the back stalls. Or worse, hint that once again, we might be prepared to take up arms alongside Uncle Sam.

On last Sunday's Q+A current affairs show, on the eve of being appointed Foreign Minister, Gerry Brownlee failed to rule out New Zealand taking part in US-led action against North Korea.

"That," he said, "would be something that would have to be decided at a time when you reach that point."

He went on to say that President Obama and now Trump, had "an expectation that the rest of the world will assist in coming to a party trying to get rid of these regimes that are oppressive ..."

Perhaps I'm being paranoid, but it did sound as though he accepted this "expectation" as something of an obligation on our part.

In the shadow of Anzac Day, when we mourn the dreadful losses we suffered on behalf of a distant imperial master, it does seem we have learned nothing from that experience. A blow of the imperial US trumpet, and there's something in our old colonial DNA that starts twitching.

It's ironic that while sabres are rattling on both sides of the Korean border, Murray McCully's final act as Foreign Minister this week was to visit Hanoi, to meet and greet the Vietnamese leadership.

It seems only yesterday that North Vietnam was the epitome of evil, New Zealand had sent troops to join the US battle, with Defence Minister Dean Eyre declaring if he had his way, he "would give North Vietnam a basinful of bombs tomorrow morning".

All the bombs and the napalm the US empire flung at Vietnam failed to bring them to heel. Now, 50 years on, McCully is in Hanoi praising our cosy and rapidly expanding trade and "people-to-people" relationships, and acknowledging Vietnam role as "a key player in Asean".

Good mates, it seems, despite our part in trying to bomb them back to the Stone Age.

As authoritarian states go, North Korea is certainly in a class of its own. But could it be its bellicosity and devotion to building a nuclear arsenal is a response to 60 or more years of threats from their neighbours in the south, backed by the mighty US empire?

Trump drew attention to this vast and costly US presence around the globe in last year's presidential campaign. Professor David Vine added it all up in his book Base Nation: How US Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World.

He lists around 800 US military bases in foreign countries, including 83 in South Korea and 113 in Japan. Around 150,000 US troops are stationed abroad. This, 70 years after World War II and 62 years after the Korean War.

The annual bill is $223 billion or more.

Says Vine, "Rarely does anyone wonder how we would feel if China, Russia or Iran built even a single base near our borders, let alone the United States."

Or, he could have added, North Korea.

Candidate Trump seemed to be questioning the worth of this imperial role on the campaign trail, but reverted to type on reaching the White House.

It's to be hoped new Foreign Minister Brownlee doesn't do the same.