WHAT does Kim Il Sung, the enigmatic and reclusive ruler of North Korea, really want with a nuclear bomb? An answer might settle Mr. Kim's confrontation with the outside world. Would a bomb help reunite the two Koreas on Kim's terms? Or is the North's nuclear program just a negotiating ``card'' to be used for badly needed economic aid? Or would it be cheap defense?
Such questions are not asked among North Koreans, who obediently follow Kim's autocratic leadership. Western researchers have recently turned to Moscow archives that show he urged Stalin and Mao in 1950 to support an invasion of the South, triggering a war that killed more than 50,000 Americans.
Now, as Kim turns 83 on April 15, he stands almost alone in the world, except for some Chinese support, playing diplomatic cat-and-mouse with the US and the UN.
Some Korea experts worry that Kim might bring down all of Korea in a nuclear holocaust to avoid any humiliation. Others say he merely wants a bomb to avoid being swallowed by the South.
His most benign strategy may simply be to buy time by fooling the West with the mere appearance of having a bomb as he figures out how a renegade Communist state can cope in a post-cold war world.