IN blocking international inspection and announcing its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, North Korea invites strong suspicion of intent to make nuclear weapons. This bad news warrants not panic, but hard thinking.
North Korea is the last old-line communist state. It is completely sealed off, its people locked up. A dozen years ago, Western reporters visiting Pyongyang felt they had gone through the looking glass onto a stage set. At midday, few people were on the main drag; one saw them later in small work brigades. Also, fewer vehicles but a huge statue of the Great Leader. In his fabulous, tasteful marble palace, we found him a genial host. As the national icon, he was everywhere. A subway line a mile or two lon g had practically no passengers, but Kim was on each platform as the Great Farmer, Builder, Soldier, or Teacher.
Visitors today find Pyongyang little different. At age 81, Kim Il Sung is still boss, and his son, Kim Il Jong, is in the wings. In withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, North Korea is within its rights. Other countries known to have nuclear weapons - India, Pakistan, and Israel - never signed the NPT. Iraq, which did, was able surreptitiously to move within reach of a nuclear arsenal. North Korea, it is thought, could have a nuclear weapon in less than two years.
What would Mr. Kim have in mind? Above all, he wants South Korea. In 1950, he went to war, and there is today still only a truce. He has used subversion and terror. One bomb killed most of the South Korean Cabinet. Another destroyed an airliner. Tunnels have been dug for another invasion.
You have to stand in one to believe it: more than a mile long, 400 feet below the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South, six feet high and six wide through solid granite. It makes underground nuclear plants seem feasible.
Lending credence to a nuclear threat is the 360-mile range SCUD-C missile, which North Korea makes and has sold to Syria and Iran. Its range, payload, and accuracy could be improved. But, even if perfected, such a small nuclear threat is not unnerving. Far from driving US forces away and opening the South, it would more likely bring a preemptive strike against the North. A different possibility is that a nuclear weapon is not intended for use or threat but for sale to customers.
This opens the larger issue: how to keep dictators from acquiring nuclear weapons or any means of mass destruction. The world community is already wrestling with the dilemma of a supranational police authority in a system of sovereign states. The UN Charter gives the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Years of argument over defining aggression concluded that it is whatever the Council says it is. This is not as frivolous as it sounds. When the
Charter's Chapter Seven is invoked to deal with a breach or a threat to peace, each of the five permanent members, Britain, China, France, Russia, and the US, may veto what it can't accept. The 10 non-permanent members have a collective veto. Seven of them can block a majority on any vote.
The Charter speaks of prevention as well as enforcement. In the past few years, the option has been progressively enlarged. The Council may now intervene with political, economic, and military measures not only against open war, but also against a government that violates human rights. Preventive diplomacy and preventive deployment of UN forces seek to forestall conflict. Why not collective measures against a regional bully who acquires nuclear arms or chemical and biological weapons which are equally in discriminate? Or, against the several dictators who are now running their countries into the ground, leaving the burden of rescue to the international community? Such steps need not be violent in the first instance. They could begin by penetrating the curtain of secrecy that always covers aggression and corruption.
The International Atomic Energy Agency now has the legal right to inspect suspicious sites in states that have signed the NPT. The Security Council has the power to extend inspection much farther and to impose sanctions.
It is hard to exaggerate the difficulty of getting Council agreement on such a course. But the examples of Iraq, Yugoslavia, Somalia, and North Korea, plus (potentially) Sudan and Zaire, show how worthwhile it could be.