• IN OTHER WORDS : North’s blast

North Korea’s announcement of a nuclear test raises the spectre of a nuclear arms race in Asia. Monday’s explosion may also set off a sequence of events that changes radically the balance of power in Asia and weakens current constraints against spread of nuclear weapons around the world. The test represents the most preventable, and one of the most damaging, failures of President Bush’s foreign policy.

The administration has stubbornly rebuffed the North’s offers to cede its nuclear and missile programmes in exchange for economic and security benefits in direct, two-party negotiations. Unlike Iran, North Korea has repeatedly agreed to divest itself of its nuclear weapons capabilities for the right price.

That price would include a guaranteed provision of energy and also economic aid and security assurances that would end what the North calls the relations of “enmity” between it and the US. This development would also be unnerving for China and South Korea.

Instead of pursuing harsh sanctions on North Korea in the UN Security Council, as the US envoy to the UN John Bolton was doing on Monday, Bush ought to reconsider the wisdom of his refusal to test the seriousness of North Korea’s repeated offers to trade away its nuclear and missile programmes for the end-of-enmity agreement.