North Korea has joined the nuclear club by detonating an atomic bomb in an underground test, triggering condemnation led by the United States and China and followed by others. Though experts disagree over the magnitude of the blast, there is no denying that the ‘hermit kingdom’ is now able to produce an atomic device, and long-range ballistic missiles it had already test-fired on July 4 last. This is disturbing news for world security not because it was right for the earlier eight to have done so, but because it is likely to instigate an arms race in the region. North Korea, which had agreed to freeze its nuclear ambitions in 1994, seems to have seen the necessity of possessing a nuclear deterrent — amid the description of it as being a part of the “Axis of Evil”, the invasion of Iraq, talk of regime change in North Korea, its isolation by the West, and the threat to use military means, including nuclear, against new proliferators. The boost in size of the club has come about because of fear psychosis and threat perceptions. Now Asia alone houses five nuclear nations — China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong-Il’s country.

North Korea has hailed the successful testing as a “great leap forward in the building of a great prosperous powerful socialist nation”, whereas the UN Security Council (SC), strongly condemning the test, vows to provide a “strong and swift” response, and US president George Bush brands it “a threat to international peace and security”. Now other threatened countries, say Japan, may follow suit.

The present blast also marks the utter failure of diplomacy, US economic sanctions, and the

non-proliferation policy of the Big Five. Their failure to meet their own commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and their gross double standards by which they have perpetuated a policy of ‘nuclear apartheid’, are largely responsible. Accordingly, the making of atomic bombs by themselves or by their chosen friends is all right for them but it would

“constitute a threat to international peace and stability’ if others they loathe decide to do likewise.

The SC may prescribe some kind of punitive action against North Korea. But this will hardly

help the goal of checking proliferation, if history is any guide. Now the NPT is practically on its deathbed, and if Iran or some other country goes nuclear too, one can only sing its requiem. All this is not going to make the world a safer place to live in. There is also the nightmarish danger of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. The Big Five would be contributing to world peace, stability and justice a great deal if they seriously reviewed the present non-proliferation policy. It would mean embracing the concept of fair multilateral disarmament arrangements, requiring the veto-wielders to set an example for others to follow, and to provide security guarantees for all nations — big and small, powerful and weak — against the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction.