TOPICS : Using N Korea row to stop proliferation

North Korea has become the last member of President Bush’s three-nation axis of evil to cause trouble in the world. The president is handling this crisis better than those with Iraq and Iran.

There were two mistakes with respect to Iraq. One had to do with intelligence. Either he believed unreliable intelligence that was fed to him by intelligence officers anxious to tell the boss what he wanted to hear, or he made up what he wanted to believe.

The other mistake had to do with the UN and our allies there. He lost patience while they were deciding what to do and invaded Iraq with limited support, mostly from Great Britain. That support has cost PM Tony Blair dearly; his Labour Party may lose its parliamentary majority. Bush has shown more patience in the Iranian case, both with Tehran’s government and our allies in the UN. But he has been no less imperious about what he will tolerate.

With North Korea, the president was right to resist bilateral negotiations in favour of reviving the long stalled six-party talks that included China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea along with the US and North Korea. In a diplomatic breakthrough, China announced last Tuesday that the talks would reconvene shortly. One of North Korea’s objectives might be to split the US from the other parties. This is to be avoided if at all possible. The other parties, especially China, might well have more influence with North Korea than we do. They might also have better ideas on how to get to where we want to go. Where we want to go is a position of reliable assurance that North Korea will not use nuclear weapons and will use its nuclear programme only for peaceful purposes - electrical power generation, for example.

President Clinton thought he had reached this position, but he had not. On a broader scale, the current crisis could be a turning point in nuclear policy generally. Sooner or later — sooner is better — the US is going to have to recognise that its nuclear non-proliferation

policy has been a failure. Third World countries view becoming a nuclear power as a mark of national prestige. They resent being told by the rich and powerful that this will not be allowed.

With its test last month, North Korea has apparently joined the US, Russia, China, France, Britain, Israel, Pakistan, and India in the nuclear club. Libya’s bid to join ended under United States pressure in 2003. Many suspect that Iran is hard at work developing a nuclear weapon. This is the current state of play.

So where do we go from here? Everybody is better off with no, or at least no more, nuclear weapons. It is a paradox of international relations that the less a country can afford a nuclear weapon, the more it wants one. So what to do? The UN, for all its shortcomings, is the appropriate, possibly the indispensable institution. The problem now is how to keep proliferation from becoming a global nuclear arms race. A Nobel Peace Prize awaits the person who has the answer. — The Christian Science Monitor