Nuclear Problem Powers

November 12, 1993

Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Defense Secretary Les Aspin have learned first hand how excruciatingly difficult it is to induce Ukraine and North Korea to forgo nuclear weaponry.

On a visit to Kiev, Mr. Christopher was rebuffed when he tried to get Ukraine to live up to its previous commitments to ratify the START I and II pacts and the Non-Proliferation Treaty and rid itself of its vast nuclear arsenal. Touring Japan and South Korea, Mr. Aspin could do no more than preach patience as Pyongyang continued its cat-and-mouse game with international arms controllers.

Ukraine and North Korea have emerged as the two chief problem powers of the post-Cold War nuclear scene. They have been a constant preoccupation of the Clinton administration. Dealings with both countries have become only more difficult, more frustrating, with each passing month.

Ukraine is in such economic and political disarray that its top leaders seem unable to fulfill their international pledges, even presuming they want to. The time may have arrived when the United States and Russia, working together, might consider applying more pressure. The tools are at hand. Russia controls Ukraine's oil and gas supplies. The Clinton administration could cut off further economic aid if Ukraine remains obstructive.

In dealing with the paranoid regime in North Korea, care must be taken not to provoke an attack on South Korea. Pyongyang cannot be allowed to deny inspection of its suspected nuclear weapons facilities indefinitely if the International Atomic Energy Agency is to have any credibility for stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, there is no consensus for tough action on the part of the powers most directly involved.

So the preferred role for the United States may be to dole out concessions to North Korea in exchange for step-by-step compliance to international inspection. The last thing needed is North Korean withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty just as that most important document of the nuclear age comes up for renewal in 1995.

Russia and the United States are effectively stymied by North Korea's challenge to the NPT and Ukraine's refusal to sign Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties that therefore remain in limbo. The present impasse complicates their efforts to define strategic arms doctrines that reflect a world beset with regional and ethnic struggle. Other nations, some which bode no good, are watching. The impasse cannot be allowed to go on indefinitely.

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