Give Up the Nukes

June 10, 1994|By JONATHAN POWER

London -- Nuclear weapons were never a truly credible deterrent. Western public opinion would never have authorized its politicians to fire those weapons; they would have destroyed user as well as used-against.

This is why Stalin knew that the U.S. would not use the nuclear monopoly it then had to stop his seizure of Eastern Europe. Likewise, Beijing and Hanoi went to war with American armies in Korea and Vietnam without fear of being halted by American nuclear weapons.

It is on these sensibilities that Kim Il Sung is relying in running his nuclear bluff. He seems, too, to have calculated the sanctions stakes as artfully as the nuclear ones.

Even if China does not use its veto to kill a tough U.N. sanctions resolution, how are sanctions to work against an insulated low-level economy, and how long will they take to have the desired effect? Sanctions might, indeed, be counter-productive, pushing the North to launch its long-promised invasion of the South or simply provoking an economic collapse that would surely overwhelm the South.

The other option before President Clinton is a pre-emptive strike on the North's nuclear installations, a course of action I used to favor. But we know from experience with Iraq that these facilities can be bunkered deep, out of reach.

Yet some way has to be found to stop North Korea's bomb. It threatens the delicate balance of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty due for renewal next year. If North Korea gets away with defiance, others will surely follow. It provokes both South Korea and Japan to build their own nuclear weapons. Certainly the latter is well positioned to develop an arsenal in double-quick time. If it did, within 10 years every major Asian nation would follow suit.

The trouble is, no one believes the U.S. Secretary of Defense, William Perry, when he makes military threats. Not Kim Il Sung, and probably not Bill Clinton. The former doesn't need an alternative policy. The latter desperately does, and quickly.

There is the Danegeld option -- buy Mr. Kim off. Give him everything he craves -- diplomatic recognition, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea, the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear-armed warships from within striking distance, and abundant economic aid.

Would it work? And if it did, wouldn't every would-be nuclear power realize that nuclear blackmail was the quick way to succeed?

Still, given the circumstances and the dangers involved, it is worth a try. If it produces no joy within three months of opening negotiations, then put it on one side.

This leaves the Reykjavik option -- when Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, at their summit in Iceland in 1986, alarmed their expert staffs with serious talk about eliminating all nuclear missiles.

This is, I think, the only psychological way to break the present pathological impasse. Nuclear madness affects not only North Korea, but India, Pakistan, Israel and probably Iran too. We must halt it.

At least big-power self-denial would stop Japan and probably India, Pakistan and Israel too. It would end the danger of Ukraine holding onto its nuclear weapons, and would at last bring a halt to the traffic in nuclear materials and thus the likelihood of Iran developing its bomb.

Then, I think, the bribes and inducements with North Korea would have a chance of working. Otherwise, watch the nuclear genie float out of a dozen bottles, with the world's first nuclear war, somewhere in Asia, not far behind.

B6 Jonathan Power writes a column on the Third World.

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