"It's pointless for them to try to develop nuclear weapons, because if they ever use them it would be the end of their country as they know it. We would quickly and overwhelmingly retaliate." These tough words, flung at North Korea by President Clinton, have worldwide application. They could serve as a warning to any hostile nation seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction.
As President Clinton toured the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas yesterday, another crisis was brewing halfway around the world in Iraq, where the Saddam Hussein regime stymied United Nations inspectors attempting to seal off rocket test sites. Vice President Albert Gore immediately responded that the U.N. Council might consider a range of options, "one of which could include the use of force against those facilities." The Security Council is to meet today to face this provocation. In the words of Secretary of State Warren Christopher, the council "will have to react."
The United States and its allies have ample weaponry, including Tomahawk missiles of the type used to partially destroy an Iraqi intelligence center a fortnight ago, that could obliterate the disputed missile test sites outside Baghdad. If the Iraqis do not back down and the Security Council sanctions retaliation, this would constitute an encouraging sign that a pariah regime cannot, in Mr. Gore's words, "trifle with the world community."
What impact President Clinton's warning will have on North Korea may be indicated when U.S. and North Korean negotiators meet in Geneva Wednesday to discuss two explosive issues: first, the Pyongyang government's threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a move that has prompted a nervous Japan to balk at promising it would support indefinite extension of the NPT pact in 1995; second, North Korea's continued refusal to allow U.N. inspectors onto nuclear waste sites where test soil samples could help determine if it does, in fact, have enough plutonium to make an atomic bomb or two within the next two years, as American intelligence fears.
The resolute stand taken by the Clinton administration against Iraq and North Korea demonstrates that when U.S. security interests are directly threatened this country is prepared to act. If these two pariah nations were to be allowed to develop weaponry capable of hitting Japan or Israel, for example, tensions would be unbearable and the dangers to world peace more uncontrollable than even in the dread days of American-Soviet confrontation. So Baghdad and Pyongyang must be faced down - and, as Mr. Clinton's leadership role at the Tokyo summit demonstrated, only the United States can do it.