Letter: Why N Korea left nuclear pact

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Sir: In his article 'N Korea pulls out of nuclear pact' (13 March) Terry McCarthy omits to mention Team Spirit, the exercise that United States and South Korean military forces are conducting in South Korea.

The North Korean government's statement announcing withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) cites this exercise as '. . . threatening our country's national sovereignty and security . . . a nuclear war exercise against our republic'. And indeed, it has been all US and South Korean Marines photographed storming ashore, great bombers from bases in Japan, US allies participating, etc, just like in the good old days of the Cold War. (No British taking part this time.)

For decades, the US held nuclear weapons in South Korea, and just as Israeli nuclear weapons have triggered fear and proliferation in the Middle East, so did these American nuclear weapons trigger North Korean nuclear fears, and - if there is one - North Korea's responsive nuclear weapon programme. (About this, Washington is in two minds.) When President Bush announced the worldwide withdrawal of US 'tactical' nuclear weapons, North Korea, a dubious signatory of the NPT since 1985, began opening up 'under the premise that the trustee states of the NPT would not deploy nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula or pose a nuclear threat against us, we signed a safeguards agreement with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and received its inspections'.

But although the South Koreans have declared their belief that no American nuclear weapons remain on their soil, the US still denies the North Koreans inspection rights over their non-presence at its bases in South Korea. Moreover, although last year the previously annual Team Spirit exercise was cancelled - a sensible 'confidence building measure' during his faltering election campaign - Bush reset it for 1993. President Clinton failed to cancel his predecessor's sabre-rattling.

The conduct of this exercise, with its inevitable nuclear aura, is quite out of keeping with the 'security guarantees' (against nuclear threats and bullying) that in 1968 the NPT's Nuclear Weapon Powers advanced to the treaty's non-nuclear signatories. If it was meant to persuade the North Koreans to accept deeper IAEA inspections, this was a miscalculation, about which the Foreign Office for one was well warned.

Whether the North Koreans are right to see the IAEA as an American tool is another matter. Certainly Americans employed there at top level voice no concern about nuclear proliferation the United States approves of - Israel's - or for Japan's plutonium shipments and stockpiling.

'Sanctions' against North Korea would be perfectly absurd: a travesty both of international legitimacy and of common sense.

Yours etc,


London, W2

15 March