The justification of the United States, United Kingdom and France for their air strikes against Libya is that they have a responsibility to protect civilians. This is a principle whereby the international community intervenes to protect the people of a country that either fails to show the will to do it by itself or commits humanitarian crimes against them.
Immediately before the allied forces started air raids on March 19, there was a risk of a massacre by the forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi against the rebel forces. When the Gadhafi forces began attacking Benghazi, the stronghold of the rebel forces, it looked like the country would be turned into a "river of blood" as Gadhafi's son Saif al-Islam warned.
Citing the responsibility to protect civilians, the UN Security Council passed a resolution to enforce a no-fly zone over parts of Libya. The aim was ostensibly to avoid another nightmare like Rwanda, where the international community, failing to find proper causes and timing for intervention, had to look on at the slaughter of 1 million people.
But if Gadhafi had nuclear weapons, would the world community have done the same? North Korea seems to have asked itself the same question. Pyongyang said on March 22 the nuclear disarmament of Libya "turned out to be a mode of aggression whereby [the U.S.] coaxed the former with such sweet words as 'guarantee of security' and 'improvement of relations' to disarm and then swallowed it up by force."
Gadhafi announced in December 2003 he was abandoning weapons of mass destruction including nuclear arms and admitted International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. Libya surrendered to the sanctions applied by the world community in the year when the U.S. attacked Iraq on the pretext of Saddam Hussein's alleged WMD program.
Libya disassembled and destroyed about a dozen uranium enrichment facilities and transported 25 tons of materials including uranium to a base in Tennessee over nearly three years. That made it safe for the Western alliance to intervene.
But North Korea is different. Decades of dictatorship, oppression and starvation would seem to create a situation where the international community has every responsibility to protect civilians. But will it intervene? The difference is that the North has nuclear weapons. The New York Times recently speculated that if Gadhafi had continued his nuclear development, he would have had enough nuclear warheads by now to deter a western intervention.
The lessons Kim Jong-il seems to have learned from Libya are that the international community may apply the principle of protecting civilians if a country gives up its nuclear weapons, and that in that case he would have to fight a bloody war with conventional arms alone. In other words, it will become even harder to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear arms. The turmoil in the Middle East has made denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula more difficult.