AS the Clinton administration lengthens the list of US military base closures, in the bland belief that such budget-cutting is safe now that the Cold War has ended, the unpredictable Kim regime in North Korea has provided a forceful reminder that, in the place where it first became hot, the Cold War is emphatically not yet over. Bereft of their former alliance with the Soviet Union, and unsure of just how much diplomatic support China will provide, the Father, North Korean President and Great Leader Kim Il-sung, and the Son, commander-in-chief of the North Korean armed forces,Dearly Beloved Leader Kim Jong-il have none the less decided to increase tension and to threaten war on the Korean peninsula. The North Korean leadership has broken one major link between it and the world of peace-seeking nations. Late last week, they gave notice of North Korea's withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NNPT), the treaty signed by 153 nations and which seeks to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. This was 12 days before a March 25 deadline imposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), seeking an inspection of two questionable installations at Yongbyon, the hub of North Korea's nuclear activities near Pyongyang. It was the first time the IAEA had demanded inspections at suspected nuclear facilities not on the list provided by the host country. The North Koreans have said that the two installations were military buildings which were none of IAEA's business. The IAEA, until now notoriously unwilling to demand and order inspections of suspicious sites, maintains that the two installations could be for processing nuclear materials, such as plutonium. United States satellite reconnaissance has fostered the same conclusion. Now, rather than allow such an inspection, North Korea has preferred to become the first nation to withdraw from the NNPT, thereby virtually confirming many IAEA, American and South Korean suspicions that it is either much closer to possessing an atomic bomb than previously expected, or actually has already acquired one. In testimony before the US Congress, recently-retired secretary of state, Mr Lawrence Eagleburger, maintained his view last week that North Korea already possessed a nuclear weapon. Newly-installed CIA Director Mr James Woolsey recently testified that there was a real possibility that North Korea had already produced enough fuel to make a nuclear bomb. SECONDLY, the withdrawal by North Korea was accompanied by sabre-rattling and moves to make the already secluded nation even more isolated. Pyongyang threatened to ''take whatever actions are necessary to defend our sovereignty''. From Beijing, the NorthKorean ambassador there warned of unspecified ''strong defensive counter measures'' which would be taken if the withdrawal lead to the imposition of sanctions. From Geneva, the North Korean ambassador to the UN warned that ''war could break out at any moment''. Within North Korea, blackouts have been imposed, and the country's military machine has been placed on a higher state of alert. It seems all the more ominous as the West has a tendency to forget about North Korea and its wilful and aggressive ways. In the immediate wake of the withdrawal, European governments have, at least, focused on the Asian issue with an intensity rarely seen these days. Within hours of the withdrawal being announced, the German, French, Swedish and British governments all issued statements condemning the move. No doubt they were spurred on by the thought of nuclear weapons in the hands of a government which assassinated a segment of the South Korean Cabinet visiting Rangoon in 1983, and which blew a South Korean jet out of the sky with a terrorist bomb in 1987. Until now, North Korean bellicosity has stopped short of two sure signs of conflict. Earlier rumours that foreign diplomats stationed in Pyongyang were being expelled have not been confirmed. The South Korean military has not noted any abnormal armed forces movements north of the always-tense Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) which separates the two Koreas. The current alert status along the DMZ is already heightened due to the annual US-South Korean military exercise, Team Spirit. For several years, North Korean military observers have been invited to attend Team Spirit, but Pyongyang has never accepted the offer. Last year, the exercise was cancelled for the first time, as a goodwill gesture to the North, which was not reciprocated. This year, Pyongyang has been even harder at work to treat the exercise as a gesture of ill-will, and is using it to further inculcate a siege mentality and paranoia in the people of North Korea. THERE could be method in the North Korean madness. According to a Kyodo news agency report, the North Korean ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Mr Li Chol, said that North Korea may be willing to consider discussing rejoining the NNPT if Team Spirit is permanently suspended, if the US removes it nuclear threat to the North, if the IAEA ceases to obey the US, and if the IAEA secretariat operates ''fairly''. This position, if actually held by the two Kims, would support those who argue that withdrawal from the NNPT is primarily aimed at giving North Korea some leverage. The question is, then, what will others concede in order to get North Korea back in the NNPT fold? But the demands are consistent with the perennial North Korean pursuit of weakening and eliminating the US role in Korea. It should be noted that this drive has had some success. So far, the US says it has withdrawn all nuclear weapons from South Korea, and has offered North Korean reciprocal inspection rights to all its bases in the South. The US also halted, through pressure, South Korea's initial effort to go nuclear itself back in the late 1970s. But the North Korean pursuit of nuclear weapons still continues. Now, in three months' time, the North Koreans will be able to legally pursue the production of nuclear weapons unencumbered by its obligations under the NNPT. That is when North Korea's withdrawal becomes effective under the terms of the treaty. So the immediate challenge facing the emergency meeting of the board of directors of the Geneva-based IAEA as they meet today will be that the March 25 deadline for those special inspections in North Korea is still valid. There is, of course, no chance that North Korea will permit the special inspections. Three views on how to meet the situation prevail in the IAEA. One faction argues for immediate referral of the issue to the UN Security Council for action. Another group seeks to persuade North Korea to change its mind, while others want to wait until March 25 arrives. But nobody knows what the two North Korean Kims are thinking - and what they decide could gravely influence how the Cold War develops on its enduringly frigid Korean battlefront.