Even if the high hopes for democracy in South Korea are realized, another question remains: Will it be safe to hold the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul?

Some authorities on Asia believe there's a 50-50 chance the games will be canceled, and other experts share this pessimism. Olympics officials are more confident. International Olympic Committee President Juan Samaranch has predicted the Seoul Summer Olympics ''will be the best games ever.''

Personally, we think it's too early to call with any certainty, but a survey of intelligence and security sources makes clear that the greatest threat to the games' success will come from the aggressive communist regime of North Korea. The next most serious threat will be from individual terrorist groups, particularly a pro-North Korean gang based in Japan. Compared with these two sources of danger, the threat from South Korean dissidents is negligible.

North Korea's dictator, Kim Il Sung, is old and sick, and time has probably run out on his dream of consolidating the peninsula to pass on to his son. But the scheduling of the 1988 games in Seoul infuriated him. It puts an international stamp of approval on the Republic of Korea. And millions of visitors -- including those from other communist countries -- would see the miraculous economic progress South Korea has made while North Korea is heading back toward the Middle Ages.

Mindless violence would be nothing new for the implacable old man in Pyongyang. In 1983 North Korean commandos planted a bomb at the ''Martyrs' Mausoleum'' in Rangoon, Burma, hoping to kill visiting South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan. In a revealing demonstration of North Korean technological ineptitude, the radio-detonated bomb went off prematurely. Still, 17 members of the South Korean delegation and four Burmese were killed in the blast.

A secret U.S. Navy intelligence report warns that the merchant ship North Korea used for the Burmese operation, the Tong Gon Ae Guk Ho, is still in service to support terrorist activities in the Far East.

Though their high-tech prowess may be second-rate, the North Koreans are both able and willing to provide the means of terrorist violence on a more primitive scale. As we have reported, Pyongyang has sold Iran more than $1 billion worth of weapons. Furthermore, according to our intelligence sources, the North Koreans have trained anti-American Shiite terrorists -- including kamikaze pilots who can use slow, low-flying planes loaded with explosives on suicide missions against American ships in the Persian Gulf.

There are plenty of terrorist organizations that might try to get attention by attacking the Olympics, no matter where the games are held. But the South Koreans are worried the most about Chosen Soren, a pro-communist group whose members live mostly in Japan. This threat is considered so serious that South Korean and Japanese security forces have been sharing intelligence on it. One source described the level of cooperation as unusual for the two governments, whose relations are often prickly.

As for the South Korean dissidents, their role in the Olympics situation was explained by Noel Koch, a U.S. expert on terrorism.

''The demonstrations should not be taken as a barometer of the security situation,'' Koch told us. ''The dissidents themselves have an interest in seeing the games come off well. They {the games} are a source of pride for everyone in the Republic of Korea.''

Koch maintains the 1988 games in Seoul ''will be perfectly safe'' from both terrorists and internal demonstrators.

The Koreans ''hosted the last conference of the International Monetary Fund -- no small group," Koch pointed out. "They hosted the Pan-Asian Games last year and nobody got a scratch on them. It's part of their hospitality to keep their guests secure and well cared for.''

1987, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.