GUATEMALA, WHICH COVETS tiny Belize, the British colony tucked into its Caribbean flank, huffed and puffed and blew up a war scare the other day by way of warning Britain not to grant Belize independence unilaterally. But no war came. The British reinforced their Belize garrison and made plain to Guatemala, not for the first time, that they won't leave until Guatemala yields it s claim to possess this flyspeck of empire. Guatemala suggests it might yield its claim in return for that part of Belize extending to the Mondey River - the part opens onto a good chunk pay this price. Beizeans (mostly black, English speaking, civilian ruled) want no match with Guatemalans (of Spanish and Indian origin, Spanish speaking, military ruled).

Addressing this tempest in a Central American teapot almost a decade ago, we urged "good will and good snese" upon the parties. A few years later we commended "mutual respect." This time we'll skip the pieties. The problem there plainly runs on its own rails. Fortunately, Belize has in Britain a responsible patron, and for Guatemala the matter is not urgent - it has never controlled or occupied Belize. There are no diplaced Beizenas; there is, happily, no BLO. The Guatemalan military has more sense than to attempt an invasion. Belize is self-sufficient economically so it costs Britain little to remain in its patron's role. Expect another cisis in, say, three years.

We end up contemplating with a certain jaundice, Belize's claim to nationhood. The place has 130,000 souls. Must every vestigial remnant of empire receive independence? The spirit of the age, rampant at the United Nations, says yes. Reason says no. Elmer Plischke of the University of Maryland has written persuasively of the pitfalls for international order for American diplomacy and for the microstates themselves of bestowing sovereignty automatically on every piece of real estate that comes down the international pike. The real question in Belize is not what to do about a war scare but what to do about a political accident.