Iraq's continued defiance of United Nations resolutions requiring the permanent destruction of its facilities for the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction must not go unanswered.
Baghdad's latest maneuver -- its refusal to allow the installation of monitoring cameras at two test sites for ballistic missiles -- is a provocation that caused the Russian head of a U.N. inspection team to withdraw in disgust. It threw the issue back into the laps of the Security Council and the American government.
The question is whether the U.S. should unleash another fusillade of Tomahawk missiles, the weapons used in the June 27 attack on Iraq's intelligence headquarters, to take out the Iraqi test sites. The answer should be resoundingly in the affirmative unless Saddam Hussein pulls back quickly, as he has often done in the past.
While the United States has been given continuing authority to enforce U.N. resolutions, it needs to consult urgently with other Security Council members. Unlike the June 27 raid, which was a bilateral tit-for-tat in retaliation for the alleged Iraqi plot to kill President Bush during an April visit to Kuwait, this latest confrontation is a multilateral affair and should be treated as such.
While there is every reason to believe Saddam will test the limits of international patience at periodic intervals and go on rebuilding his military machine, that does not mean the dictator cannot be forced into compliance with U.N. resolutions. His response to the June attack ordered by President Clinton has been mild by Iraqi standards. Even as the threat of another
Tomahawk attack has risen, he has sent his diplomats to New York to negotiate an oil-for-reparations deal he shunned a year ago. It would allow Iraq to sell oil worth $1.6 billion under tight U.N. supervision, with the proceeds to go to purchase food and medicine for the Iraqi people and, more important, to pay for peace-keeping operations of the financially strapped world organization.
Whether the United Nations can pull off two diametrically opposite operations -- an armed attack against missile sites at the same time it opens up humanitarian oil sales -- would be just one of the many precedents created by Iraq's thwarted seizure of Kuwait. But it should be contemplated.
The world is watching. If Baghdad can get away with thumbing its nose at the Security Council crackdown on its nuclear, chemical, biological and missile weapons efforts, other would-be aggressor powers would be encouraged to do likewise.
North Korea, for example, is still refusing to allow international inspectors at two of its nuclear dump sites and is threatening to pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This, too, cannot be tolerated, even if it requires punitive sanctions. If the world is to be spared the nightmare of rogue nations on a rampage, Iraq and North Korea must be treated as object lessons whose throttling will not soon be forgotten.