The United Nations is being forced to the brutal truth that the only way to deal with Saddam Hussein's Iraq is to turn it into a de facto trusteeship. This runs against the grain of the world organization, which has always been sensitive to infringements of sovereignty. But faced with a rogue regime that is now a self-admitted liar about its weapons programs, a regime that does not hesitate to expose its population to war and famine, the U.N. should at last fulfill its responsibilities for keeping the peace.
Two major decisions are at hand. One is the needed response to Iraq's deceit about its weapons of mass destruction. Having at last admitted it had, in fact, produced weapons-usable plutonium, was experimenting with germ warfare and had massed four times the number of chemical munitions previously acknowledged, Iraq should be subjected to unlimited, unrestricted international inspection.
The other precedent-setting action should be total U.N. control of the proceeds from a proposed $1.6 billion sale of Iraqi oil, two-thirds of which would be used for disaster-averting food and medicine purchases and the other third for war reparations and related costs.
Are these measures an encroachment on Iraq's sovereignty? Of course they are, and well-deserved. If Iraq is to be made an example of what will not be permitted in President Bush's "new world order," the U.N. must become the sort of peacekeeping organization its founders envisaged. For 45 years, American-Soviet rivalry prevented the five permanent members of the Security Council from reliably effective action. Now, so long as China can be placated, opportunity beckons.
There will be nationalists everywhere, not least in the U.S., who will resist such precedents. But the whole concept of enlisting law-abiding nations against the forces of aggression argues that mass-destruction weaponry has become too dangerous to be left in the hands of a Saddam Hussein.
Can anyone be sure that if the Iraqi dictator had built a nuclear bomb, he would not have attacked Israel? His reckless adventure in Kuwait and his foolhardy stand against overwhelming U.S. force suggest otherwise. Saddam Hussein was not the first disturber of the peace; he will not be the last. The world must be on guard.
The criterion for U.N. action must be a nation's behavior. When a government oversteps to the point of making war and terrorizing its neighbors, the world organization needs the tools to checkmate such aggression. Yet there is a fine line here. The U.N. itself must not overstep. It should not become an unacceptably intrusive world government, inherently vulnerable to manipulation. Decisions have to be made wisely, according to circumstances that often cannot be anticipated.
This obvious ambiguity underscores the importance of the U.N. precedents now being set with Iraq. They could be a model, a prototype, for more effective peacekeeping in the future.