When Saddam Hussein takes United Nations weapons-inspection teams hostage, as he has done two days running, he is declaring his intention to make the "new world order" a nightmare of disorder -- a nightmare in which rogue dictators will be on the prowl for the capability to launch nuclear, biological and chemical warfare.
Such a threat cannot be permitted. Such a precedent would be intolerable. If arms control pacts and resolutions are to mean anything, the right of international inspection must be upheld as world attention shifts from superpower rivalry to the problem of runaway proliferation among regional powers.
Even if Saddam backs down this time, the Security Council has had sufficient provocation to authorize the use of armed force whenever necessary to make sure its inspectors can go anywhere in Iraq to ascertain and destroy Iraqi's potential for mass destruction. If armed aircraft is advisable to protect U.N. inspectors, it should be provided. If further bombing attacks are required to eliminate what is now known of a weapons program that exceeded the most chilling Western intelligence estimates, they should be considered by the Security Council.
The latest examples of Saddam's willingness to defy the world community demonstrate anew that so long as he remains in power he will be a source of unremitting trouble. President Bush had a chance last February to topple the Baghdad dictator in the closing phases of Operation Desert Storm. Instead, he made a humane decision to stop the slaughter of Iraqi troops in the mistaken hope that high-ranking military officers would replace the leader who had brought such terrible destruction on the Iraqi nation.
No such coup occurred. Rather, Iraqi forces allowed to escape annihilation were used to put down rebellions by Kurdish and Shiite populations much oppressed by the present regime. Despite economic catastrophe, Saddam Hussein has managed to consolidate his position and defy elements of a cease-fire agreement designed to eliminate his ability to attack or intimidate other nations.
Several times in recent months, the Iraqi leader has backed off from interference with U.N. weapons inspectors only to return to tactics of evasion and harassment at a later date. He may well try this ploy again. But this time his provocations are of greater magnitude, perhaps because the inspectors have come upon evidence that Iraq was not only making enriched uranium but was actually trying to make nuclear weapons that could have set off a world conflagration. Past, present and future dangers created by this activity would fully justify the use of force to eliminate or defang Saddam Hussein if the Security Council, in due course, sees no other way to deal with this menace.