Saddam Hussein is doing it again -- building deadly arms insecret, lying about it, hiding the evidence, detaining U.N. inspectors, preparing for war, proving day by day that there can be no peace or relaxing of vigilance in the Persian Gulf as long as he rules Iraq.
''As the inspections continue, we don't want to face a new trick or a new stonewall every few days or weeks,'' a U.S. official said of Iraq's continuing deception. ''This is a long-term proposition, and the goal has got to be good-faith compliance.''
Of course, this official is right. An agreement without good faith is no agreement at all. It is an act of submission, imposed by the stronger on the weaker. It registers power relations and says nothing about intentions.
Saddam Hussein ''agreed'' to U.N. inspections under extreme duress. But good faith cannot be coerced. It requires a modicum of acquiescence. Mr. Hussein has submitted to superior power, but he has not surrendered. To the contrary, his policies of repression and deception make it absolutely clear that, for him, a cease-fire is a continuation of war by other means.
He and his regime will do what they must as long as they are forced to. There is nothing ambiguous about Iraq's attitude or its actions. It violated its commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and concealed the violations with repeated lies. The documents discovered by the U.N. team last week included designs for a trigger of the type required in nuclear weapons. ''It shows conclusively that their nuclear intentions were not peaceful, as they maintain,'' a U.N. official remarked.
In fact, Iraq's intention to produce nuclear weapons has been clear since at least 1981. To know that Iraq intended to develop the bomb and use it against Israel and any other adversary, it was only necessary to listen to Saddam Hussein's threats, look at his record of violence and consult evidence uncovered by Israel.
It is simply not possible to speak of good-faith compliance in this context. The experience with the current efforts at inspection teach us an important lesson: Signing a non-proliferation treaty and undergoing periodic International Atomic Energy Agency inspections provide little protection against a ruler with a will to deceive.
The evidence of Iraq's willful evasion and International Atomic Energy Agency's incapacity have important implications for nuclear plants in Algeria and Cuba -- also installed by the Soviet Union. The Iraqi experience has demolished many comfortable assumptions about what is required for the development of nuclear weapons and what is required for inspection.
The lesson that the value of agreements depends above all on the character and intentions of those who agree has important implications for the pending international peace conference on Arab-Israeli differences. The United States is using heavy-handed pressure to bring the participants to the table. It may be tempted to use still heavier pressure to secure agreement. Is it considering what an agreement so secured will be worth?
Israel is the premier target of Mr. Hussein's hostility, but Iraq is only one of the governments and groups that have sworn to destroy the Jewish state -- among them Iran, the Palestine Liberation Organization and its various dissident factions, Syria and the Palestinians in Jordan who rallied to the cause of Mr. Hussein.
There is no reason to doubt the seriousness of their intentions. There is no reason to suppose they will not continue this policy as opportunities become available. Israel exists in a condition of barely contained cold war. It cannot count on its neighbors to negotiate in good faith. This fact profoundly affects the value of the ''peace process.''
One day the problem may be different. As recent dramatic changes in Soviet policy following the radical shake-up in the Soviet government remind us, policy is an expression of governments and their leaders. Iraq's policies would change if its government changed. Iran's policies changed when the regime did; they could change again. Syria's policies could change. The PLO's policies could change, if its leaders changed.
These governments and groups -- forged in the era of Soviet totalitarianism and massive Soviet aid -- belong to another era: the era of empire, terrorism and the ''Zionism is racism'' resolution. That era is past.
The next era may feature more modern governments, which understand that pluralism is the only road to peace in this region, where Hashemites and Palestinians, Kurds and Druse, Alawites and Shiites, Sunnis and Jews live side by side, like it or not.
Until time and changing circumstances produce governments ready to negotiate in good faith, it is neither reasonable nor friendly to ask Israel -- the only democracy in the region -- to take risks for a peace agreement that is the result of outside pressures.
It is like asking the U.N. to accept -- without guarantees -- Saddam Hussein's promises of better behavior.
Jeane Kirkpatrick writes a syndicated column.