Someone should give Saddam Hussein a medal for showing the world how vulnerable it is and for demonstrating -- once again -- the weakness of the elaborate international ''regimes'' we rely on to prevent nuclear proliferation and the transfer of dangerous technologies.
Mr. Hussein had already demonstrated how a determined, oil-rich dictator can build a powerful army and the industrial base needed to sustain it. Before the Persian Gulf war, he had acquired the technology, material, spare parts and human skills needed to build a modern weapons industry. Before the war, Iraq had developed a nearly operational capacity to produce nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles.
Since the war, he has shown the world he can rebuild Iraq's weapons industry in spite of the toughest international sanctions imposed on any country since World War II. To reconstruct his war machine, Mr. Hussein once again acquired the needed technology, spare parts and other material from Western industrial countries -- notably France and Germany -- and paid for them with income from oil shipped through Jordan and Iran -- all in violation of the international rules and the embargo on Iraqi oil sales.
The deeply disturbing story of Iraq's remilitarization and its evasion of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency is presented in the June 29 staff report and hearings of a subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
In the words of Subcommittee Chairman Tom Lantos, D-Calif.: ''Despite ongoing inspections by the IAEA and the U.N. Special Commission, Iraq has managed to reconstruct 80 percent of the military manufacturing capability it possessed before Desert Storm'' -- including its principal ballistic- missile research and development facilities, its machine-tool facilities, its upgraded Scud missiles, and a wide variety of resources needed in the production of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction.
The subcommittee's report, prepared by Kenneth R. Timmerman, who is also author of the book ''The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq,'' describes how Iraq evaded the West's inadequate efforts to control the export of sensitive technology and frustrated efforts by the IAEA to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
It describes the clandestine networks, the foreign front companies, the agents that are still in place supplying Mr. Hussein. It explains how the ''dual use'' rules that permitted Iraq to acquire essential high technology work today to provide what is needed for ballistic missiles and nuclear research. It describes how Iraq bought foreign companies, and how German, French, British and American companies hungry for business helped evade the rules. It names names.
Expert witnesses told the subcommittee how Iraq's nearly successful efforts to develop its own nuclear weapons escaped detection for so long and why IAEA inspectors not only failed to detect Iraq's nuclear-weapons program, but consistently rated Iraq's compliance ''exemplary.'' Iraq signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, served on the board of governors of the IAEA, cooperated fully in IAEA inspections carried out at ''declared'' loca tions. It reaped the benefits of compliance while systematically pursuing a policy of non-compliance.
The fact is that the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA have not prevented the spread of nuclear weapons. China, India, Pakistan, Israel and South Africa have managed to develop nuclear bombs in spite of IAEA. Iraq, North Korea, Algeria, Iran, Libya and Syria are working on them. Argentina, Brazil, South Korea and Taiwan were working on them as well.
Because it has a dual mission -- to promote the spread of nuclear energy as well as to prevent the development of nuclear weapons -- the IAEA has actually, if inadvertently, helped countries develop nuclear weapons by sometimes encouraging and approving their acquisition of nuclear reactors and plutonium on the basis of a promise alone.
IAEA procedures are not designed to discover deception. Policies are made by a governing board on which violators regularly sit. Inspectors visit only the nuclear sites declared by the governments, and no country that has promised not to develop its own nuclear weapons ''declares'' the sites at which it is doing just that. IAEA lives then by the rules. Violators do not.
Just now, the IAEA is ready to facilitate China's sale of a reactor to Iran -- on the basis of Iran's promise not to produce nuclear weapons, and despite available evidence of Iran's intentions to do so.
Among the subcommittee's witnesses was Gary Milhollin, director of the University of Wisconsin's Project on Nuclear Arms Control. He asserted that having the IAEA report to its governing board is equivalent to letting a committee of arsonists decide where to send the fire truck. He believes the IAEA should report directly to the U.N. Security Council.
Jay C. Davis of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory does not believe the IAEA can be trusted with the intelligence and the sophistication in nuclear-weapons technology needed to make it an effective lead agency in policing non-proliferation. He believes something different is required.
The report and the hearings make disturbing, required reading. They constitute a powerful case for tightening controls on proliferation and technology transfer, and, especially, for developing an anti-missile defense against the weapons that are already or soon will be in possession of the world's most violent regimes.
Jeane Kirkpatrick writes a syndicated column.