The world has united against Iraq. Last week, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to give Baghdad a last chance to disarm. In response, the Iraqi government has opted for “the path of peace” and agreed to accept the resolution “without conditions.” That is good news – no one wants war. But Baghdad’s acceptance does not mean the world can relax. The Iraqi government has repeatedly lied and obstructed the efforts of arms inspectors. The only way to ensure that the threat posed by Iraq’s determination to procure weapons of mass destruction is unceasing vigilance and the commitment to take action when necessary.

After being forced from Kuwait and losing the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Iraq agreed to a series of resolutions as part of the peace agreement. Baghdad said it would provide a full accounting of its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction and provide unconditional and unrestricted access to sites suspected of being involved in the development of those weapons. Iraq promised to end the repression of its civilian population, end links to terrorism, account for third country nationals detained during the war and participate in an oil for food program that restricted exports to ensure that revenues were not used to fund a revamped military. Baghdad has violated every one of those pledges.

Iraq has attempted to hide its WMD arsenal and continued to develop similar weapons. It kicked the U.N. inspectors out in 1998, and has various programs to subvert the trade embargo. It is unclear if Baghdad currently poses a threat to its neighbors, but there should be no doubt about Iraq’s intention to be the regional hegemony.

Just as important, Iraq’s willingness to ignore the terms of the peace agreements has undermined the authority of the U.N. The continued flouting of the will of the international community forced U.S. President George W. Bush to ask if the world body would “serve the purpose of its founding or be irrelevant?”

Last week, the Security Council answered with a resounding 15-0 vote to give Iraq “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations.” Although the Iraqi Parliament rejected the demand, the Baghdad government has told the U.N. secretary general that it accepts the resolution. The first team of U.N. inspectors is expected to return to Iraq next week for the first time in four years to begin preparations for inspections that could begin in two weeks.

The U.N. resolution was the product of a compromise between the U.S. and the other permanent members of the Security Council. Critically, it requires the Security Council to discuss any “material breach” of the agreement. That condition mollified critics who feared giving the U.S. and Britain a blank check to go after Iraq.

While Mr. Bush pledged that the U.S. would show “zero tolerance” for any Iraqi failure to cooperate, it is up to the U.N. to decide what constitutes a material breach. Iraq has proven masterful at skating up to the abyss. For example, the letter that accepts “without conditions” the U.N. inspectors, also declares that Iraq “will take into consideration” the conduct of inspectors and considers that “safeguarding our people’s dignity, security, independence” is a “sacred duty.” In other words, the stage is set for more testing of the U.N.’s will.

The resolution requires Iraq to declare by Dec. 8 all its chemical, biological and nuclear programs. Inspectors are scheduled to start work Nov. 25, and they have 60 days to report to the Security Council If Iraq fails to cooperate, the inspectors must immediately notify the council, which will then discuss a response.

The U.S. wants an aggressive inspection regime. That is designed to push Baghdad to the brink, and force a confrontation. Mr. Bush has made it clear that he wants a regime change in Baghdad. While he is undoubtedly sincere when he claims that he does not want war, he is unlikely to be satisfied with new behavior, or even full compliance. Mr. Bush does not trust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and wants him gone. Ideally, that is done without a shot fired. But Mr. Hussein’s regime is based on terror and it is unlikely to be undermined from within without the threat of an imminent war.

Iraq is a menace and a threat to regional peace. The government there has proven capable of committing barbarous deeds, even against its own people. Yet the international community risks meeting Baghdad halfway if it moves against Iraq without the support of international law. Now the world has both military force and moral authority to use against the regime in Baghdad.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.