THE UNITED Nations vote on Iraq was an impressive diplomatic achievement. Many governments and citizens had urged President Bush to seek Security Council sanction for any later decision to use force. Some wanted to strengthen the processes of international cooperation. Others thought the U.N. would leash a president headed down an unwise path to war. But whatever their purpose, Mr. Bush accepted their urging. The vote authorizing members to use force to back up earlier council condemnations of Iraqi aggression fairly establishes him as a champion of the new "world order." Responsibility is being assumed and shared. This is the key.

It is suggested that to win council approval the United States had to pay an excessive price in the courting of China, Syria and others. This aspect bears continued watching; it is not clear what was given. But our impression is that the bilateral bargaining fell well within accepted norms and that the objective gained was special. Another contention is that Washington in effect paid for the privilege of sending into battle what, if sent, will be mostly its own soldiers to safeguard the interests of those it paid. Again, a legitimate question can be asked whether all would-be beneficiaries of world order are carrying their weight. Mr. Bush owes an intensified effort to bring others with him.

Iraq and Cuba charge that the vote is an ultimatum and virtual declaration of an early war. But the international vote only authorizes later national decisions, and President Bush maintains he has not decided to go to war; certainly Congress has not declared war. Not everyone will believe Mr. Bush or will be confident that he or Congress can contain events, but the fact is that the Democratic Congress is in a position to check his policy if it so desires.

Congress, though it generally approves of going the U.N. way, is reluctant to go along in this instance. We think it should. Sanctions are punishing to Iraq and cheap for the allies to apply; they deserve a fair time to test their diplomatic impact. But the U.N. vote sends the additional sharp and useful message that, if the sanctions do not bring relief and if other conditions required by the president or Congress are met, then a military option can be invoked. Congress could make this message even sharper and more useful by taking a stand in support of the position affirmed at the U.N.