Is a Persian Gulf war inevitable?

The House Armed Service Committee's three weeks of hearings on the situation in the Persian Gulf leads me to the following conclusions.

1. The sanctions and embargo have reduced Iraq's abilities, and this reduction will increase as time goes on but probably will not cause Saddam Hussein to capitulate.

2. An offensive war by the allies would probably defeat Hussein, but probably at the cost of heavy casualties and with little realistic prospect for a short war.

3. It would be in our national interest and better for the success of our efforts, if any war that is started in the Persian Gulf be a U.N. war against Iraq rather than a U.S. war approved by the U.N., with such allies as may stay the course. This change would help command and communications and also tend to keep the United States from bearing an undue portion of the causalities and expenditures.

4. A possible diplomatic solution to evade an offensive war could involve: (a) withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait; (b) an agreement to protect the boundaries of Israel and a Palestinian homeland; and (c) an agreement to allow inspections of chemical, biological and nuclear war facilities to ensure compliance with international laws on these matters.

Every effort should be made to achieve diplomatic agreement, because there is no indication that either the sanctions or even combat will deter Saddam Hussein.

Congress should promptly fulfill its responsibilities under the Constitution. It should withhold support for an aggressive war until it has received assurance from the executive branch that all reasonable diplomatic efforts have been made and that they have been rejected by Iraq. I do not think that war is inevitable. What is important is what is right -- not who is right.

CHARLES E. BENNETT U.S. Representative (D-Fla.) Washington

Many assume that if Iraq has not withdrawn from Kuwait by Jan. 15 war is inevitable. Even if, as is rather probable, Iraq by that date has departed from part of Kuwait, the administration has indicated that recourse to force will be imminent. However, in either case, a course of action other than war is likely to be more effective.

Saddam Hussein has played skillfully on the likelihood that support for military action will weaken if he makes concessions. The freeing of the hostages served this purpose. He is likely to make another concession before or on Jan. 15. The administration has shown insufficient flexibility in dealing with these maneuvers. What it should do, instead of threatening war, is take concrete steps that increase the pressures Iraq.

First, it should ask the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution directing that all Iraqi funds frozen in the free world be transferred to a single account and that an international tribunal be constituted before which all countries and nationals of such countries that have suffered injuries or damages as a result of Iraq's illegal acts can present their claims.

Second, the United States should sponsor a resolution by the U.N. creating an international tribunal before which Saddam Hussein and others in his government who are responsible for war crimes and other violations of the law of nations will have to stand trial. This may stimulate action by those who may be able to depose Saddam Hussein.

Third, the administration should seek to have the Security Council pass a resolution requiring Iraq to destroy all chemical weapons and other means of mass destruction and to reduce its military capabilities.

The advantages of such steps are obvious. They will afford the United States and its allies more time to prepare for military action. They will keep our allies involved in the steps to be taken against Iraq and strengthen international peace machinery. And they will counter any steps by Saddam Hussein and increase the pressure on him. Most important, they will permit delaying any military action with its cost in human life and suffering, without the United States' losing the initiative and the support of its allies.

It may be argued that Saddam Hussein is unlikely to give in to these additional pressures, but this is difficult to judge. We should at least give measures of his kind a chance. They, together with the continuing blockade, may well force Iraq to come to acceptable terms. If they do, we will have achieved our ends and strengthened world order without war. And if they do not, we cannot be reproached for not having given peaceful means a reasonable chance. HANS SMIT Fuld Professor of Law And Director, Parker School of Comparative And Foreign Law, Columbia University New York