IN OPENING the campaign to liberate Kuwait on Jan. 16, President Bush said the United States was determined to knock out Saddam Hussein's nuclear bomb potential and to destroy his chemical weapons facilities. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of American forces in the Gulf, has now made an encouraging first report on the damage inflicted on these targets. Whether the allies have accomplished all that they intended to do (or yet may do) is unclear. But the thrust of these attacks is evident: to use a war directed at countering aggression in Kuwait to destroy not just the military machine with which Saddam Hussein currently holds the victim state but also his capability to deploy weapons of mass destruction and terror in the future.
There was a time when this might not have been possible. Had President Hussein accepted the United Nations' demand for withdrawal from Kuwait, the allied coalition would have had no call to open any sort of campaign, and in fact the coalition had promised not to. This would have greatly disturbed those in the United States, Saudi Arabia, Israel and elsewhere who argued that any resolution of the crisis that left Saddam Hussein in power and his armory and arsenal intact would amount to a victory for him and would surely lead to an even more terrible day of reckoning down the road.
The Iraqi leader ended the argument and stilled those anxieties, however, by declining to be either intimidated or bargained out of Kuwait. That guaranteed that when an American/allied attack came, it would be directed against a broad range of targets including nuclear and chemical facilities. These fall precisely under what has been Mr. Bush's and the United Nations' steadily reiterated purpose of restoring stability to the Gulf.
They also are weapons that the coalition forces do not want to have to contend with in the battle for Kuwait or to see lobbed Israel's or any of the participating countries' way. So there is an immediate-need justification for the effort in terms of the campaign to liberate Kuwait. But there is also a longer-term aim being pursued by attacks on Iraqi nuclear and chemical facilities. The whole international community has an interest in seeing the menace represented by these facilities curbed.
Further steps will be required as the war winds down. Tighter controls must be imposed on the manufacture and supply of the industrial components of these horrible weapons and on the ever more widely available ballistic missiles that can carry them. Agreements must be fashioned among the parties to the Middle East's conflicts to limit the levels and varieties of their arms. Those conflicts themselves must be addressed on their political merits. These demanding projects will all fare better if Iraq, with or without Saddam Hussein, is no longer in a position to make nuclear or chemical threats.