NEARLY SIX weeks have passed since President Bush challenged the United Nations to act to enforce its resolutions on Iraq. Yet there has been no action. Instead, in its attempt to build support in the U.N. Security Council, the Bush administration has made a series of significant concessions. Though renewed U.N. inspections almost certainly would not ensure Iraqi disarmament -- and might provide Saddam Hussein with months or years of additional time to build up his arsenal -- the United States has agreed to try them again. It has also dropped its demand that a new U.N. resolution explicitly authorize force in the event of continued Iraqi noncompliance, and removed some of the toughest elements from its proposed inspection scheme. In effect, President Bush has risked the indefinite delay or evisceration of his campaign to eliminate the Iraqi threat in order to build a broad international coalition and preserve the authority of the United Nations. We believe the risk was worth taking. Yet the U.S. resolution is being resisted, still, by France and Russia, two permanent Security Council members that appear determined to block or fatally weaken any American-led initiative. It is time to call their bluff and ask the Security Council to vote.
The Franco-Russian obstructionism cannot be understood as a response to the Bush administration's hawkishness on Iraq, its doctrine of preemption or its drift toward unilateralism. Paris and Moscow have been championing the cause of Saddam Hussein in the Security Council since long before the election of George W. Bush. The two governments now portray themselves as advocates of Iraqi disarmament and U.N. inspections; but for much of the 1990s, their explicit aim was to weaken or abolish U.N. inspections and remove all U.N. sanctions on Iraq -- positions that helped their businessmen to win lucrative new contracts and their governments to harvest popular acclaim in the Arab world, at the expense of the United States.
Presidents Jacques Chirac of France and Vladimir Putin of Russia are still playing the same cynical game, only now they would strike a pose as the only restraint on the aggressiveness of the hegemonistic United States, and as champions of the rule of international law. Never mind that both countries have never hesitated to dispatch their forces for foreign interventions where their interests were threatened, with or without U.N. approval. In fact, even as Mr. Chirac was proclaiming the sanctity of the United Nations' authority over war-making, some 1,000 French troops were intervening unilaterally to protect French interests in Ivory Coast; Paris never dreamed of forging an international coalition or consulting the Security Council.
France and Russia aspire to use their places on the Security Council, granted a half-century ago, to wield influence they otherwise would not have at the opening of the 21st century. Yet now they risk destroying the very institution that serves them, along with any hope that the United Nations will play a meaningful role in a war on terrorism likely to dominate global affairs for years to come. They already have succeeded in slowing and tempering the Bush administration's campaign on Iraq; now they must decide whether they are ultimately to stand with the United States or Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration should put its resolution to a vote. If it fails, it should be clear that responsibility for the failure of multilateralism lies not with the hawks of Washington but with the naysayers of Paris and Moscow.