This week Hans Blix - the UN's chief weapons investigator - provided the Security Council with an interim report on the state of Iraq's compliance with all the resolutions that require it to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction. His definitive judgement is due January 27 th . As that date approaches, America's military build-up around Iraq continues at a furious pace, with Britain also mobilizing. Must war be inevitable should Mr Blix announce that Iraq has failed to meet its obligations?
Far from it. In the vital fight to slow down the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, imagine it were possible to subject a suspected violator to the most intrusive and continuous system of international inspections far beyond what any international treaty postulates. The world would no doubt be a safer place, and the power that had helped to impose such inspections would be praised for its far-sighted statesmanship.
Such a system of inspections exist. The country now suffering them is Iraq, the power that helped impose them is the United States. If matters were to rest there, there would be every reason to heap praise on the statesmanship of President George W. Bush. Without his determination, backed by a highly credible show of military force and skilful diplomacy, Iraq's military programmes would not now be exposed to a scrutiny more intense than that applied to any other would-be proliferator in the world today.
The credible threat of war has been essential to achieving this extraordinary feat. But precisely because it is so extraordinary it is difficult to see how implementing those threats by launching a war can make any sense at all.