Bluffing in international affairs is not a good wheeze. For your bluff might be called, leaving you in deep soup. Moreover, you won1t be believed next time you try to influence another1s behaviour by taking a strong stand.
For those and other national interest - and re-election - reasons, Bush is not bluffing when he says that with or without another UN Security Council resolution he and whoever will join him will soon take out Saddam1s WMD - and Saddam with them if he is still around -unless he does the job himself.
How long has Saddam got? A couple of months at most. Many, including the UN weapons inspectors, would like longer; some even talk of nine months. But that would fall in with Saddam1s calculation that the longer the moment of truth can be put off the more likely is the matter to go off the boil.
Moreover, many thousands of Western troops can1t be left that long hanging around in tents in the desert. Neither can Bush afford to delay starting action until only nine months before the next US presidential election campaign begins.
So a decision to proceed is likely no later than March. In the meantime, the inspectors and other Arab states will be urging Saddam to give up either his WMD or himself, the USA and others will continue to build up their political and military preparations, and soundings will be going on in the Security Council.
For basically political reasons, the likelihood is great of the Security Council1s adopting a second resolution specifically authorizing an attack on Iraq. That prospect would naturally increase with every smoking gun the inspectors find. But failure - which is likely - to find a smoking gun does not mean Saddam is off the hook. For he has two sets of responsibilities, not just one.
The first is the negative duty not to lie about his WMD and not to conceal them. The second is the positive duty not only to reveal how and when he destroyed the WMD he was known to have when he kicked out the inspectors in 1998, but also to account for how since then he has used the dual-use materials (such as aluminium tubing which can be used for uranium enrichment) and the illegal materials (such as missile engines and fuel) he is known to have imported over recent years.
Some object that saddling Saddam with that first lot of responsibilities sets him the impossible task of proving a negative - that he does not have WMD. True, he cannot prove that; rather is it for the inspectors to disprove it if they can.
But the burden of proof is the other way round regarding Saddam1s second set of responsibilities: the dischargeable burden rests on Saddam to account for what he has done with these materials, not on the inspectors to prove that they were destroyed or used for legitimate purpose. If Saddam cannot give a satisfactory account, he is just as guilty of committing a material breach of Res.1441 as if a smoking gun is found.
Saddam, unlike Bush, is almost certainly bluffing. What about Kim Jong-il? Does he mean it when he says or anyway implies that North Korea has nuclear weapons and that he will regard as an act of war, to be met with all his country1s resources, not only a surgical strike on his nuclear weapons and facilities but even the imposition of sanctions against his regime let alone any attempt to change it?
Unfortunately, he is almost certainly not bluffing, except perhaps about his reaction to sanctions. For unlike Saddam, Kim really does hold high-value cards, and is ready to play them. Those cards almost certainly include nuclear weapons and missile means of delivery on South Korea and Japan, where US forces are stationed; and they certainly include the conventional means to destroy Seoul.
Moreover, even though Kim1s regime would not survive a war on the Korean peninsula, the resultant costs - not only financial - of reconstruction, coping with huge refugee flows, and reintegrating politically and economically North and South Korea would be off-puttingly vast. Not to speak of the certainty of Japan1s alarm at the prospect of becoming a North Korean target, or the likelihood of China1s being up in arms, perhaps literally, at the prospect of sharing a land border with an enlarged US ally hosting US forces.
No wonder the USA and others are playing down the forcible coercion of North Korea and playing up diplomacy. And no wonder that the urgent race is on to deal with Saddam before he can put himself into as successfully defiant a position as the equally unlovely Kim.
Des Moore is director, Institute for Private Enterprise and Councilor, Australian Strategic Policy Institute.