Iraq has correctly sensed that the Security Council is nowhere near as united an organisation as it was during the Gulf war, and its challenges to the Council's authority have been met only with rhetorical rumblings from the US State Department and increasingly unconvincing warnings from such figures as Britain's UN ambassador, Sir David Hannay.
At a time when Serbia is flouting the Council's will on a daily basis, President Saddam Hussein has taken his cue from Belgrade by deciding to ignore the compulsory instructions of the international community. He has prevented UN inspectors from gaining access to documents, leading to a 10-day siege in a Baghdad parking lot; he has rejected the UN's terms for restarting oil exports to pay for war compensation and weapons destruction; he has also refused to provide the 500 UN guards protecting the Kurds with permission to stay, and their agreement to stay in the country has expired.
There is now a growing danger that Baghdad will try to prevent the UN from destroying the 1,000 tons of chemical and nerve gas agents which have been assembled at the Muthanna chemical weapons factory for destruction, beginning in September. Although Iraq has built an incinerator and a hydrolysis unit to carry out the destruction, its recent pattern of ending co-operation with the UN points to a serious clash over the chemical weapons.
Even as Rolf Ekeus, the head of the UN team which has been ridding Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, went to Baghdad to try to force the government's hand yesterday, it was clear to his senior colleagues in New York that he was heading for failure, given Iraq's new self-confidence.
The electoral difficulties of President George Bush, and America's increasing preoccupation with its internal problems, to the exclusion of the rest of the world, makes it all the more unlikely that there will be any military activity to bring Iraq back into line, in the view of UN diplomats.
Iraq's aggressive mood means that the ambitious agenda set by the Security Council in the ceasefire Resolution 687 may never be accomplished. In their euphoria at Iraq's total submission at the end of the Gulf war, the Western diplomats who drafted the peace terms, called it the 'Mother of All Resolutions'.
The Council's increasing inability to implement many of the peace terms is now being identified as a fatal weakness in the much-ballyhooed revival of the UN's role in maintaining international peace and security.
'Failure now by the Council, will be like the League of Nations' failure to halt Italy's invasion of Ethiopia. It will be a fatal blow to the organisation, just as it is gaining its feet,' a seasoned UN adviser commented.
Another sign of weakness at the international organisation is in Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge is refusing to co-operate and threatening the entire peace plan with collapse. Elsewhere, there has been an embarrassingly muted response by world leaders to the ambitious plans of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Secretary- General, to reform the organisation by asking countries to establish a permanent international fighting force under Security Council control. This, he said, 'is essential to the credibility of the United Nations as a guarantor of international security'.
There is no interest in the United States or Britain in putting fighting forces under UN command, as their limp response to the appeals for a fighting force in Bosnia has shown.
In the view of many diplomats, the inevitable conclusion in Baghdad, Belgrade and elsewhere is that the Council's short-lived ability to enforce the peace in the Gulf is dissipating.