It was probably only a matter of time before UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's hard-won 'memorandum of understanding' with Iraq ended up shredded on the United Nations carpet. Equally, it would not be too surprising if trouble flared up again in Kosovo in the foreseeable future.
The UN has a troubled history in dealing with tyrants. Tyrants, on the other hand, have found manipulation of the Security Council child's play. President Saddam Hussein knows exactly how long to keep the leash on which he dangles Unscom, the commission monitoring suspected chemical weapons sites. Mr Annan's February agreement kept the inspections going, but rendered the teams virtually toothless, hamstrung by restrictions stopping unannounced site visits.
Now that the Security Council has decided to review Iraq's compliance, without agreeing to lift sanctions, Hussein has simply jerked the rope again, to sit back while the UN dances on the end.
The same situation prevailed in Yugoslavia, where Slobodan Milosovec spent the best part of a year playing cat and mouse with the UN and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Both organisations have been found wanting when it comes to decisive action, but at least the latter could threaten military action to protect Albanian lives in Kosovo where Milosovec's forces were clearly the oppressors.
Saddam has only to present his country as the victim of UN sanctions to win support within the member nations of the Security Council as well as many Arab states. At present the 15-strong council is united in condemning Baghdad's 'flagrant breach' of UN resolutions. But from Saddam's standpoint, the ploy has succeeded.
Iraq has again defiantly tipped the balance of power, and is dictating its own terms and conditions. It has been building up to this since August, when it stopped co-operating on the grounds that the US was dictating policy. The UN response then was so tame that it led to the resignation of the top weapons inspector Scott Ritter.
If events follow the predictable course, Mr Annan will once more act as a last-minute mediator, and the result may be a further watering down of an already largely impotent exercise. The whole exercise has become a farce. Iraq must be sharply told that humanitarian aid is all his country can expect from the international community until such time as every weapons site has been cleared, and the full extent of Iraq's capability in chemical and biological warfare has been established, and destroyed.