IT was clear when Iraq invaded Kuwait - and, to many, even earlier - that the Gulf region would not have peace or security as long as Saddam Hussein ruled in Baghdad.Another year's experience of this adventurer's contempt for life and decency affirm the drastic judgment. The billions he squandered on military power are now seen to have included development of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons together with long-range delivery systems. The International Atomic Energy Agency says that "large numbers" of people are still engaged in Saddam's nuclear program, obviously held together for the day when they can return to weapons work. Saddam has, under protest, resci nded the annexation of Kuwait, but he and his regime still openly claim it as part of Iraq. Even in defeat, Saddam has been left certain assets which he uses with cunning. The most important is his status as legitimate head of a sovereign state. At the critical time when he might have been captured, he was left in place. For one thing, the victorious coalition had a United Nations Security Council mandate only to liberate Kuwait, not to overthrow the Iraqi government. Also, the Bush administration felt that a weakened Saddam would at least hold Iraq together and prevent dangerous disintegration . In any case, he has used his protected status to suppress Kurdish and Shiite rebellions and to consolidate his and his Baath Party's hold on the country. He has tried to block and deceive the UN inspection teams looking into his arsenal. In every way, Saddam has challenged the UN's restrictions, especially the trade embargo, protesting that they violate the UN Charter's injunction of noninterference in the internal affairs of a state. Saddam calculates that memories fade, that the diverse coalition will drift apart and that other problems will take the limelight. Denouncing the United States as Zionist and imperialist is a reliable distraction in the Middle East. But the cynicism of this approach is best seen in the charge that the US wants to starve the people of Iraq. The embargo, cutting off Iraq's exports and imports, except for food, medicine, and humanitarian supplies, is meant to hobble Baghdad. It has, indeed, made life misera ble for the average person, although the system's elite suffer little hardship. In September, the UN Security Council allowed Iraq to sell oil that would earn at least $500 million to buy food. Saddam has not even responded, except to rail against the monitoring procedures as an intolerable affront. The "starving people" gambit is much too useful. The coalition's ability to maintain pressure on Saddam is uncertain. There is, for instance, little or no support for military intervention to enforce inspection. On the other hand, Kurdish leaders say they have a firm commitment from Washington to give them protection if Saddam attacks again. Yet, there will not be another Desert Storm. It is now a battle of wills; staying power will decide it. THE coalition must keep alive the nature of the conflict and the resolution to confront the new kind of menace to international stability that Saddam represents. He has resorted to monstrous crimes. Aggression and the near-apocalyptic torching of Kuwait's oil fields might lead the list. Add aimless missile attacks on civilian centers and the rape of Kuwait, the taking of hostages, and the torture and mutilation of, among others, American prisoners of war. A tribunal that is above reproach should be formed, in the first instance to document these and other charges precisely and incontrovertibly so that they are not diluted or trivialized by Saddam and his apologists. German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher last month called for an International Court of Justice of the UN to prosecute and punish such offenses. The UN General Assembly has been considering creation of such a court. The UN's International Law Commission has almost finished drafting a co de of crimes against the peace and security of mankind that brings the principles of the Nuremberg trials up to date. No matter that Saddam and his henchmen are not in custody - as yet. They can be tried in absentia - with sentencing and punishment in abeyance. The important thing is that they be properly condemned. Prof. Erwin Cotler of McGill University is chairman of the "Nuremberg II Group" on Saddam's war crimes which has drawn up a detailed indictment. It includes genocide against the Kurdish people by poison gas and persecution from 1983 to 1988. If that had been brought to court then, says Professor Cotler, the world might have been spared what followed. The trial of Saddam Hussein now would shrink him several sizes at home and could help to preserve humanity from any who would be tempted to follow in his footsteps.