Global Disorder by Robert Harvey

Will reformed capitalism bring peace to earth?

A former Conservative MP and Daily Telegraph leader writer, Robert Harvey has updated his earlier book, The Return of the Strong, to take into account the attacks of 11 September 2001. Still focusing his thesis on the view that the dominant global position of the US is one of the core realities of the early 21st century, Harvey outlines the risks incumbent on uncontrolled capitalism and pinpoints the sources of instability that require control.

His five-part prescription encompasses conflict control by means of regional alliances backed by superpower intervention; global economic regulation by the combined weight of North America, Europe and Japan; the widening of global democracy; a "Marshall Plan" for the South; and reform of capitalist corporations. Given his background, Harvey is unusual in recognising the deep instabilities inherent in global difference, although even he does not recognise the sheer bitterness and alienation that affect the majority of the world's people. Neither does he take in the developing problem of environmental constraints, especially the likely impact of climate change in tropical areas.

Furthermore, this massive book is almost entirely devoid of references and sources, leading to a crucial vulnerability. If you believe parts of it to be unsubstantiated, you tend to question the whole.

This is unfortunate, because Harvey's views deserve to be taken seriously. His belief is that the Western tradition of liberal market capitalism can be reformed to ensure a more stable and peaceful world, and it is attractive in theory. Indeed, you sense a real wish that the US might have learnt more from the traumas of 11 September.

As each month passes, this is even more clearly seen not to be the case. One terrible outcome was to push George Bush to an even greater commitment to those policies of independent action that have so infuriated much of the international community: policies with which Harvey would, mostly, disagree.

There now seems little or no chance of economic reform to benefit the poor – the new round of US tax cuts does the opposite; climate change is deemed not to be a problem; trade negotiations are predicated on what is good for America's domestic economy; and any voice of difference from Europe is considered "old".

In the middle of this is Tony Blair, a significant player barely mentioned by Harvey, and someone who seems now to border on a split personality as his recognition of many key issues comes rigidly up against his enduring commitment to Bush. That conflict may well come to a head in the next two months.

It is just possible that Blair will recognise that the choice is between a Europe with at least a minimal commitment to global order and a US that plays solely for itself. If he chooses the former, there is some small hope that Harvey's wishes for reform will stand a chance. For now, the prospects look bleak, and that may well become Tony Blair's own tragedy.

The reviewer is the Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University

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