Leading Article: Words are fine but Blair must also act

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The Independent Culture
TONY BLAIR may be going to America to support his friend Bill Clinton, but his speeches on the Third Way, and even more on reforming the IMF yesterday, were quite knowing efforts to stake his own claim to international leadership now that the US is consumed with itself. And why not? There is a political vacuum at the moment, just when events in Russia and the international financial markets show the need for political leadership to calm the markets. The trouble is that words about "crises" are easy. To stop, or even steer, the great wheels of market events once they are in motion is a great deal more difficult.

Tony Blair would have us believe it can be done by a radical overhaul of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, including a partial merger of the two bodies to create a global economic supervisor. Well, the IMF probably does need modernising, and there may be a case for sharing some of its functions with the World Bank. But, if tighter monitoring of capital flows and bank deposits is wanted, the mechanism already exists in the Bank of International Settlements, in Basle.

Reforming institutions isn't the answer, however. If political leaders believe in global bodies, then they have to get in there to back them. At the moment, Congress is refusing further funds to the IMF, and Britain isn't doing much to push them into it. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development might have played a more active part in warning the world, at least, of the Russian crisis, if it hadn't been neutered by European governments squabbling over the appointment of its new president. The Kosovan tragedy and the Congolese crisis might be a lot better if governments were supporting forceful UN action. It is action, not words, that is needed if Mr Blair is to be taken seriously on the world stage.

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