DOCUMENT: No deserters in the global army

In a fractured world the strong must protect the weak, argues Richard D owden
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When Olaf Palme launched his commission on disarmament in 1989, he claimed the high moral ground that only popes, pop singers and Swedish prime ministers inhabit, and bluntly demanded that the world give up its weapons. The tone of his successor, Ingvar Carlsson, who introduced the report on global governance last week, is altogether more modest. Writing in the introduction to the report, he says: "There should be no question of which way we should go. But the right wayrequires the assertion of the values of internationalism, the primacy of the rule of law worldwide, and institutional reforms that secure and sustain them."

The style may be dense, the appeal oblique, but the report's suggestions are as radical as anything in any of the previous reports: the Brandt report on world poverty, the Palme Commission on disarmament, and Brundtland's report on the environment. This report, Our Global Neighbourhood, co-chaired by Mr Carlsson and the former Commonwealth secretary-general, Sir Shridath Ramphal, is the result of five years' deliberation of the international Great and Good.

It argues for an economic security council at the United Nations, "more broadly based than the G7 or the Bretton Woods institutions and more effective than the present UN system", to provide long-term strategies for the world economy. It calls for reformof the Security Council to replace the five permanent members with a rotating, regionally based membership, a standing volunteer UN army and a strengthened International Court of Justice. The old concept of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of states should be modified so that the international community can intervene when, for example, a government allows its own people to starve or be killed in civil war.

So much for the "if I ruled the world" dream. The tentativeness of the authors in presenting these ideas may be due to the fact that although they were conceived at a time when a new dawn seemed to be breaking for mankind, such dreams were then turning to dust in places like Bosnia, Chechnya, Somalia and Rwanda. When the rich are feeling poor, there is little chance they will give up control of their wealth, and no suggestion they will share power at the Security Council level with Russia in imperial mood, or Iran, having devised a nuclear bomb. Even policing small wars is no longer "do-able" as peacekeeping has turned from glorious rescue operations to unthanked armies of occupation.

The reality is alarmingly illustrated by another book published on the same day as the global governance report last week. In Irons - US Military Might in the New Century is a prescriptive book about how the United States must have the biggest and the best fighting force in the world. What for, the global government team might ask? The author, Harlan K Ullman, admits that there is no forseeable territorial threat to the US. Is it to help police the world? Mr Ullman devotes only three pages to international peacekeeping. He is against it - for America. Americans, he says, are "results-orientated".He continues: "American visceral disapproval of taking casualties... is the final reason why broader peacekeeping missions should not be our cup of tea."

Mr Ullman seems to be saying: leave Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda to the Bangladeshis who are happy to be killed for the cause of peace and justice: American lives are just too valuable. No wonder the global governance report looks so far from reality if that is the attitude of the only superpower. Mr Ullman calls this reluctance to help in international policing "understandable and commendable". Irresponsible and cowardly, I would call it.