Leading article: Mr Blair's ambitious demands

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The Independent Online

The Prime Minister followed his sober assessment of the mistakes committed in Iraq by calling for an overhaul of international institutions, from the United Nations to the World Bank and the IMF to the nuclear energy watchdog, the IAEA. There was, he said, a "hopeless mismatch" between the global challenges we face and the global institutions to confront them.

We do not disagree. The institutions we have today were founded in a different world. It is little short of miraculous that they work as well as they do. An enlargement of the UN Security Council is undoubtedly overdue: it is, as Mr Blair indicated, absurd that France and China are members, but not Germany or India. Ideally, the European Union would occupy a single Security Council seat. Until that and other radical changes gain acceptability, however, a simple expansion may be the best solution.

The idea of a humanitarian agency to bring together forecasting and relief work is a useful contribution, as is the concept of a UN environment agency with a stature commensurate with the significance of the issue. Mr Blair's support for the enhancement of the UN Secretary General's powers, however, needs to be treated with caution. The UN can only be as effective as its members want it to be. This can make for frustration. But if the upper echelon can easily ride roughshod over the rank and file, the legitimacy of the decisions will soon be called into question.

Some have interpreted Mr Blair's recent advocacy of international reform as tantamount to an application to become UN Secretary General. Without Iraq, this might have been a credible ambition. It is not any longer. Under Mr Blair's leadership, Britain flouted the will of the Security Council to invade Iraq. It is all very well to claim, as Mr Blair does at every opportunity, that the troops now in Iraq have the benefit of a UN mandate. Without the invasion, the question of legitimising the foreign troop presence would not have arisen.

Even now, Mr Blair seems to believe that the US-British failure to win a UN mandate for military action demonstrated a failure of the UN, rather than their own failure to convince. Until Mr Blair approaches the UN with more modesty, his zeal for reform will look less like an effort to modernise a valuable international institution and more like an attempt to create a UN that he could have bent to his will.