Human progress can be measured by the fact that we are living in a century where unilateral military operations based on power alone are intolerable. But the spread of the ideology of peace does not mean that threats to security have disappeared. At times, preventive action may be necessary. Many lives would have been saved in Africa, for example, if the international community could have acted decisively and quickly. The events in Iraq also have demonstrated that the key issue for world security is really the relationship of the big powers to the UN Security Council.
The need for an effective UN Security Council reflects the central strategic certainty of the post-Cold War period: security threats are no longer likely to take the form of war between states, but will instead consist in acts of terror, civil wars, and massacres of civilian populations. These threats are often related to economic chaos and basic failures in national governance, and international military action will often be needed to meet them head on. But the legitimacy of any international military action that goes beyond immediate self-defense requires broad international approval - and action without legitimacy is bound to fail.
The international community must therefore accept the need for a fundamental link between such military action and the UN. Peacekeeping and crisis prevention are accepted functions of the UN. But broad international support will not be forthcoming if military operations are perceived as some form of Western neo-imperialism. This last point has been at the heart of the problems in Iraq. Augmenting US and British troops with other "Western" forces would not, particularly at this late stage, change the fundamental perception of that intervention, both in the Arab world and beyond it.
Only the explicit, up-front approval of a reformed UN Security Council can provide the legitimacy and international support that military action - with the exception of clear self-defense - requires. This is true for actions contemplated by individual nations, temporary alliances, or more permanent alliances such as NATO.