It looks as if the United Nations is struggling to raise the 15,000 peace-keeping troops it wants in the Lebanon.
This is what economic theory would predict - it's the problem of collective action, most famously analyzed by the late Mancur Olson in this classic book.
The problem's simple. Peace in the Lebanon is a public good - it benefits (almost) all countries, but especially Lebanese and Israelis. However, the cost of policing the peace - the risk of having one's soldiers killed - falls upon individual countries.
Each individual country, therefore, has little incentive to commit troops. It prefers to free-ride upon others efforts. And if it does send troops, it wants to keep them out of harm's way. The upshot is that UN peace-keeping forces are often weak or worse.
Equally, every government has an incentive to grandstand about the middle-east crisis, as big speeches about global affairs make politicians look like statesmen. So we get noble words but not hard actions. Chirac is behaving exactly as Olson, and economic logic, would predict.
What's the solution? Partly, it's already in place. Countries have an incentive to offer troops if they can expect overseas aid as a result. It's no accident that Bangladesh and Nepal have been quick to pitch in; they're hoping for a quid pro quo*.
But there's another answer. It's suggested by a classic problem of collective action - the tragedy of the commons, described in Garrett Hardin's controversial essay.
Here, it's in the collective interest to conserve common land. But as no individual owns the land, no individual has an incentive to conserve it. So the land gets over-grazed and ruined.
The solution here is to turn the land over to private ownership, say by selling it to the highest bidder, who then rents it out.
This raises a possibility that should trouble liberals. Could it be that old-style colonialism contained more economic logic than multilateralism does?
There's a good reason why I don't like to think about international affairs.
* There's another issue here.In narrow (autistic) economic terms, it makes sense to use troops from low-wage countries. This is because the economic cost of a dead Bangladeshi - foregone wages - is less than the cost of a dead Frenchman. The moral accounting, of course, is rather different.