In this text, Michael Ignatieff explores both sides of what he sees as a new global empire - the imperial and the humanitarian - and argues that the international community has failed to engage intelligently with the problems of nation building in the aftermath of apocalyptic events. The collapse of political order around the world at the beginning of the 21st century is seen as a major threat, and a new international order is emerging, one that is crafted to suit American imperial objectives. Western powers, led by the United States, are banding together to rebuild state order in war-torn societies for the sake of global stability and security. This presents humanitarian agencies with the dilemma of how to keep their programmes from being suborned to imperial interests. Yet they know that there are some problems for which there are only imperial solutions - it was American air-power that made an uneasy peace and humanitarian reconstruction possible, first in Bosnia, then in Kosovo and finally in Afghanistan. This forces them to be unwilling accomplices of America's wider imperial project. This is the new world of geopolitics we live in and must try to grasp.
The essays in this book attempt to understand the phenomenon of state collapse and state failure in the world's zones of danger and the gradual emergence of an American-led humanitarian empire. Focusing on nation building in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, Ignatieff reveals how American military power, European money and humanitarian motives have combined to produce a form of imperial rule for a post-imperial age. Drawing on his own experiences of war zones, and with an account of life in Afghanistan, Ignatieff identifies the illusions that make a genuine act of solidarity so difficult and asks what can be done to help people in war-torn societies enjoy the essential right to rule themselves.
Michael Ignatieff is Carr Professor of Human Rights Policy at Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He is an outstanding literary and cultural commentator, and also a powerful novelist, shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1993 for Scar Tissue. He is well known, too, as a presenter and critic on radio and television. His acclaimed biography of Isaiah Berlin was published by Chatto in 1998 and Virtual War, his study of modern warfare in Kosovo, in 2000.