THE NEW IMPERIALISM; as the Allies Prepare to Invade Afghanistan, a Distinguished Historian Debates What Was Once an Unthinkable Question: Could Colonialism, So Long Discredited, Be the Only Hope for World Peace?

By Ferguson, Niall | Daily Mail (London), October 13, 2001 | Go to article overview

THE NEW IMPERIALISM; as the Allies Prepare to Invade Afghanistan, a Distinguished Historian Debates What Was Once an Unthinkable Question: Could Colonialism, So Long Discredited, Be the Only Hope for World Peace?


Ferguson, Niall, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: NIALL FERGUSON

ARE we on the verge of a new era of imperialism? Certainly, the British and U.S. response to the attacks of September 11 bears all the hallmarks of a Victorian punitive expedition, despite - or rather, precisely because of - the high-tech weaponry and highfaluting speeches.

Isn't there something wonderfully Gladstonian about simultaneously dropping bombs and rations on a country?

Pondering the question of what we should do next in Afghanistan, I found myself thinking of Rudyard Kipling's lines, penned just over a century ago: Take up the White Man's burden - Send forth the best ye breed - Go bind your sons in exile To serve your captives' need . . .

Take up the White Man's burden - The savage wars of peace - Fill full the mouth of Famine And bid the sickness cease.

Not that anyone is actually talking about 'imperialism' - except, that is, for the splendidly gung-ho American magazine Weekly Standard, whose cover story this week is 'The Case for American Empire', by the aptly named Max Boot.

Since that early gaffe about a 'crusade', President George W.

Bush has watched his words, concentrating on the idea of a 'war against terrorism' and the regimes that sponsor it.

Even Tony Blair's messianic speech at the Labour Party conference talked vaguely about 'partnership', 'the politics of globalisation' and ' reordering the world'.

Yet the content of the speech was pure Kipling - albeit translated into Islingtonese for the benefit of his congenitally anti-imperialist audience.

Take up the Western person's burden - Send forth a Partnership for Africa - Go bind the international community in exile To serve all ethnic groups equally . . .

Just as Kipling meant to exhort the United States to rise to the challenge of colonisation, so Mr Blair seems to want to galvanise his American counterpart into 'reordering the world'.

WE NEED to be clear about what this means in practice. As I write, the next phase of the war in Afghanistan is imminent: the deployment of ground forces following the predictably easy victory in the battle for control of the skies.

What is the aim of this war? It is still just conceivable that Mr Bush could be satisfied with the capture or surrender of Osama Bin Laden.

But the emerging consensus in Washington and London this week was that the Taliban regime has to go. Past experience suggests that this should, in fact, be relatively easy.

Indeed, American forces could be in Kabul within a matter of weeks. But then what?

We know the answer to this question already. Just take a look at the Balkans, largely forgotten in all the excitement of this new conflict.

Only six years ago, in 1995, the West intervened to bring a stop to the war in Bosnia. Two years ago, we intervened again to halt the 'ethnic cleansing' of Kosovo. I wonder how many readers know what is happening in those places now.

The answer is that Bosnia and Kosovo are being administered as colonies (in all but name) by international organisations backed up by American and European soldiers - some 50,000 Nato troops in the case of Kosovo.

Nor are these the only ' neocolonies'. There is also what amounts to a UN protectorate in East Timor, while the stability of Sierra Leone continues to depend on the presence of the small but highly effective British military force deployed in May last year.

(One of the most surreal sights of the new millennium was the crowd in Freetown cheering the reimposition of British rule.) What makes all this so bizarre is that most intellectuals in both Europe and America continue to regard 'imperialism' and 'colonisation' as dirty words on a par with 'fascism'.

This, of course, explains Mr Blair's verbal gymnastics on the subject.

The race is on to find a palatable term for this 'new' policy of - let's not beat about the bush - invading other people's countries and imposing our own values on them. …

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THE NEW IMPERIALISM; as the Allies Prepare to Invade Afghanistan, a Distinguished Historian Debates What Was Once an Unthinkable Question: Could Colonialism, So Long Discredited, Be the Only Hope for World Peace?
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