cover image Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond

Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond

Michael Ignatieff. Metropolitan Books, $23 (246pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-6490-2

The past decade has kept London-based journalist Ignatieff busy exploring ethnic nationalism and ethnic war. This latest work (portions of which have appeared in the New Yorker and elsewhere) completes an unplanned trilogy that took shape around current events. Like the trilogy's previous two titles (Blood and Belonging and The Warrior's Honor), this book critiques the West's selective use of military power to protect human rights and the failure of Western governments to ""back principle with decisive military force""--but here Ignatieff pushes this critique a step further, attempting to explain the paradox of the West's moral activism around human rights and its unwillingness to use force or put its own soldiers at risk: war, he suggests, has ceased to be real to those with technological mastery. Whereas Kosovo ""looked and sounded like a war"" to those on the ground, it was a virtual event for citizens of NATO countries--it was ""a spectacle: it aroused emotions in the intense but shallow way that sports do."" In other words, the basic equality of moral risk (kill or be killed) in traditional war was replaced by something akin to ""a turkey shoot."" In a series of profiles of major players in the Kosovo crisis (including American negotiator Richard Holbrook and war crimes prosecutor Louise Arbour and Aleksa Djilas, a Yugoslav opposed to the bombing), as well as in other writings--including a fine, concluding essay--the author presents a strong argument on the need to avoid wars that let the West off easily and don't have clear-cut results. Ignatieff offers an original analysis of the nature and repercussions of NATO's Kosovo campaign. Only when we have recognized the seductiveness and failures of virtual war, he warns, can we truly assess the risks and benefits of decisive action. This is a timely and provocative book for the politically astute reader. Author tour. (May)