Sebastian Mallaby grew up in Great Britain. He studied modern history at Oxford before joining the staff of The Economist in 1986. In the late 80s and early 90s, he was The Economist's correspondent first in Zimbabwe, and then in Japan. In 1996 he moved to the paper's Washington office, becoming bureau chief one year later. There he wrote on foreign policy and national affairs, but also extensively on American politics and society. Since 1999 he has worked at the Washington Post as a columnist.
Of special interest to the current debate are Mallaby's positions on nation-building as expressed in his article "The Reluctant Imperialist" in the March/April 2002 issue of Foreign Affairs.
Mallaby argues that 'failed states' are increasingly trapped in cycles of poverty, instability and violence. Current strategies – foreign aid for development and technical assistance for democratisation – have not been able to free those countries from this trap. The only solution, in Mallaby's view, is to revive the institution of imperialism. As the world's only superpower, the United States must play a decisive role in building new institutions, especially an effective legal system, in unstable countries. On the other hand, international legitimacy is not only desirable, but necessary to the success of this new imperialism. The UN, however, with its gridlocked one-country-one-vote system and the veto powers of the permanent members of the Security Council, is unworkable as a nation-building agency. Mallaby therefore advocates a new international organisation, combining multilateral participation with American leadership on the model of the Bretton Woods institutions, which would take over from the United Nations the role of nation-building round the globe.