posted on Dec, 18 2005 @ 07:38 PM
An empire is a situation in which one country dictates terms to other countries for the dictating country's benefit.
Somebody mentioned the Roman Republic. Good example. This shows, first that an empire doesn't have to be a monarchy, and secondly that imperial
control doesn't have to be asserted through direct annexation and administration. Some Roman provinces were directly governed, but Rome also
controlled territories through "client kings" -- monarchs who administered their own affairs, but were bound by treaties to pay tribute to Rome and
to follow Rome's lead in foreign policy.
If we recognize any nation with an analogous relationship to the U.S. as being in effect a "client kingdom" -- or client dictatorship, which is
more common nowadays -- then we should conclude that the American Empire includes:
All of Latin America except Cuba
All of the Middle East except Iran
Much of sub-Saharan Africa
Most Pacific island nations (although I'm no longer sure about the Philippines)
All of Southeast Asia except Vietnam (and we're working on them)
Europe, Russia, China, India, Japan, all are outside the U.S. empire without being hostile to us. Yet they're all gray areas; as the world's
mightiest power, we exert a lot of influence on them, but they do sometimes defy us in terms of foreign or trade policy, and that level of
independence means they aren't really imperial possessions. Going back to Rome again, an analogous country would perhaps be Egypt. Throughout the
Republic, Egypt was independent of Rome, yet Rome intervened several times to control which Ptolemy was on the throne in Alexandria, and at one point
annexed the Egyptian island of Cyprus -- without going to war. So Egypt was in an inferior position, but was still not an imperial possession or
It was also asked whether an empire was a good or bad thing. That's a difficult question, and the only answer is: both.
Empires reduce the instance of internal wars, and can bring peace across borders that would otherwise be warlike. However, they also tend to promote
wars at the empire's borders that might otherwise not happen.
Empires drain subject territories of resources and wealth. However, if the empire is substantially more advanced than the subject nation, the subject
nation can gain a long-term benefit. Good example: India. Subjugated by the British Empire for over a hundred years, exploited and plundered, India
gained two things it had never had before as a direct result, nationhood and democracy. Until winning its independence from Britain, India had never
been a unified nation, but rather a conglomeration of independent and frequently warring small monarchies.
So India did gain a huge benefit from having been part of the British Empire. Nevertheless, I think it's safe to say that most Indians have no
inclination to return to British rule. They also paid a high price for that gain.
For the imperial nation, empire carries a high monetary cost which exploitation of the subject territories may or may not cover. For a democracy, it
also carries a subtler penalty. Empire and democracy do not mix. Empire is always imposed by force, not by the consent of the governed, and is in
and of itself a violation of democratic principle. A nation cannot simultaneously practice it and be true to those principles. Empire requires the
maintenance of powerful standing military forces, breeding a military culture separate from the civilian culture, and always a potential threat to
civilian rule. Empire results in a flood of wealth into the imperial nation, which enriches its people disproportionately, and the consequent
empowerment of a wealthy elite compromises popular sovereignty.
The fall of an empire almost always means war. We saw that after the breakup of the Soviet Union. If the U.S. were to cease being an empire, the
resulting international power vacuum would almost certainly lead to many wars. At the same time, of course, wars deliberately pursued by the U.S. for
imperialistic purposes, such as the current fiasco in Iraq, would cease. On balance, though, history shows that war would increase, not decline.
The international structure has always been dominated by empires, ever since it became technologically feasible to build one. The results have been
mixed, but certainly there have been many bad ones for all concerned.
What kind of international structure could exist other than empires? I think that's worth thinking and talking about.