The term “empire” became a ‘dirty word’ during the 19th century because of its negative connotation to those who it was applied. The concept of the term empire was abhorred because the propagators were associated with racism, slavery, segregation, scramble for land, forceful acquisition of properties of the locals, and advancement of unfavorable foreign policies among others. Following the struggle for independence and the alleviation of global democracy, imperialism ceased to exist in the eyes of many nationals. Although imperialism seemed to have receded in the current world, there is no way one can divorce it from the past and the present status of the United States. When analyzing the history and the current foreign relation of the US with the rest of the world, imperialism comes into play. Nevertheless, many political analysts such as Schroeder (par. 2) argue that the US is not an empire but a country championing for the world democracy. Such argument, however, fails to explain the global fame and influence of the US. This paper acknowledges the imperialistic position of the US but divorces it from the traditional empires thereby recognizing that the US has created a new global empire.
The Meaning of Imperialism in the US Context
According to Lens and Zinn (4), an empire is an absolute sway, paramount influence, or control of a state over other nations. The term “imperial” is used to denote asymmetrical power relationship. This means that an empire is not a single entity but rather ever-changing and complex set of broken relationships. These definitions have been associated with the US since the First World War. Since its independence, the US has been on a steady rise to the world power. It has spread its power tentacles to almost every nation in the world. There is hardly a country in the world that has not experienced the influence of the US.
The earliest form of imperialism manifested in the form of territorial authority. Imperial forces such the British controlled a large commonwealth, exercised territorial dominion, and used force to rule over its vassal acquisitions. The US on the other does not exhibit such traits but rather has significant power and influence over the nations of the world. The position of the US as an imperial force is pegged on its territorial dominion and global influence. Its lack of territorial sovereignty seems to be the main argument why it is not an imperial force whereas its global influence puts it on the global map as an imperial force. When considering whether the US is an imperial force or not, changes in times need to be considered.
Currently, technology and political thoughts have advanced thereby putting an end to territorial empires. At the same time, globalization has risen from ashes to its status whereby the planet is a much smaller unit than it used to be. In the contemporary world, the free market is the king, communication has been revolutionized, and transport has been modernized. The leader, the creator, and the forerunner of globalization is the US. It has used its powerful and robust economy, and gargantuan military capacity to insert its influence in the world (Lens and Zinn 21). This implies that the US has a paramount influence in the world and has niched a new form of empire.
The Historical Model of the US Imperialism
A historical model of imperialism is paged on expansionism tendencies of the imperial forces. The US engaged in some active expansionism during late 19th century. Buchanan (54) acknowledges that Spanish-American war of 1898 marked the end of the engagement of the US in territorial expansionism. During that war, the US acquired some territorial holdings including Cuba, Philippines, and Puerto Rico from the Spanish empire. At that time, most super power nations were influenced by the ‘manifest destiny’ theorem whereby focus was on the expansion of the American State towards the West. Historians such as Panitch and Konings (34) label the aggressive expansionism by the US as empire building. Empire building was the focus of imperial masters such the British and the Romans, and thus, it relates to the model used by the US during their war with the Spaniards.
However, it should be noted that this was the last time the US expanded its territories, yet its influence is currently felt worldwide. Other historians such as Samuel Flagg disagree with imperialism view of the US adopted by Panitch and Konings (34). Samuel Flagg argues that the American-Spanish war was an abnormality in the history of the US whereby the US was entangled in the imperialistic tendencies. Flagg argues that the expansionism tendencies of the US do not fit into the historical model of imperialism.
The US as a Modern Empire
The US is a kind of a modern empire, but its formation differs from its traditional predecessors. The current US Empire came into existence after the 1945-Allied victory. This means had it not been for the World War II, there would be no American states. The World War II caused flattening of Japanese imperialism and desecration of Europe thereby creating a power vacuum. The aftermath of the war left the world yearning for a superpower nation with financial and military might to rise on the scene and aid in reconstruction. The US was the only nation with the economic and military wherewithal to solve reconstruction problems and thus it rose on the scene even though it was unwilling to do so in the beginning. The US sponsored cooperative initiatives such as the United Nations and the Bretton Woods to aid in the reconstructions. Since the US had the financial muscles to sponsor cooperative initiatives, it positioned itself in these institutions as the most essential and influential member.
Consequently, it was given a lasting seat in the UN Security Council and its currency, the dollar, was used to benchmark other currencies of the world. In this case, the US was positioned at a point whereby the entire world relied on its stability for protection and economic steadiness. At the same time, the military machinery and might of the US were unsurpassable and thus it gradually navigated into the position of the world hegemony during the mid-20th century. Since its hegemony tendency was cemented, the US has been defending it aggressively. This means the US has created a kind of hegemony rather than the empires of its predecessors.
Why the US Has Created a New Empire
As noted in the previous section, the US rose to the scene in a different fashion as opposed to its predecessors. The rise of the US relates to its control and influence over the rest of the world. As a result, the spotlight ought to be on the traits that make the US a global empire. The US has no Commonwealth of Nations or extra-territorial empire to control over, but it has territorial interests in other nations. The obvious example is the consulates and embassies that are spread all over the world. There is hardly any region in the world where the US has not spread its tentacles inform of embassies and consulates. Even in the Middle East, which is perceived anti-USA has some American Embassies and Consulates (Rudd 37).
Another example, though controversial, a trait that makes the US a global empire is the US military might. According to the USA Department of Defense (3), the US has about 750 military bases outside its territory. Such a large number of military bases give a twist to the concept of sovereignty of other nations given that most of these bases are hidden. The US utilizes these bases for global surveillance, and this gives it an advantage in affairs of the world. These bases are used for intelligence and counterintelligence procedures. As such, the array of communication devices used ensures that the US has a monopoly on the information passed. This monopoly gives the US the power to control other nations and the world as its empire. Other nations are forced to seek the knowledge of the US and at the same time live in the fear of the US because of what it (the US) knows.
Boot (11) argues that the US Empire exists with a benevolent structure as opposed to its predecessors. However, the military might spread across the globe has made the US abuse its powers thereby adopting imperialistic powers similar to its predecessors. According to Smith (3), the US sponsored Afghanistan aggression in the 1980s as revenge on its Soviet enemies following decades of Cold War. However, it 1990s, especially after the 11/9 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the US sought for coalitions to fight nations perceived terrorist hideouts. Chalmers (59) sees the coalition as an attempt by the US to mask its imperialistic tendencies because the US was at the center of everything; it provided the budget, the ammunition, the commanders, and the plan of action against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Later, Iraq was attacked on the same pretext followed by Libya.
The aggression approach by the US does not differ from that adopted by Germany and Turkey during their imperial rules. Nevertheless Boot (11) claims that the US aggressions in Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan among other nations have nothing to do with imperialism. Boot (17) claims that the US has no territorial claim in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya among other nations but rather a desire to ensure global peace amidst globalization of terrorism. As a result, the aggression style approached to combat terrorism has been necessitated by the circumstances. Chalmers (87) argues that the US has never occupied a nation that is at peace and thus cannot be an imperial force. The US simply fights other nations to ensure that the world does not lose access to essential resources needed for the balance of global trade. Based on these arguments, it can be concluded that the US as focused on protecting and nurturing its political and financial interests rather than territorial interests. In this case, the US is seen as promoting a global business empire rather than an imperial force.
An imperial regime fights to protect its status, and the same has been done by the US. Friedberg (89) acknowledges that the US has grown to become the world super power and thus it has to fight to protect its hegemony. The US has sounded some decrees on some nations as part of its international policies, and this has been with the purpose of maintaining its position. For instance, the US has shown disdain towards North Korea for a long time but according to Friedberg (90), this has nothing to do with North Korea’s totalitarian regime. At the same time, the disdain shown to Iran has nothing to do with its regime but rather the fear Iran and North Korea poses to the hegemony of the United States. During the cold war era, the USSR posed a threat to the existence of the American empire. To belittle the USSR, the US resorted to McCarthyism, which essentially involved spreading baseless rumors to paint the USSR negatively. Paranoia swept across the Western world following the era of McCarthyism but was largely unfounded. This means that the US has focused on strengthening its position as a global empire through its politics of fear, power, and control.
Analysis of the US Hegemony
The US is a form of a global empire that is hegemony. Several facets can be adopted in describing it. First, the US lacks institutions to describe a traditional empire. As a result, a new form of empire can be described as the US dominance. In this empire, the US is at the center of a global but decentralized empire whose basis is on the free flowing trade. This means the new empire is equivalent to a global economy with the US as its heartbeat rather than its ruler. The US occupies a privileged position in this global empire, but this privilege does not come because of the similarities of the US with European imperial powers but rather because of dissimilarities.
Rudd (23) acknowledges that the contemporary world has evolved into a super-imperial with the US as its leader. Currently, most of the global mega financial players such as the European Union and Japan led by the US have become economically interdependent. The interdependence of these economic giants makes it impossible for them to engage in equipped geopolitical conflict. Since the US is at the center of this economic power, it is considered as hegemony rather than an imperial power. It should be acknowledged that the US cannot use its military power to fight the European Union or Japan and thus cannot be a true imperial power. The role of the US is thus limited to a hegemonic state whereby it acts a power balance on the global scene.
The hegemony of the US has created a kind of benevolent imperialism. European imperial forces were based on lust for land and demeaning of the locals through practices such as segregation and white settlements. However, the US has adopted a new approach based on mutual benefit. Rather than seeking for dominance, the US has focused on establishing a system of mutually beneficial exchange with other nations. As a result, most of its ‘imperial’ activities have yielded benefits despite being destructive in the first instance. For instance, the US occupation of Afghanistan turned out to be a mutual exercise. The Afghanis were fighting to liberate themselves from Taliban rule and the Americans were fighting them to give them this freedom.
After the war in Afghanistan, the US did not establish a permanent base as it is expected of Imperial forces but rather assisted the Afghanis to create a democratic governance system. This means although there was war in the Afghanistan, it was a battlefront of two armies fighting for the same course which later prevailed. There have been other similar fights in the Philippines, Libya, Iraq, and Iran among other places. This means that although the US dominates the global scene, its dominance is not imperial because international institutions such as the UN have taken the position of the empire. The US being in control of such institutions gives it power among this globalized empire.
The power wielded by the US in the global empire is based on ‘soft’ form of power derived from cultural hegemony. This soft power does not involve military might or economic force. The soft power has been exhibited by the desire of people all over the world to migrate to the US. Some factors of cultural hegemony exist to prove this assertion. In the first place, the study by Joseph (208) indicates that there is a worldwide desire for American education. Joseph (208) further points out that there is mass adoption of US-style of music and cinematography among others.
How the US Is Sustaining the New Global Empire
Although cultural hegemony describes the new global empire created by the US, maintaining it is not easy, and thus, most of the seemingly ‘imperial’ activities of the US are means to retain its status. The US has focused on rebalancing strategy by learning how to balance its activities. If the US gets entangles in most activities happening around the world, its status will diminish quickly. As a result, the focus has been on creating internal regional and global balance without usurping its sovereignty. This has been achieved through the ability of the US to make other nations do what is in the interest of the US. First, the US has provided economic incentives through various business deals. For instance, it has allowed importation of some goods from third world economies tax-free. Second, the US has focused on the provision of aid to countries with wavering economies. Third, the US has provided military aid to some developing nations. Lastly, the US has been sending advisers to some states on how to tackle some maters. It ought to be noted that the use of force is also another style adopted by the US, but this has been employed as the last resort in few selected regimes such Iraq and Libya.
The US has etched itself as a new form of global empire. However, it is dissimilar to the empires of the past. This new empire has no marked boundaries because it is global. The US uses its military and economic might, cultural advancement, technological knowhow, and political and social influence to sway the world in its favor. As a result, the US does not need territorial favors to stamp its influence. Its deep embedment in the global social and economy strata has given it the power to sway the world in the direction it is heading.
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