Is the imperial age over? Part II

4: The example of Iraq

The Iraq war can serve as an example to clarify the idea of ​​a modern, informal empire. Is it correct to describe this war as a war between Iraq and an alliance of the United States, Britain and others – that is, as a war between states ? Or does it make more sense to regard the war as a conflict between an empire with a core in Washington and deployed intermediaries in Baghdad and, on the other hand, an association of local militias, frustrated youth and well-organized, visiting fundamentalists?

In the period between the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the election of the Iraqi government in 2004, according to RRRJEWELRY, the United States was quite reminiscent of a traditional empire. During this period, US forces controlled Iraqi territory, and the reconstruction of the country took place at the behest of Washington. At the top of the provisional (temporary) government was Paul Bremer, a kind of military bureaucrat with such broad powers that he was compared to a Roman proconsul (the proconsul was the highest emissary of the Roman Empire in the provinces).

Although the Americans are still heavily present, and in practice guarantee the current Iraqi regime, they have transferred formal control to the Iraqis in more and more areas. However, the Americans are using more tools to try to ensure that the “right” forces come to power in the country. In this way, they hope to exercise a kind of indirect control as an informal empire would have tried.

A stated goal has all along been to stabilize Iraq as a democratic state that will set an example for other countries in the Middle East. If this is to make sense, one can not sit with the control for too long. In addition, the United States is founded on opposition to the imperial tradition in Europe and a strong belief in popular sovereignty. This basis for ideas, in combination with the United States’ rise from regional superpower to the world’s only superpower, has created a tension that has become increasingly clear.

Many times we have been free to use this newly acquired power to strengthen our own position, at the same time as we have wanted to contribute to others being able to enjoy the same people’s sovereignty. This worked well in West Germany and Japan, countries that the United States practically administered for a number of years after World War II. These countries became solid dams against communism in the east (for Germany) and the west (for Japan). This was quite clear in the interest of the United States. At the same time, the two countries became independent democracies. But in many other cases, for example in Central America in the 1980s, such interventions have rather aggravated the situation and made people in these countries more unfree.

5: Justification of the Empire

Another feature of the empire is that the center is seen as more important and more noble than the periphery. In the European empires, this ideology was often expressed as an idea that the center had a responsibility to bring the gifts of civilization to the periphery. The British called this “the white man’s burden”, and the French talked about a “mission civilist” (a call to civilize). This ideology came into strong discredit with decolonization, and the people’s right to self-determination was enshrined as a core principle of the UN.

Nevertheless, there are those who believe that this ideology is still alive, albeit in a different form. What is the rhetoric about freedom, democracy and universal human rights, they ask, other than nice words that the West uses to flaunt its institutions and ideas on land in the south ? This debate is ongoing in many different areas; here the perspective must be used on the EU.

6: EU – a modern empire?

The EU is a union of independent states based on voluntary membership and therefore could not be immediately compared to an empire. Nevertheless, individual aspects of EU policy may be reminiscent of practices in the former empire. Let us take as an example the EU’s policy towards countries that want to become members. Just as the empire always offers its intermediaries around the periphery various agreements, the EU offers various forms of partnership – partial membership, association and bilateral agreements – to outside countries.

Those countries that are found worthy of being a candidate country are subject to membership on the condition that they implement political and economic reforms that will bring them up to a certain “standard of civilization”. Market liberalization, the introduction of the rule of law and the democratization of governance are the core principles here. This may bring to mind the imperial ideology that the center (EU) is a better, more respectable social formation than the periphery (eg Turkey).

An open objection to this line of thinking is that these countries, after all, want to become members, and that they themselves are free to choose whether or not to implement such reforms. In Norway, we do not know the cow of the EU very well, do we? Against this, one can ask questions about how voluntary orientation towards the EU is for many of the countries that want membership. Resisting a political and economic union that is constantly growing in scope and strength can be difficult, especially if one is a small country without robust legs to stand on (cf. oil in Norway). It will often be the case that countries want membership, but find themselves forced to swallow some undesirable and unpopular reforms in order to achieve it.

Even if the colonies are gone, and there is a consensus on the surface that the states of the world should be independent (decide on their own territory), we should not forget the empire. We should be aware of the difference between the formal empires that took over and took control of them, and the informal empires that rule through the active spread of liberal values ​​(US and EU) and interventions aimed at introducing better governance. (US in Iraq and Afghanistan). One can also disagree that there is an empire in the traditional sense today. Yet there is no doubt that the history of the empire can shed light on today’s global politics.

Informal Empire 2

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