16 March 2013 — Strategic Culture Foundation
Modern-day empires in the West
The rebirth of the imperial spirit in the West is moving along two sometimes converging, but in recent times increasingly diverging, lines. Looking at Europe’s relations with its neighbours, one can see that the European Union initially pursued an imperial policy with regard to countries in Central and Eastern Europe that had joined the EU, but then began to extend the same policy to other countries. The line, however, is looking increasingly faded: many EU countries have no enthusiasm regarding its further expansion and, what is more, there is a growing feeling that this federative quasi-empire will soon collapse… There is a second line on the rise – the emergence of autonomous «larger spaces» attracting territories that are similar on a cultural and historical level or territories that were dependent in the past. In the process, countries and regions alike in terms of language and culture and taking advantage of the lack of internal European borders are becoming integrated while, conversely, ethnically-diverse political coalitions are virtually falling apart.
The first example of the actions of a modern-day imperial mechanism in which America exercised «leadership from behind» was the operation in Libya, when Obama directly stated: «…American leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all of the burden ourselves Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well; to work with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs». (1) The honour of being the first «delegated regional leader», in Libya to start with and then in Mali, was awarded to France.
To a certain extent, this was probably due to the fact that serious conflicts broke out in an area of traditional French interests, giving the West the chance to intervene using force. In addition, other major Western powers with an interest in the area, primarily the USA and Great Britain, did not have any forces available at that time. They have still not managed to get themselves out of the quagmire of the Iraq and Afghan wars and besides that, they are in no hurry to scale down their military presence in a region more important to them than the Persian Gulf, which in the atmosphere of the «Arab spring» is not at all safe from further upheaval.
François Hollande, not having managed to achieve any kind of glory in his own country, (he has the lowest presidential rating for the last 30 years) and clearly itching to compensate for this with resounding victories in his foreign policy, arrived just in time. There are potentially great opportunities for France to influence a French-speaking country in Africa, but it is unlikely that the French will be able to put these opportunities into action without assistance. Reviving their former glory with the help of Washington, however, is an awesome but tempting task. The fact that it will not work out without America‘s support, and that this support will turn into a new dependence for France, may be concealed by the francophonie triumph.
Geographically, the «Third Empire» will probably rely on its zone of influence in North and Western Africa close to France. Additional weight will be acquired and the islands of the French Overseas Departments (Martinique, Guadeloupe, Reunion etc) will be scattered across the seven seas. It is more than likely that Libya, which is rich in fossil fuels, will be added to France‘s former colonial possessions, making the prize to be obtained truly priceless. Italy seems to have been overlooked, meanwhile (quite possibly because of the country’s special ties with Moscow, the White’s House’s displeasure at which is evident in the correspondence of American diplomats published on Wikileaks).
And these are not the only gifts for Paris in Washington’s arsenal of «smart power». For example, the USA is by no means impeding the process currently gathering momentum which will lead to the disintegration of Belgium into Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia which, if joined to France, would increase the latter’s population from 65 to 70 million. It is also possible that the special link Paris has with French-speaking Quebec in Canada could be further encouraged. As a result, France is changing from a perennial trouble-maker within the Atlantic coalition and opponent of the Anglo-Saxon world into a reliable ally before one’s very eyes. And this is a solid achievement for the Obama administration.
The USA’s interest in awakening imperial feeling in Holland, with the opportunities it has to influence its former colony, Indonesia, has also been noted. Indonesia’s population is close to 250 million people, it is the most densely-populated Muslim country and over the longer term, according to Washington’s calculations, it will play an important role in controlling China in Southeast Asia. Encouraging the Dutch in their neocolonial activities could get them, with America‘s assistance, a share of the «Belgian pie» in the form of 6 million Flemish people.
Another favourite of the US in terms of encouraging imperial construction is Poland. American strategists are generally inclined to predict a great future for Poland, which eager Warsaw politicians find extremely flattering. The founder and CEO of analytical group «Stratfor», George Friedman, in his book «The Next 100 Years», believes that with the disintegration of Russia, which in his opinion is a possibility, «the Poles will be the first to want to press eastward, trying to create a buffer zone in Belarus and Ukraine… In this scenario, Poland becomes a major and dynamic European power, leading a coalition of Eastern European countries». In an interview with the Polish newspaper «Rzeczpospolita», Friedman, in his characteristically provocative manner, states: «The USA is a country that is taking advantage of Poland – please be under no illusion – to control Russia. America is acting in line with its own national interests. Poland is currently more important to the USA than the majority of other countries in the world… And it makes no different who is going to govern our country in the near future – Obama, Bush or somebody else – America will do everything to ensure Poland is as strong as possible». Friedman maintains that in the coming decades, «the power of Germany and Russia will be significantly reduced. This will create a vacuum in which a new, powerful player will emerge. Geography dictates that this could only be Poland. If you seize this chance, you could become the engine of Europe and one of the most important countries in the world».
It seems that not all of America’s allies will be equally as lucky as the world is redivided into zones of influence. Besides the convenient boundary divisions that coincide with the borders of former empires, as is the case with France, there are also centres of attraction where America‘s Anglo-Saxon ruling class does not feel rooted. There are no particular indications that Washington would like to use Spain and its close affiliation with Latin America in the same kind of role that was assigned to France. On the contrary, Spain, like Belgium, is being left to fall apart by itself. Why are there such differences in approach? The truth of the matter is probably that the issue of consolidating the Spanish-speaking world is rather delicate for the USA, where the amount of Spanish speakers is growing steadily in the southern states, including as a result of illegal migration. Radical representatives of this culture have already been rallying for the creation of a «Great Aztlán» in the future (from Mexico and other areas in Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico taken away from Mexico by the Americans).
It seems that Germany is also being overlooked, presumably because it never created a vast colonial empire in the past, whilst these days it has given rise to serious concerns that there could be a revival of the Teutonic spirit. German potential will be needed by Americans everywhere, but as a standby. All indications are that Washington is not going to let Berlin set sail independently. It seems that there will be nothing for Germany to do other than project its influence, as usual, on the East in the direction of Russia, although it is more than likely that they will not do this without assistance either, but in league with Poland – that beloved pet project of American geopoliticians.
A similar attitude can be seen when it comes to Italy. The country is strenuously pushing to take a leading role in the Balkans. This is demonstrated, in particular, by the recent signing of an intergovernmental Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) agreement between Italy, Greece and Albania. The pipeline will transport gas from the Caspian region through Greece, Albania and the Adriatic Sea to southern Italy and further – to Western Europe. Its planned capacity is 10 billion cubic metres a year, with the option to increase this to 20 billion cubic metres. Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz gas-condensate field is under consideration as TAP’s leading gas supplier.
Washington would like to see Brazil in the role of a potential «authorised delegate» (vassal) in South America, making the country heir to the Portuguese Empire. The fact that Portuguese-speaking Brazil and the rest of the Spanish-speaking part of Latin America are still disparate in terms of language allows Washington to retain some room for manoeuvre. Having given the Brazilians a leading role in Latin America and, possibly, in certain parts of Africa as well, the US is also simultaneously trying to weaken Brazil‘s ties with China and its integration as far as BRICS is concerned. It stands to reason this is all provided that Brazil itself agrees to take the USA’s interests into account. This South American country is already a member of G20 and is seeking to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. It has managed to disassociate itself from US policy without giving rise to any serious crises in the process. Advocating the development of cooperation between countries in the Southern Hemisphere, Brazil is stepping up its presence not just in Latin America, but in Africa and the Near East as well.
America‘s expectations of Brazil are in many ways reminiscent of the hopes they pinned on India. Both countries already have the critical potential for development, allowing them to build their own independent policies. Attempts to draw Brazil into collaborating in the situation of a subordinate power will be undertaken, naturally, but it is extremely doubtful they would be successful. Brazil‘s BRICS partners, in giving the country access to their vast markets, are able to provide Brazil‘s «large political space» with everything necessary to strengthen its position as a leading power in the Latin American region without needing to be dependent on anyone.