There have been different descriptions of empire throughout history. But all of them fit into one pattern: a militarily and economically strong state taking control of weaker ones. This relationship leads to an unequal and combined process of economic and political relations until it is challenged either by other empires or by the peripheral countries sucked into the system.
Brute force is not enough to maintain an empire. A pervasive economic system that ties all dependent components (states) together and cultural affinity are equally important. Following the demise of the Soviet empire, many of the satellite countries were open to the effects of rapid globalization. Market relations expanded, and capitalism reached virtually everywhere in the world.
A new form of empire began to take shape, as Johan Galtung propounded in 2004. It fits into the old mold of “unequal exchanges between the center and the periphery,” legitimizing “relationships between exploiters and exploited economically, killers and victims militarily, dominators and dominated politically and alienators and alienated culturally,” according to the Tripathi article.
This analysis reveals the spirit of the modern day empire; economic interest and cultural domination are interwoven and driven by the logic of control and exploitation of the hegemonic power. Today’s imperialism does not aim to control territories by direct military occupation. It is too costly and risky. Military might is only necessary where there is resistance and direct defiance of the control of the hegemonic power. Creating “a certain cultural symmetry with the center” is also vital to sustaining the unequal relationship.
Looking from this perspective, the assaults on Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan makes sense. These are countries that possess vast natural wealth or strategic importance; Iraq and Libya have vast oil and gas resources. But they were also unruly regimes and could not be reined in by the global hegemonic power. They also attempted to drop the American dollar even before formidable economies like India and China tried to.
Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi ruled over their people with considerable ruthlessness. They were undemocratic, so their people had to be liberated from them. But the same rationale has never been employed in the case of other despots in the Gulf region and the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia and Arab kingdoms and sovereign states such as Bahrain and Qatar have no semblance of a Western type of democracy. In fact, they are just warming up to the idea of sending female competitors to the Olympics. However, the despots of these wealthy states see it as expedient to accommodate the hegemon’s interests. They do not apply restrictive quotas to their oil and gas through the sale of which they hoard billions of dollars with which they buy vast quantities of weapons systems “and consumer goods from the industrialized world led by the hegemon,” according to Tripathi.
In the hegemonic world system that has developed since the end of the Cold War there are several categories of nations/states:
1- Stubborn and the uncontrollable. Iran since the 1979 revolution, Syria since the 1963 Ba’athist takeover and Sudan. The hegemon does everything “to overthrow uncooperative regimes by diplomatic, economic and military means.”
2- Alternative hegemonic powers. China, Russia and, to a lesser degree, India pose a counterweight that makes the hegemon feel that it has limits. Multifaceted but competitive relations are developed with these states/nations.
3- Failed states like Somalia, Ethiopia and Mali. They are abjectly poor and disregarded by both the hegemon and the rest of the world except when they threaten the security of “friendly neighbors” and at times of temporary shows of benevolence of “civilized” nations.
This classification once again drives the point home that globalization has not led to the erosion of sovereignty. Instead, a set of new power relationships in the form of national and supranational institutions like the United Nations, the European Union and the World Trade Organization have been introduced into the global equation. Imperialism is no longer based on notions of national sovereignty and territorial possession. It is in the form of “globalization of production, trade and communication. It has no definitive political center and no territorial limits,” says Tripathi. The new empire has open and expanding frontiers. Power is distributed in networks.
All right, then: Who is the enemy? It is any move, group or nation that “poses a threat to the entire system. They have to be dealt with by force. This is the new definition of “terrorism.”