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From global imperialism to local security - page 1


The evolution of the international system has been driven by the imperial ambitions of the larger industrial states, namely access to energy supplies, raw materials and markets considered vital to their interests, as defined by elite, corporate groups that control central government policy.

Already in a dominant position, the United States emerged from the Cold War with a global, imperial power base and clear military supremacy. Other large states, notably China, now provide serious challenges as their elites pursue similar policy goals, leading to an intensification of competition for access to scarce resources. The world economy may be more integrated than at times of previous imperial power struggles but the present situation closely resembles the build-up to World War One and World War Two, with various regional arms races, and attempts to both directly and indirectly control resource flows from strategically important areas.

While incredibly dangerous, it is also completely futile. The real security challenge of the 21st century is the threat of civilisation collapse caused by resource depletion and climate change. Contradictions are deepening between the severity of this breakdown, experienced as the end of traditional growth paths, and the futility of external military power in promoting real security. The economic momentum that led to the creation of larger states is being reversed and the international system will experience fundamental restructuring on a scale not seen since the early days of the industrial revolution.

Smaller countries, or autonomous regions of larger countries that are able to provide better prospects for economic and environmental security by focusing their investment on local energy, food and other essential production, will offer viable alternatives when the globalised economy enters its terminal phase. This will be an extremely dangerous period in which some larger states implode through social and political breakdown but it is essential to start planning now for a successful transition from imperialism to local security.

As the crisis deepens, the UK is in a position to be the first, post-imperial localising state, ending its military subordination to the United States, closing all US bases, and cancelling its armament programmes for long-range power projection. Substantial savings could be made from arms expenditures to help support investment programmes for a permanently demilitarized economy that focuses on local security needs in energy, food, housing and transportation.

An international system of cosmopolitan localism can emerge from this fundamental economic restructuring, holding out the prospect of resolving the new security challenges from resource depletion and climate change, while  building a long-term peace.


Modern Nation States and Imperialism

The first nation states were organised around the goal of internal pacification to promote trade. As the markets for agricultural products and early forms of bulk manufactured goods expanded in Europe during the 16th and 17th Centuries, a coalition of interests was formed between absolutist rulers and a new class of merchants to support long-distance commerce and to reduce transaction costs from local tariffs and taxes. Strong central government over a large geographical area emerged as the basis for trade in the 17th and 18th Century - notably, France under Louis XIV, which strengthened external borders while it dismantled a much larger number of fortresses within the country and disbanded local militia.1

But the system of larger nation states was also built on imperial expansionism, a process intensified by the industrial revolution and the struggle to secure raw materials and markets. Britain, by the mid 19th century, had a truly global empire that at its peak, covered one third of the world‘s land area and one quarter of its population.  Other countries also had strong regional presences including the Netherlands and France in South East Asia. By the late 19th Century, the European powers were increasingly turning their attention to Africa with virtually the entire continent divided up under direct colonial rule.2

The Treaty of Versailles (1919) and the establishment of the League of Nations after World War One is often represented as the beginning of a new era that, under the benign influence of the United States’ ‘liberal internationalism’, broke with the corrupt practices of European imperialism to secure equality of  rights for smaller countries through international law.3 In reality, the victorious allies were attempting a balancing act that absorbed the collapse of the defeated European empires, and the claims to independence for some European states, but maintained intact the global, imperial system from which they benefited. Various devices were used such as the mandate that furnished British control of Palestine, following the break up of the Ottoman Empire, securing oil supplies and military and commercial routes to India. Certainly, there was no question of providing support for nationalist and independence movements when these imperial interests were threatened.

The Treaty’s main, if unacknowledged, significance was to mark the emergence of the USA as the leading imperial power of the 20th Century and its central role in the new phase of global competition that would intensify during the 1920s and 1930s. While the USA was intent on portraying itself as isolationist and anti-imperialist, having intervened in World War One only because of the growing threat from German militarism, its business and political leadership recognised the opportunities offered by the post-Versailles international restructuring to become the dominant power in the Pacific.

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