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Imperialism in International Relations | CSS International Relations Notes

Imperialism in International Relations
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What is Imperialism?

Imperialism is the process of extending the rule of government beyond the boundaries of its original state. Imperialism establishes a relationship, formal or informal, in which one state uses direct military or economic means, to control the political sovereignty of another political entity.

Imperialism therefore implies the policy of extending the control or authority over foreign entities as a means of acquisition and/or maintenance of empires, either through direct control of territories or through indirect methods of exerting control on the politics or economies of other countries. The term is used by some to describe the policy of a country in maintaining colonies and dominance over distant lands, regardless of whether the country calls itself an empire.

Imperialists normally hold the belief that the acquisition and maintenance of empires is a positive good, combined with an assumption of cultural or other such superiority inherent to imperial power. However, imperialism has often been considered to be an exploitive evil.

Marxisits use the term imperialism as Lenin defined it: “the highest stage of capitalism”, specifically the era in which monopoly finance capital becomes dominant, forcing the empires to compete amongst themselves increasingly for control over resources and markets all over the world. This control may take the form of geopolitical machinations, military adventures, or financial maneuvers.

It is worth noting that Marx himself did not propound a theory of imperialism, and in contrast with later Marxist thinkers generally saw the colonialism of European powers as having a progressive aspect, rather than seeing it as the pillage of those countries in favor of the European centre countries.

Distinguishing Colonialism from Imperialism

Many writers have used the terms colonialism and imperialism interchangeably, as if there is little difference between these two phenomena. Yet an important difference between the two phenomena is the presence of a significant number of settlers from the colonizing power in the colonized state.

Whereas settlement may be the most important feature of colonialism, it is generally acknowledged that colonialism involves much more than the immigration of people from one region to another one.

According to Michael Doyle, colonialism is one of the possible outcomes of imperialism, achieved either by force, by political collaboration, by economic, social or cultural dependence.

Objectives of Imperialism

  • Economic Gain: to secure raw materials, or gain access to trade routes or to the sea
  • National Prestige: imperialism is often portrayed as „manifest destiny‟ or intrinsic superiority
  • Military or Defense Needs: to gain control over strategic areas
  • Surplus Population: over-populated states can find relief through migration to colonies
  • ‘While Man’s Burden’: obligation to civilize savages
  • Marxist-Leninist View: imperialism compelled by control markets for surplus production and investment, Communists were imperialist too

Examples of Imperialism

US Imperialism: under the guise of the Monroe Doctrine (1823) the US exerted control over Latin America under the guise of protecting interference of the European powers in the affairs of independent states of the New World.

Russian Imperialism: initially the imperialistic urge was confined to contiguous territories but with advent of the Cold War, Russian imperialism spread to the Asian, African and South American continents, filling in the vacuum left by the decreasing influence of colonial European powers.

Japanese Imperialism: as Japan industrialized and became increasingly militarized prior to WWII, it annexed parts of Korea and China. Thereafter Japanese imperialistic influence has primarily been economic.

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