Saturday, 9 February 2008

The Age Of Empires

I was filing away some of my notes the other day when I came across this graphic. It is a chart presented by Niall Ferguson at the Global Leadership Summit, held at the London Business School in July 2007 (see link for details). It struck me as relevant to a recent discussion that has occurred about whether or not America has an Empire and in the context of a new piece that is emerging (‘The World Without US’, once again, courtesy of Niall Ferguson) on what the world would be like if the US were to choose an isolationist path again.

It is interesting to see that Professor Ferguson sees two global empires in play at the moment – the Chinese and the American. Much debate has raged over the American Empire, but the pundits have been relatively quiet about Chinese expansionism. Perhaps this is because the Chinese Government are projecting their influence by using the techniques of ‘soft power’ (trade, diplomatic persuasion, and aid), whilst the world has as its focus the big bangs of American ‘hard power’ (military intervention and diplomatic coercion). Whilst we look at US interventions in the Middle East and Central Asia, we also need to be mindful of China securing key resources in South America and Africa. One of the great uncertainties of the next two decades is whether or not China will assert itself through the use of hard power in addition to the soft power already deployed.

This is a theme developed in The World Without US (see link). This work considers what the world would be like if the US were to adopt an isolationist stance again. It originates in a 2004 article in Foreign Policy entitled ‘A World Without Power’ by Niall Ferguson (see article). Whilst there are some who would say that this would be a positive development, we might seriously question the degree to which the world would become safer and more peaceful. For example, at the moment, the US is attempting to broaden the war fighting capability in Afghanistan through NATO. This initiative is not meeting with a great deal of success, despite it being in the interest of all of the international community to ensure that 90% of the world opium capacity does not revert back to the Taliban. If the US were to withdraw from Afghanistan, it is feared that the streets of North America, Europe, Russia, China, and elsewhere would be flooded with cheap heroin and other opiate derivatives. A central uncertainty around US foreign policy over the next two decades is exactly whether or not it will adopt a more isolationist stance.

However, given the advance of globalisation, a more interesting question, perhaps, is whether or not the US has the ability to disengage from the rest of the world.

2 comments:

bilkentli said...

Ottoman empire starts from 1299 not 1453 as it is in your picture: http://crnano.typepad.com/.shared/image.html?/photos/uncategorized/2008/02/11/empire_durations.png

You can check the web also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottoman_empire

29 may 1453 is capture of Istanbul, not foundation time.

Thank you.

Stephen Aguilar-Millan said...

Thank you for your comment. There is always a degree of uncertainty as to when an Empire may have started and when it may have ended. Indeed, there are those who deny that the US or Communist China today are Empires at all.

I think that Professor Ferguson has followed the 'Western' convention of dating the end of the Byzantine Empire and the commencement of the Ottoman Empire as 1453. However, as you rightly suggest, the Ottoman Empire had been in existence for 250 years prior to this.

Thank you for piointing out to us that the 'Western' convention is not the only one.