The Evolution of Empire

The trite answer to the question of why empires fall is that they become victims of their own success, growing too large, too corrupt, and too exhausted to fend off energetic newcomers. Whether this will be America’s fate has become an urgent issue in today’s increasingly unstable, multipolar world.

by John Andrews at Project Syndicate: With the just-concluded G7 summit exposing the group’s diminished status, it is appropriate to ask where power lies in today’s world. The United Nations has 193 member states (the most recent, which joined in 2011, is benighted South Sudan), all of which are, as Secretary-General António Guterres put it in 2016, technically committed to “the values enshrined in the UN Charter: peace, justice, respect, human rights, tolerance and solidarity.” But while each gets one vote in the General Assembly, nobody would dare claim that each country carries equal weight.

Instead, the five permanent members of the Security Council – the United States, China, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom – reign supreme, each wielding a veto over whatever the other 192 members might want. That is why Israel, owing to US support, can blithely ignore countless UN resolutions, and why Syria, owing to Russian and Chinese support, handily escaped sanctions for its use of chemical weapons a decade ago.

Owing to the disproportionate power they wield, the “Permanent Five” share an old, decidedly British sense of empire. While the authors of two recent books on empire, Lawrence James and Nandini Das, offer no thoughts on how the UN might – or indeed should – be reformed, I suspect that they would agree.

In The Lion and the Dragon, James, a prolific historian of the UK’s role in world affairs, follows Britain’s relations with China from the nineteenth-century Opium War until the return of Hong Kong and today’s tensions over Taiwan. And in Courting India, Das, a professor at the University of Oxford, concentrates on the very beginnings of the British Empire and its covetous reach into what was then the Mughal Empire in India.

More here.