Many Americans deny the existence of an American empire or any association with the term American imperialism. Their reactions come to no surprise since the subject is often implicated in a negative manner. As a defence, Americans would say that they were only trying to spread democracy and freedom around the world. Although they claim to be implementing justice on a global scale, whether they know it or not, they are expanding their “imperialist” power in terms of its economic, military, political, or cultural influence in the world today.
To start off, the word imperialism originates from the Latin verb imperare, which essentially means to command, and from the Roman concept on imperium, in other words expansion (Rajeev, 2011). The term imperialism made its name when it was first used during the sixteenth century to describe the dominance one nation had over a weaker nation in terms of territorial, colonial, geographical, economical, and military means (Rajeev, 2011). It is from imperialism that an empire may exist. The word empire is derived from the Latin imperium, which is the power a general armed force, usually an army, imposes by the means of a combination of military power and political power (Mann, 2008). Imperialism and empire are interrelated terms and used interchangeably. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the definition of imperialism has changed with the addition of a geographical component. Thus, to sum it all up, the modern usage of the expressions imperialism and empire are considered as a centralized nation that dominates its peripheral nations by coercion and expansions through cultural, politic, economic, or military means.
Starting with American economic imperialism, the impact of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has greatly strained the South, creating a divide between the North and the South. The main goal of the WTO is to promote for free trade. What all countries are interested in is a free global market of others, with the exception of their own. Furthermore, Third World Nations know that rich countries like the United States prospered by initially protecting their smaller industries, repressing finances, and subsidizing exports (Kwa, 2008). The Third World Nations know that if they had equivalent resources and access to rich nations’ markets, they would benefit and prosper as well. Clearly, the American Empire does not agree with this, otherwise it would have been implemented. In addition, the next best solution for developing nations would be opening the free global market for all. Their lower-cost manufacturing and lower-cost agriculture would allow them to export more (Kwa, 2008). Instead, the WTO pressures these poorer nations to open up their markets, while in contrary, rich nations like the United States are imperialistic in the sense that they are entitled to protect their own agriculture and goods. Despite the WTO’s label as a democratic constitution, they in fact demonstrate some undemocratic ways. The WTO has been controlled by rich, dominating nations known as “the Quad” – the United States, the European Union, Japan, and Canada (Kwa, 1998). As a result, all these nations are able to gain economic strength and collaboratively form a Northern imperialist power. Many preferential trade agreements proposed by Third World Nations were fulfilled only if it were to benefit the Quad. For example, the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act that has been approved by the U.S. Congress in 2000 to help assist the economies of Africa and improve relations between the U.S. and the continent (USTR, 2008). Under the WTO, the ability that the United States has to offer and withdraw economic assistance is a form of economic imperialism.
The United States, as of right now, operates as the central hub of the world`s financial market. In 2003, 83 percent of the $3 trillion foreign exchanges involved the U.S. dollar and 59 percent of foreign exchange reserves were in U.S. dollars. In order to finance its growing trade, the United States needs to continue this. Americans’ debts to other nations probably comprises of over a quarter of their gross domestic product, therefore they expect 2 billion each day to pay for it (Mann, 2008). The ideal interest for the nation would be having foreigners continue investing in the United States than elsewhere. This may be detrimental to other nations, but beneficial to the economy of America.
The American ideological system of power and control is democracy – freedom over dictatorship. Therefore, the United States did not feel so threatened after the fall of the Soviet Union. Now, the U.S. could expand their practices of democratic capitalism without the risk of a world war. Democratic capitalism is a political-economic system of government that is supported by votes (the majority) and supports a capitalist free market economy (Parenti, 1995). As a result, this has left American military dominance on a global scale, consisting of more than half of the world’s military budget (Mann, 2008). Military spending has stop rising. It has risen by 15 percent, $310.5 billion in 2001 to $347.5 billion, 48 billion in 2003, and an extra $120 billion in the next five years (Anonymous, 2002). It is evident that the United States is extending its military empire – going from the Middle East, expanding in South Central Asia, and even in Africa (Schreiner, 2012). About a decade ago, military imperialism was minimal or almost nonexistent in some regions of the world like Africa. Now, it is growing across these continents more rapidly than ever. There are military bases in the Middle East, an excessive amount of ground, air and naval build-up in the Persian Gulf, troops and ships in Asia, drone bases in the eastern Indian Ocean, new bases in Latin America, and special operations forces stretching across the continent of Africa (Schreiner, 2012). Thus, no other empire has attained such superiority as the United States has. Customarily, the expansion of the U.S. military is a component of American military imperialism.
The presence of networking U.S. military bases in the Middle East has been unbalanced. There are only four bases out of the seven across the Middle East and Africa that the U.S. could directly attack from (Mann, 2008). They believed that the military could overcome all enemies. In a modern perspective, it is used to secure oil supplies and exercise their influence over other nations. The main motives behind the invasion of Iraq were more than threats of terrorism and secret weapons of mass destruction. Oil was the central purpose through which the United States wanted to acquire control of the region by means of military imperialism. Iraq was targeted because it was a territorially large, oil-abundant country with Sadam Hussein as the detested dictator. Furthermore, the United States has a reputation for countering threats in regions with the threat of military violence, as demonstrated by the Gulf War of 1991 in terms of oil (Mann, 2008). By 2005, the mission in Iraq shifted to spreading and maintaining democracy amongst the region (Mann, 2008). However, military imperialism also brought along conflicting issues between religion and what the Americans are attempting to implement. Islam, specifically in the Middle East was difficult for the U.S. to penetrate into the Muslin civil society (Mann. 2008). Due to Americas overrated military confidence, they invaded Iraq for their oil supplies, an imperialist motive. The United States can no longer mend the Iraqi-nation since their U.S. bases surround oil and natural gas resources. To sum it all up, the U.S. invasion on Iraq is similar to that of Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union and Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbour. What these three have is common is the expansion of imperialist power originating from military successes. The United States feels that it is their mission to promote their military power and expand their influence. Likewise to the first two events that impacted change on a global scale, the military advances the U.S. has may potentially change the world as well.
Not only did the United States attempt to exploit the natural resources, specifically the supply of oil, in the Middle East, they have expanded their territorial acquisition to the continent of Africa. One of the visible contemporary elements of economic imperialism is the foothold that America has over the natural resources of a nation, specifically weaker nations like Africa, Asia, and the South Americas. Africa is considered one of the richest in natural resources on the globe. The expansion of North American corporations overseas have resulted in gaining control of over more than three-fourths of the mineral resources in Africa (Workers, 2008). Despite the estimated billions of dollars in resources such as oil, petroleum, diamonds, gold, silver, woods, tropical fruits, and many other raw materials, why is it that Africa is regarded as one of the most economically underdeveloped continents on the globe? The answer is American imperialism. From 1985-1990 the U.S. international investment increased approximately 84 percent (Workers, 2008). This growth is due to an accumulation of reduced production costs and maximized profits from investing in lower labour wages. Because of cheap labour, nonexistent labour unions, and exploitation of natural resources, the U.S. is able to prosper. In contrary, the same practices apply to other less developed nations like Taiwan and Mexico.
The largest form of American imperialism observed in the 21st century today is in the context of cultural imperialism. The expansion of American products across the world comprises of the distribution of American attitudes and values. Anywhere on the globe today, people suffer from exposure to U.S. goods from large American transnational corporations such as McDonald’s, Apple and Mattel products for instance. In Herbert Schiller’s work on Communication and Cultural Domination, he defined cultural imperialism as the ways in which a nation influences its peripheral countries by “attracted, pressured, forced, and sometimes bribed into shaping social institutions” to promote their values and structures, bringing other nations into a modern world system (Galeota, 2004, par. 2). Therefore, as a result of globalization, cultural imperialism is not only related to simple consumer goods, but there are motives behind the context of these simple consumer goods. It consists of distributing American principles and the American way, such as freedom and democracy. Although the concept of American cultural imperialism appears appealing superficially, many cultures are actually disintegrating and losing their traditions. The mass amount of influence from corporate and cultural America is the reason why many countries around the globe, like India and China are becoming more “modernized”.
The motivation America has for cultural imperialism is interrelated with economic imperialism – the expansion of foreign markets therefore expanding the superiority of the American culture. Even though the United States has a reputation of comprising the world’s largest and most powerful economy, they still remain unsatisfied with controlling only their own market. To further expand, America wants to control the remaining 95 percent of the world’s consumers (Galeota, 2004). American films contributed to 80 percent of global box office revenues in 2003. To add on, there are over 30,000 McDonald’s restaurants in more than one hundred countries worldwide (Galeota, 2004). The double-golden arches, according to Eric Schlosser from Fast Food Nations, that the M logo from McDonald’s is described as “more widely recognized than the Christian cross” (Galeota, 2004, par. 4). It is inevitable that the foothold of dominance America has on the world is detrimental towards local markets and businesses because it is difficult for foreign markets to compete with the economic superiority of powerful transnational U.S. industries. America cares little for their foreign competitors that are not doing so well financially since America is only doing what is most beneficiary for their own economic interests.
The detrimental effects that America’s culture imposes on foreign nations are not heavily publicized. “Americanization” is often a term used to describe the superiority of the United States; therefore this nation feels that they have the obligation to implement their American culture on cultures that they consider as lesser. This belief that is criticized as a new concept is far from modernity. In fact, American imperialism has existed since the time the first settlers colonized this continent. Dating back to that period of time to now, the Native American population has essentially disappeared (Galeota, 2004). The extermination of the First Nations that once dominated the United States centuries ago are the consequences of American expansion. This can be related to Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest”. In relation to cultural imperialism, the more dominant, “fit” culture will survive and overtake the inferior ones. The superiority of the American cultures arises from marketing. In relation to marketing, marketers are not only trying to sell a product or a brand, but they are attempting to sell the culture as well. This can be accomplished worldwide by associating American consumers with modernity in the American goods that they purchase. Selling the product sells the American principles that consumers all over the globe strive for, enhancing both the economic cultural strength of this industrialized nation. For example, in recent observations of the multinational corporation, McDonald’s, instead of the stereotypical blonde-haired blue-eyed American, this company integrated international ethnic groups within their campaigns to appeal to a variety of cultures in the world (Galeota, 2004). Underneath the surface that McDonald’s was attempting to portray in the history of multiculturalism in the United States. These American goods bring along with them the nation’s view on economics, ethnic and politics. Furthermore, one of the methods American corporations use to appeal to the various cultures is in their advertising. People respond to the way that these corporations advertise by incorporating cultural celebrities or trends into their advertisements. For example, in 2000, India presented a commercial featuring Bollywood stars Rhithik Roshan to promote Coca-Cola and Sharukh Khan to promote Pepsi (Galeota, 2004). By doing so, the United States is able to sell their trademark to the world, a form of not only cultural imperialism, but economic imperialism as well. In some cases, even military hegemony is expressed.
The United States is often referred to as the ‘American Empire’ in relationship with imperialism. The term imperialism is used to describe the expansion of dominance and power of a nation by the means of direct geographical acquisition or by indirect control of political matters over weaker territories (Rajeev, 2011).In a broader perspective with respect to the American Empire, it is the power, authority, and influence that the US imposes on its neighbouring countries. American imperialism encompasses the aspects of economic imperialism, cultural imperialism, and military imperialism (Rajeev, 2011). Without a doubt, this powerful industrialized nation has gained imperialist power on a global scale influencing the world today.
In conclusion, the United States has always been viewed as an imperialist power, whether it is formally or informally conducted. Formally in the sense of geographical acquisition as seen by military imperialism in which the United States invaded Iraq for oil or informally by selling the American principles worldwide through U.S. products. American imperialism has occurred in various methods, during various periods of time in various regions of the world. On a global scale, America is known as imperialistic, out-dominating its predecessors – the Japanese, British and Soviet empire which now has little existence in the 21st century (Mann, 2008). It is impossible to predict the fate of the modern American empire, but seeing the cultural, economic, political, and military dominance it has over its peripheral nations, it is safe to say that globalization has led to America as an imperialist power.