Empire in the 21st century

Analysis of political issues across the world

Empire in the 21st century

Postby Elliott » 14 Feb 2012, 21:17

Today I read that Argentina's football premiere league has been renamed the "Belgrano First Division". Argentina and the Falklands have cropped up several times in the news recently. There seems to be an increasing likelihood that Argentina will demand, perhaps militarily, ownership of the Falklands.

Of course there is the pragmatic question of what Britain will do if Argentina tries to re-take the Falklands. Will we actually go to war? (I'm not convinced that David Cameron has it in him.)

But personally I am more interested in the moral question. What should Britain do? Is it right for us to retain control of these last vestiges of the Empire? Is it not degrading for their inhabitants to be subject to a foreign power? From the British perspective, these territories combined are minuscule compared to the thing that was - is it dignified for us to cling on to these breadcrumbs? Or should we just quietly give them up?

Though I hate to admit it, I am inclined to think that we should just give them up. Our military capacity probably means it would be very easy for us to retain them, but military might doesn't justify anything in a world of UN, NATO and EU. The morality of empire is I think, untenable in the 21st century.

I do not mean to denigrate or denounce the British Empire - quite the contrary. But I think that it is simply not feasible for a country to "seize" foreign territories any more, even when (as in the case of the Falklands) the territory is uninhabited.

My mention of the UN/NATO/EU in reference to empire was half-ironic. I know that many people regard the EU as an empire of sorts; perhaps the only kind of empire that is tenable in the 21st century. Thoughts?
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Re: Empire in the 21st century

Postby Mike » 15 Feb 2012, 04:18

An interesting topic. "Imperialism" tends to be one of the ultimate negative buzz-words for the PC brigade these days, but of course it had its considerable positives as well as its negatives (not talking here just about the British Empire - but the Roman, Chinese, Ottoman and all the rest). My own view is that the great historical empires tended to wane mainly because the areas involved became too large, and the peoples too diffuse, to manage effectively. The loss of self-belief is another factor, of course, but I don't actually think it's the main one. There's a certain smugness in the military sphere that often seems to creep in as well - a recent very interesting book about the Opium Wars suggested that the "imperialist aggression" narrative familiar to Chinese school children and Guardian readers only tells half the story - that a very imperial combination of contempt, incompetence and xenophobia on the Chinese side was just as responsible. There was a lot of this happening towards the end of the Roman Empire too.

On the specific issue of the Falklands, the issue now seems to be largely economic (i.e. about the natural resources and who gets their hands on them) rather than political, but I don't know enough about it to make a genuinely informed comment.
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Re: Empire in the 21st century

Postby Caleb » 15 Feb 2012, 05:00

Elliott: At the end of the day, it should probably left up to the inhabitants to decide their own fate. My understanding is that they would much prefer to remain British than become Argentinian.

If Argentina were to invade the Falklands, then Britain, its allies, and the U.N. should regard such an action as an unlawful invasion. Britain would be within its rights to defend itself and its citizens.
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