The American Empire (1898- ), also known as the “Free World”, is made up of America and those countries which depend on it in trade and war: North and South America, Western Europe, Oceania, most of the East Asian countries near China, South Africa, Israel, Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the small countries of the Persian Gulf, among others. As I write this, it is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
America has more people than any other country in the West and its empire covers most of it. Places where the empire extends beyond the West, as in East Asia, have taken on many Western ways.
It is not an empire of land and direct rule, like the British or Roman empires. It is more like the empire of Athens – one where it is the first among equals, but is far more equal than the rest and tends to get its way.
Many on the left will agree that America has, sadly, become an empire. But most on the right will deny it. So whether there is even such a thing as an American Empire is a matter of debate.
Yet if it is not an empire, it is something very much like one: it keeps the peace in its part of the world and spreads its way of doing things – which it sees as the answer to the world’s troubles.
At the centre of the empire is America and the rich democracies – Britain, France, Germany, Japan and so on. Beyond that are poor countries that serve the centre, vassal states that provide markets, cheap labour and raw materials. Some of these countries are democracies but many are ruled by generals – the so-called banana republics.
Beyond the empire are Russia, China, India, some of the Arab world and much of Africa.
Some countries have done well in the empire. South Korea, for example, has gone from battlefield to banana republic to one of the richest countries in the world.
Some have left (or tried to leave) the empire, like Cuba, Iran, Vietnam, Nicaragua and Iraq, with mixed success.
Most stay, even if they do not always agree with America. The thinking is that they are better off sticking with America than standing alone. Many are near big countries which they fear more than faraway America, like the countries near Russia and China.
During the Second World War much of the wealth of the British Empire came to America to pay for the war against Hitler. After the war, America was the only large, rich country whose homeland was untouched by war.
It soon found itself locked in a cold war against Russia and its empire – then known as the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. The Soviet empire fell in 1991.
Since 2001 it has been fighting a war against Osama bin Laden and his worldwide network of terror, who are fighting a holy war. The main battlefield is the Middle East where each seeks an empire.