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LOOKING AHEAD

July 09, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Yaroslav Butakov

RESURGENCE OF EMPIRES

Geopolitics is likely to undergo epochal changes in XXI century

The paradigm of a nation's right for self-determination, which became universally popular in the early XX century, suggested that all the ethnic groups have an equal right for their own statehood, and moreover, have to use it by any means. Practical implementation of this dogma has resulted in huge humanitarian catastrophes.

The system of nation states, born by the ideas of the Enlightenment, has reached a civilizational deadlock. After a chain of wars and revolutions, it is likely to be replaced with revived empires. Some nation states will continue existing, in the shape of imperial satellites. The future world order will rather resemble the late antiquity or the early medieval era.

 

AN EMPIRE IS A UNIVERSE

How many state borders a traveler would have to cross along the ancient Great Silk Route from China to the Mediterranean? Several dozens – unlike the period of I-II centuries A.D., when he had to cross only three borderlines: between the Han Empire of China, the Kushan Kingdom, the latter and the Parthian Kingdom, and finally, the entrance into the Roman Empire.

How secure is today's travel? Afghanistan, lying in the middle of the traveler's way, is a nation state only on the map. Actually, it is a conglomerate of territories of warlords, fighting one another. A similar picture is seen in Iraq, plunged into factional warfare in an effort to build up a democratic nation state. Trying to cross this territory, the traveler would be stopped a thousand of times by local and occupying authorities, with a very high probability of being assassinated.

A citizen of the Roman Empire, with sufficient money and will, could safely travel from the Albion to Egypt without any legal procedures. Certainly, he could not then relax in an aircraft. But if he decides, for instance, to travel to Libya, he will need days and weeks to acquire an entrance visa.

Emergence of nation states in the place of empires has never been favorable for trade, cultural exchange, or human contacts. We have realized this well after the disintegration of the USSR, which made a travel to a foreign country like Turkey easier than a trip to our own relatives in Kazakhstan or the Baltic states. Is it unnatural to be nostalgic of the times when any of us could buy a ticket from Tallin to Tashkent even without a national passport?

The effect of political regress from ethnic state-building, based upon the dogma of nation state, is especially visible when we compare ethnographic maps of today and earlier times. On the map of the Caucasus, made in the late XIX century (earlier, this region was divided between Russian, Ottoman, and Persian empires), we see that the Armenians and the Azeri (then known as Transcaucasian Tatars) inhabited vast areas, settling "in stripes" along the whole territory from the Caspian to the Black Sea, and peacefully coexisting with a lot of other ethnic groups. In the district of Baku, the dominating ethnos was the Tats (Farsi-speaking Jews), while the area of today's Yerevan was more populated exactly with today's Azeri.

In 1910-20s, in the aftermath of the collapse of both the Ottoman and the Russian Empires, ethnic conflicts, instigated by the civil war and foreign intervention, ruined the earlier harmony. Establishing "titular" republics across the area of the Caucasus, the Bolsheviks, giving tribute to the idea of self-determination, contributed into the destruction of the multicultural imperial coexistence. Pogroms and massacres of the times of the USSR's collapse completely exterminated the remains of this complexity, making the ethnic population of the titular regions almost homogenous.

The toll of mutual hostility among such even-populated territories is most impressing at the time of an empire's collapse, and the number of victims of ethnic clashes, multiplied to a decline of life expectancy, exceeds the casualties of the period of empire-building. A re-established empire brings long-lasting peace to territories earlier torn apart by tribal warfare.

Israel Shamir, a Russia-originating Israeli author, focusing on the history of Palestine in his book "The Pine and the Olive", indicates that this area reached the highest level of prosperity and security in the Byzantine period, when "over two million people lived in Palestine; all the fields were tilled; aqueducts delivered water to Caesarea and Jerusalem and to the very heart of the desert". After centuries, came Arabic Caliphs, who patronized science and arts, and were exceptionally tolerant to religious views. "In Jerusalem, they elected Caliph Mu'awiyah, the first of the Omeyads. After that, they attended the service in the Church of Christ's Resurrection, and from there to the Gethsemane Gardens, and climbed the hill where Caliph Omar's wooden palace was standing". The author emphasizes that the tolerant Islam of that time did not intervene in theological debates of Christians, and therefore, Christians did not regret of the fact that they are ruled by a Caliph from Damascus.

"It is true though unpleasant: the country became really prosperous when it completely lost independence", concludes the author.

The same is true for other small nations. In the Baltic States, the period of 1920-1940 was followed with a drastic economic and social decline. At present, relative success of the Baltic States is based upon large-scale investments of Russian companies. Soon after the Russian-Estonian political conflict, Mikhail Stalnukhin, Mayor of Narva, Estonia, proposed to the government: "Just imagine that there are no Russians here for three days. The whole Estonia will walk on foot and in darkness".

 

HIERARCHY VS EQUALITY

All the empires have once emerged and were built as nation states. However, only a few nation states can transform into empires. Obviously, it is impossible to build up an empire without elimination of all national sovereignties except the supreme one.

The conquest of the Middle East by Alexander the Great gave birth to new Hellenistic empires, sparking, according to French historian Pierre-Charles Levesque, "unification of peoples Alexander was dreaming of". Actually, this conquest only continued the process of unification starting yet under the Achaemenids, whose legacy was acquired by the Greek-Macedonian kings; in the era of Roman reign, these processes only intensified.

Depriving smaller peoples of the liberty of establishing statehood, empires primarily deprive them of the right to permanently slaughter one another. Exactly for that reason, empires reveal smaller peoples for the humanity. A voluntary or coerced refusal from statehood is something much larger than just a purchase of domestic peace and external security by joining a major state power. It is also a higher possibility of involvement in global-scale political, economic, and cultural processes.

More or less successfully, empires create cultural phenomena of a higher dimension than national cultures can do. Integration of smaller peoples in an empire not just assimilates ethnic cultures; it enables them to present themselves in a higher expression to a broader human audience, and elevates their intellectual and artistic dower to international recognition. Such Soviet artistic talents as Donatas Banionis, Via Artmane, or Sofiko Chiaureli would have never achieved international fame in case they starred in plays and movies only in their mother languages. Lithuanian cinema as an outstanding phenomenon existed only while the USSR existed; independence of Lithuania extinguished it to zero.

These observations illustrate that an empire is more than just a strong or spacious country, and not a mechanical combination of peoples and cultures. An empire, primarily, is a proto-image of a global, universal power. The Latin word "imperium" exactly means "supreme", "indivisible" power, suggesting a certain sacral motivation. An empire proposes a universal model for resolving problems, essential for the mankind, in the framework of a sole governing organism.

Still, none of the historically known empires managed Ц though a few of them intended Ц to establish a single super-nation from its citizens. This occupation was more typical for nation states of the New Times, which involved a lot of carnage. Empires traditionally do not eliminate the existing ethnic specifics and do not create new; they rather "diversify" them. Present West European nations, emerging in the place of the fallen Western Roman Empire, mostly correspond with major ethnic agglomerates which existed yet before the Roman conquest. The same Greeks, Armenians and Arabs populated the territory of the Byzantine Empire before it emerged, during its existence, and thereafter.

An imperial power is much different from statehood in terms of the conventional nation state. It is organization is much more complicated. An empire suggests a hierarchy of peoples, territories, and occupational orders and degrees. Its structure does not fit into the Procrustean bed of bourgeois theories of federations or unitary states. Historical practice itself introduces corrections into relevant dogmas.

Today's Russia, formally established as an egalitarian federation, actually contains territories with a far unequal legal status. Bilateral connections, established by federal authorities with a number of titular republics, actually exceed the framework of federal law and serve as a modus vivendi in the relations of the empire and territories which are hard to be integrated. Privileges of certain ethnic republics may be questioned. However, it is much more expedient to elevate the status of the nation-building people, and never try to equalize all the peoples to the same grade. An empire is not a frozen image but a living and changing modus vivendi, fulfilling the requirements of the local

universum of peoples.

Regardless from the politically correct statements of US politicians, the superiority of the United States of America to a multitude of formally independent nations is obvious. In the same way, the Roman Empire would never deal with the Cappadocian Kingdom on equal terms.

In their efforts to acquire relative independence from the decadent US global power, nations presently strike alliances, which quite naturally emerge into forms of proto-empires, as it is happening today with the Venezuela-centered alternative alliance of Latin American nations, or with Germany-centered core of the Old Europe. The only viable multipolarity of global political architecture is existence of several empires, emerging in the competition of models of common existence, acceptable for particular nation states which agree to refrain from a part of their sovereignty under certain conditions.

The primary legitimization of a new empire is performed through overtake and successful sanitation of the smoldering loci of chronic inter-ethnic conflicts and similar "flash points".

The ultimate legitimization of an empire suggests correspondence of its system of universal values to the requirements of nations, integrated into its organism.

 

THE OUTLINES OF FUTURE

What empires may emerge in the XXI century? Certainly, their design will be far different from today's EU. Any empire rests upon a national basis. Meanwhile, most of the presently existing nations have already established, and this stage of civilizational development is coming to an end. Empires will be established by the presently existing nations, with the advantage for those which already have a historical experience of empire-building.

In Western Europe, we can expect re-emergence of Great Britain, especially on the background of today's mounting contradictions among continental nations. However, Britain needs to solve two problems to succeed in an imperial revenge: namely, the problems of internal separatism, and the problem of immigration (the former problem being largely a reaction to the latter). In case the present situation remains unchanged, Britain may transform into an analogue of Spain, corroded with ethnic misbalance and incapable for an endeavor of regaining the status of a great power.

In old Europe, the best perspectives are probably opening before Italy, not so much spoiled with "multiculturalism" as other nations. Italy's XX-century history (starting from the Italo-Turkish war of 1912) may serve as only an "early bird" in the ascent of the young Italian nation towards a new historical status.

Arab nations are likely to stay rather objects than subjects of new geopolitical shifts. Northern Africa will most certainly find itself in the orbit of some of the emerging European empires. The only probable exception is Egypt, which will continue to strive for influence on the Arabic world with Turkey and Iran. These three powers are likely to implement their new imperial status in the competition for suzerainty over other nation states of the Middle East. Some of them Ц most possibly, the Sunni-dominated Egypt Ц will eventually manage to ascend to the level comparable to the Caliphate of the first centuries of Islam, or at leas the Ottoman Empire.

India and Pakistan are likely to reach conciliation, with domination of India. Pakistan will yield to India's continuous ascent, having no geopolitical space for implementation of its own ambitions. However, India's imperial influence will hardly exceed the limits of Southern Asia.

On the contrary, China is about to emerge into a real global-scale empire. The whole of South-Eastern Asia and more than a half of Africa, as well as possibly Australia and Oceania, is likely to fall under China's suzerainty. China will be able to play upon contradictions of smaller regional empires like Iran and Turkey, Brazil and the Hispanic America. However, this expansion will make the Chinese empire looser and less consolidated than today's China. The possibility of China's emergence into the "sovereign of the world" is still questionable.

In Latin America, the two major potential centers of integration are Mexico and the Greater Colombia (Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador). The Portuguese-speaking Brazil is likely to oppose those alliances, potentially trying to get countries like Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia involved into its orbit. The southern nations of the continent will temporize among the centers of continental gravity, though Argentina may also try to develop its own imperial project.

The United States will be able to reshape itself into an empire of the new multipolar reality in case of consolidation of its Anglo-Saxon nucleus. In case of failure of the British imperial project, a thus transformed neo-American empire may extend its domination not only to Canada but to the seceding Scotland and Wales, as well as Scandinavia. In the process of reshaping, the revived US Empire may agree to yield some of its southern, historically Mexican territories, to a rising Mexican Empire.

Russia is likely to tower as "the largest of the equal" not only above the former Soviet republics (some of them, including the present unrecognized republics, Belarus, and the most of Ukraine's and Kazakhstan's territories likely to be included into a direct imperial jurisdiction) but also Ц according to the concept of "the terminal home of the European" Ц above a number of states of "new Europe", challenged with the inflow of immigrants and EU's weakness. Russia's imperial interests are likely to extend to Christian enclaves in the Moslem world, including Lebanon and Ethiopia, as well as probable newly-emerging nation states like Kurdistan.

This is only one of the scans of the future reality, which is going to be much more dynamic than it is possible to describe in this article. In any case, the political map of today is likely to undergo tremendous changes. Old, ostensibly indivisible alliances will collapse, reshaping into new ones which today seem unbelievable. The essence of the general trend of this change, as it was mentioned above, will lie in emergence of the empires in the place of nation states, as well as in accession of the hierarchic principle in international, as well as domestic political affairs.

Having exhausted the hope to reach harmony in coercive equality, the humanity is likely to re-assess the traditional principles and forms of organization Ц both in the society and in global policies.


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