Being a post-imperial nation is tough. Some of the world’s richest, most creative, and most powerful countries cannot adjust to life after Empire.
The United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Russia, France, and the Netherlands, have never recovered from the loss of empire. In addition, China’s attempt to recover its historic empire could disrupt the entire world.
Furthermore, the United States is having a tough time adjusting to the potential loss of its global empire. Notably, American politicians who run on anti-imperialist platforms; such as Donald J. Trump (R-Florida), George W. Bush (R-Texas), and Barack Obama (D-Illinois), turn into imperialists in the White House.
However, a few countries have adjusted to the loss of Empire in a sane and constructive manner. Studying those countries could help nations such as the United States and United Kingdom learn to live without an empire.
During the Stormaktstiden, or “the Era of Great Power,” Sweden was a major player in European politics.
Swedish armies conquered half of the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) during the Thirty Years War in the 17th Century; for example. The Swedes even established an American colony Delaware and tried to conquer Caribbean Islands during the period. Plus, Swedes even participated in the African slave trade.
Tsar Peter the Great put an end to Sweden’s Great Power dreams during the Great Northern War in the early 18th Century. Since then, Sweden has successfully adjusted to life as a smaller regional power.
During the past three centuries; Sweden has become increasingly neutral, peaceful, and progressive. For example, Sweden became the first European power to abandon its overseas colonial ambitions in the 18th Century.
Additionally, in 1905, Sweden became the first European nation to give up its largest colony, Norway. The peaceful dissolution of the union of Norway and Sweden is a sharp contrast from the imperialism of the era. Importantly, Sweden stayed out of both World Wars, remained neutral during the Cold War, and built one of the first welfare states.
Sweden was able to adapt to post-imperialism by abandoning militarism and renouncing war as a foreign policy tool. In addition, Sweden learned to live within its borders and stopped trying to impose its values on other nations.
By abandoning militarism, Sweden has created one of the best countries in the world for ordinary people to live in. Notably, Metro.UK claims Sweden is the “best country in the world for women to live in.” In addition, US News & World Report lists Sweden as the country with the #2 Quality of Life in 2018.
Therefore, Sweden’s experience going post-empire pays off in a better quality of life for average citizens. That’s a lesson American, Chinese, and British imperialists need to learn.
No country has suffered more from the mental illness known as imperialism than Germany.
Under Bismarck’s thoughtful imperialism Germany became the most powerful nation in mainland Europe. Plus, Germany had the world’s most advanced technology and the first welfare state in the early 1900s. However, Germany destroyed all that in the lunacy known as World War I.
Germany could have rebuilt after World War I. Instead, the German people fell prey to a worse form of imperialism under the spell of the madman Hitler.
In 1945, most people wrote Germany off because the allies had blasted it to rubble. Additionally, the Soviet barbarians occupied a large portion of Germany and imposed a Communist puppet regime.
Today; however, Germany is the world’s fourth largest economy with a Gross Domestic Product of $4.44 trillion, Investopedia estimates. Moreover, Germany is the strongest economy in Europe and the dominant power in the European Union.
Germany rebuilt and got rich through peace by rejecting militarism and imperialism. Unfortunately, the Germans had to see their country smashed to learn that important lesson.
Today, Germany has rejected its militaristic past. By concentrating on peace and capitalism, Germany has become one of the world’s most influential nations again.
One way, Germany did that was investing in workers and creating the world’s best industry. Consequently, the world’s rich buy German cars and appliances because they are the best.
Companies based in Germany include Volkswagen AG (Frankfurt: VOW); the world’s largest automaker. In fact, Volkswagen sold 10.8 million vehicles in 2018, CNBC reports.
Ironically, Germany proves losing can pay off big time. America and the United Kingdom could learn a lot from their old enemy.
Like its World War II ally; Germany, Japan almost destroyed itself with imperialism during the 20th Century.
Today; however, Japan is the world’s third richest country with a gross domestic product of $5.75 trillion. People around the world drive Japanese cars, listen to and watch Japanese electronics, and embrace Japanese popular culture.
Today many of the world’s best-known companies including Toyota (NYSE: TM), Honda (NYSE: HMC), Mitsubishi, Nintendo, Nissan, Sony, and Toshiba are Japanese. Plus, Japan has vast economic power. For instance, Japan owned $1.6 trillion worth of U.S. government debt in 2019; more than China, The Balance estimates.
Back in the 1930s and 1940s; when Japan had the world’s second largest navy, few Americans or Europeans could name a single Japanese company. Today, the average American or Scotsman could name a dozen Japanese brands off the top of his head. Yet Japan’s 21st Century military is a bad joke.
The Japanese Empire is history but Japan is richer and more powerful than ever. Japan proves that peaceful commerce and technology is the way to achieve global power without making enemies.
Americans, Brits, and Indians who want to make their countries great need to stop wasting money on weapons and military preparedness. Instead, they need to invest in commerce and technology.
The experiences of Sweden, Japan, and Germany prove life after empire can be good if you choose peace and prosperity. However, history teaches that prosperity is impossible unless you let go of the illness known as imperialism.