The collapse of an empire is a destructive process. For example, you can argue that the Middle East never recovered from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire during World War I.
Thus we need to examine Imperial Collapse because our modern world contains three empires that could collapse. In particular, the American Imperium seems to be on the verge of collapse because of clumsy military campaigns in the Middle East and bad economic and social policies at home.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is leading the sorry remains of the morally and financially bankrupt Russian Empire into oblivion. Finally, the European Union (EU) faces a series of existential and political crises that could bring it down.
The Third German Empire
You can describe the EU as an empire because it is a centralized bureaucratic state dominated by one power: Germany.
Germany dominates the EU because it is the world’s fourth largest economy with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $4.2 trillion in 2019 and 2020, FocusEconomics estimates. Moreover, currency markets accept the Euro because it superseded the very successful German currency the Deutschmark.
Hence, you could call the EU a third modern German Empire. To clarify, the first modern German Empire was Bismark’s 19th Century German Empire; and the second modem German Empire was Hitler’s evil Third Reich. Hitler called his regime the Third Reich; or Third German Empire, because he viewed it as a successor state to the Medieval German Empire, or Holy Roman Empire.
One reason the United Kingdom is leaving the EU through Brexit is to avoid German domination. The British people have no desire to be ruled by the grandchildren of the people who tried to kill their grandparents.
Many people do not recognize the EU as an empire; because they built the European Union with soft economic power rather than conquering armies. To explain, countries such as Spain, Italy, and France joined the EU to shore up their ailing economies with the Euro.
The Euro is a sound currency that people can spend. The old Italian, Spanish, and French currencies were essentially toilet paper.
The New Chinese Empire
Conversely, the world is witnessing the rise of a new Chinese Empire based on economic, financial, and technological power.
In particular, I think China has the largest reserves of our world’s most valuable resource, data. Many observers view data as the oil of the 21st Century because data is the raw resource they build social media, artificial intelligence (AI), the internet, platforms, and other resources from.
Data scientist, and venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee labels the People’s Republic: “The Saudi Arabia of Data,” in his book AI Super-Powers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order. Lee’s hypothesis is that China will dominate data because the People’s Republic produces more data than any other country.
Lee believes China will dominate artificial intelligence because its government is making massive investments in AI research. That research could pay off because China has the data to build powerful AI.
“AI is run on data as fuel and China has so much more data than any other country,” Lee told Wired. “While the mobile user numbers are maybe three times the difference, the mobile payment numbers are more like 50 times more than the US. This huge amount of data can be cranked through the AI engine for better predictions, better efficiency, higher profits, less labour, less cost and so on. The data advantage is a huge one.”
Consequently, the Chinese could unleash a new generation of AI-operated weapons that could dominate any future battlefield. Current generation AI are already beating human champions in games as diverse as poker, Go, and Starcraft.
I think an AI that could outwit and defeat human soldiers on the battlefield are now technologically possible. Moreover, I think the Chinese People’s Liberation Army could be the first military force to deploy such AI-directed weapons.
Beyond AI, Forbes’ contributor Tatiana Koffman thinks China could takeover the world with its Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP) cryptocurrency experiment. Other examples of the New Chinese Empire include the Road and Belt Initiative; or New Silk Road, a scheme to build a rail and road transportation network between the People’s Republic and the EU.
A World of Imperial Collapse
Thus we live in a world of imperial collapse, in which three empires; the Russian, the American, and the German/European, could fall apart before our eyes. Hence it is a good time to study past imperial collapses.
A few lessons we can learn from past imperial collapses include:
Empires can Unexpectedly Regenerate Themselves
Empires share an attribute with the X-Men’s Wolverine; they can regenerate even after apparently fatal injuries. Just as Wolverine can quickly recover from gunshots or sword wounds, empires can recover from horrendous injuries.
The Crusaders; for example, destroyed the Byzantine Empire during the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204). However, the Byzantines were able to reorganize and reconstitute their empire. In fact, the reorganized Byzantine Empire survived for almost 250 years until 1453.
The Russian Empire, was near death from revolution and defeat in World War I in 1917. Yet the Russian Empire reformed itself as the Soviet Union, and emerged as the world’s second most powerful nation in 1945.
Likewise, the British Empire was close to collapse in 1917; facing near defeat in World War I, and revolt in Ireland. Yet, the British Empire survived to win the war, and fight and win World War II, and stick around until 1960.
Finally, the Allies blasted the German Empire into rubble and divided it into two parts during World War II. However, the German Empire revived in the late 20th Century as the Federal Republic.
The Federal Republic is now a great power and a cornerstone of the EU. Meanwhile, two of Nazi Germany’s conquerors; Russia and the United Kingdom, are economic basket cases that could not adapt to the modern world.
Thus, any of the three sick and dying global empires; America, the EU, and the Russian Federation, could regenerate fast and emerge as a dominant force in the 21st Century. However, I think each of those empires will need major political change to survive, as Russia did.
The British Empire collapsed because it was incapable of political reform. Specifically, the “white” British refused to give the Indians an equal share of the Empire; after asking Indian soldiers to fight and die for the Empire in two World Wars. When the Indians, sensibly, walked out of the empire in 1947, the British let them.
Imperial Collapse is Often Exaggerated
Empires can take a long time to collapse. The Roman Empire; for instance, took almost 1,000 years to collapse.
To explain, one of the last successor states to the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople, fell to Ottoman forces in 1453. Yet they overthrew the last Western Roman Emperor Romulus in 476 A.D.
Similarly, European statesmen pronounced the Ottoman Empire dead in the early 19th Century. Yet the Ottoman Empire hung on until 1922, and outlasted the supposedly invincible Second German Empire.
In addition, the Russian Empire is still with us over 28 years after the “fall” of the Soviet Union, and over 100 years after the murder of Czar Nicholas II. Strangely, the Soviet colonial outpost in Cuba still stands 28 years after they drove the Communists from the Kremlin.
Consequently, the sorry remains of the American, Russian, or EU empires could stick around for generations. In fact, the British still maintain imperial military bases in Gibraltar and Cyprus, even though their empire collapsed in the 1960s.
Additionally, there are still French colonial forces in Africa, over 50 years after the “collapse” of the French Empire. Thus you can argue the French Empire still exists, even though the British Empire is history.
Imperial Collapse is deadly and Catastrophic
We need to fear imperial collapse because failing empires can cause millions of deaths.
The partition of Britain’s Indian Empire in 1947 and 1948 caused two million deaths. In addition, partition forced 15 million people out of their homes.
The bloodbath occurred when Britain’s last Viceroy; Lord Mountbatten, divided the British possessions on the subcontinent into nations; India and Pakistan. The British created Pakistan; which included modern Bangladesh, as a homeland for Indian Muslims.
Fighting broke out when mobs of Hindus and Muslims tried to drive people of the other religion out of their regions. However, partition achieved Mountbatten’s goal of allowing British forces to leave India without casualties. The Indians and Pakistanis were too busy killing each other to interfere with the British withdrawal.
More recent examples of deadly imperial collapse the bloody fighting in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the horrors that erupted in Chechnya when the Soviet Union fell apart.
Plus, you can blame the recent chaos and violence in Syria, Iraq, and Libya on the withdrawal or absence of American forces. Americans conquered Iraq then withdrew after the war became politically unpopular.
Likewise US forces destroyed the idiotic Qaddafi regime in Libya but refused to occupy the country to keep order. In Syria, the US undermined the Assad regime but failed to deploy sufficient forces to create a replacement.
Syria could experience a second round of horrors, if the Kremlin withdraws the Russian forces that are propping up Assad’s brutal regime. My guess, is that Syrians will overthrow and lynch Bashar Assad a few days, or weeks, after the last Russian soldier leaves.
Therefore, American Imperial Collapse is partially responsible for the current mess in the Middle East. Additionally, half-hearted Russian imperial meddling is making the situation worse.
Hence, you can blame the United States; and Russia, for part of the refugee crisis plaguing Europe. Similar horrors could occur if they withdraw American forces from Afghanistan or parts of Africa.
Imperial Collapse Breeds Terrorism
A side effect of the recent imperial collapse has been the creation of lawless regions where terrorist gangs such as ISIS and Al Qaeda can operate openly.
ISIS conquered parts of Iraq because the United States destroyed the Iraqi government and military in 2003. Likewise, the Taliban conquered Afghanistan after the Soviet Union destroyed that nation’s government. The Taliban let Al Qaeda use Afghanistan as a base which led to the September 11 atrocity and American invasion.
Strangely, another symptom of imperial collapse led to terrorist rule in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. To explain, collapsing empires try to demonstrate their power by engaging in flashy and destructive but meaningless military campaigns.
Notably, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to demonstrate its “military prowess” in the 1980s. Likewise, the British and French empires engaged in a pointless; and ultimately unsuccessful, invasion of Egypt in 1956.
Imperial Collapse leads to Chaos
Both invasions hastened the demise of the decrepit imperial powers involved. Such late-imperial shows of strength can have catastrophic consequences. The decaying Austro-Hungarian Empire triggered World War I by attacking Serbia, a Russian client state.
The Russians mobilized to support the Serbs, which caused Austria-Hungary’s ally Imperial Germany to mobilize. Eventually, that dragged in Russia’s ally France, and France’s ally, the British Empire into the conflict.
More recently, the United States devastated three countries; Iraq, Libya, and Syria, in clumsy efforts to demonstrate its military power. In common with the British and French in the Suez Crisis; and the Soviets in Afghanistan, all the Americans demonstrated in the Middle East was their weakness.
Notably, American rivals; such as China, Russia, and Iran, have gotten more aggressive since the debacle in Iraq. Additionally, the American-led alliance from the War on Terror has collapsed completely.That leaves the United States with questionable allies; such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United Kingdom.
History shows that imperial collapse is dangerous and destructive. We could see more chaos and mass slaughter as 21st Century empires fail and collapse.