The post-modern-state system has broken down national borders and rejected force for resolving disputes. The EU is the most developed example of this, but not the only one. On the other hand, the pre-modern state may be too weak even to secure its home territory, let alone pose a threat internationally, but can provide a base for non-state actors who are potentially dangerous to the post-modern world. Consequently, a new form of voluntary imperialism is needed for the world. The author illustrates this thesis with the example of the European intervention in the Balkans. The main characteristics of the post-modern world are as follows:
- breakdown of the distinction between domestic and foreign affairs;
- mutual interference in (traditional) domestic affairs and mutual surveillance;
- rejection of force for resolving disputes and consequent codification of self-enforced rules of behavior;
- growing irrelevance of borders, come about both through the changing role of the state, but also through missiles, motor cars and satellites;
- security based on transparency, mutual openness, interdependence and mutual vulnerability.
The fundamental point is that a large number of the most powerful states no longer want to fight or conquer. Imperialism in the traditional sense is dead, at least among the Western powers. The EU is the most developed example of a post-modern system. It represents security through transparency, and transparency through interdependence. While the members of the post-modern world may not represent a danger to one another, both the modern and pre-modern zones pose threats.
The pre-modern state may be too weak even to secure its home territory, let alone pose a threat internationally, but it can provide a base for non-state actors who may represent a danger to the post-modern world. If non-state actors, notably drug, crime, or terrorist syndicates, take to using pre-modern states as bases for attacks on the more orderly parts of the world, then the organized states may eventually have to respond.
All the conditions for imperialism are there, but both the supply and demand for imperialism have dried up. Yet the weak still need the strong, and the strong still need an orderly world, in which an efficient and well-governed export stability and liberty, and openness for investment and growth seem eminently desirable.
What is needed then is a new kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan values. We can already discern its outline: an imperialism which, like all imperialism, aims to bring order and organization but which rests today on the voluntary principle.
Post-modern imperialism takes two forms. First there is the voluntary imperialism of the global economy. The second form of post-modern imperialism might be called the imperialism of neighbors. Instability in your neighborhood poses threats that no state can ignore. For example, misgovernment, ethnic violence, and crime in the Balkans poses a threat to Europe.
This article is published in the collection "Reordering the World: The Long Term Implications of September 11" published by The Foreign Policy Center.