We do have an integrated, interdependent global economy for the first time. Today, fuckups in Europe and North America literally determine the prosperity of South America, the Middle East or China. This was never true for the overwhelming majority of human history.
Personally, I do not think the struggle for power between States and empires today is the same as in the past. Broadly speaking, the "incentives" to undertake traditional military-hegemonic imperialism (of the colonialist/Bonapartist/Nazi/Imperial Japanese/Stalinist type) have dramatically changed with modern industrial civilization. In short, it has made it a much less profitable (in the sense of money and power) venture than in the past. Today:
1) Direct wars between great States are avoided (thus far) or apocalyptic due to the limitless expansion and instantaneous nature of the means of destruction
(nuclear weapons, particularly anything rocket-based which ignores geographical and military defenses).
2) The source of national power is, at bottom, economic development and technological modernization
. These things are enabled by peace and trade. Imperial domains, such as the Soviet Empire in Central Europe, are basically pointless end up being a net drag on the mother country (you pay for the poor provinces in either welfare, military subjugation or international embarrassment). This also explains as much the end of European colonialism, of the Soviet Empire (as opposed to the Union) and the travails of American Wars (often opposed by realists). Any State tends to derive power only from its own nationals
(who are rich, well-adjusted, developing, etc), not from disgruntled minorities and imperial subjects.
These are the general trends. In particular, U.S. "hegemony" is very different, much softer, than hegemony of the Soviet Union or of Nazi Germany. The European regimes, while dependent on the U.S., could never be overthrown by the U.S. should they prove too independent (unlike in the Stalinist or Bonapartist empires). The U.S. has a set of military tools, constantly used, and a tremendous influence
, but not a "sphere of influence" or empire in the traditional hard sense. America's imperialism is then not fundamentally threatening to, say, Russia and China, and neither of these countries in fact manifested any material opposition to U.S. wars in Kuwait, Afghanistan or Iraq.
They decided the benefits of good relations with America in the liberal order - peace and trade - outweighed limiting the (likely temporary and soft) expansion of America's imperial influence through military power.
The question then is: Will China choose to merely spread its influence and be a "soft" empire, in the line with the cosmopolitan liberal order, like America's "empire"?
Or will it make a hard military empire, a zone of subjugation and not merely influence, of the traditional Bonapartist-Stalinist type? I strongly the suspect they will choose the former, as they have so far, which would entail no necessary
conflict with America. This would only change if there is a decisive shift of ideology in China, that is, that the ruling class becomes more interested in the glories of war and empire than the joys of prosperity. So far the choice of the Chinese is clear:
Deng Xiaoping wrote:To get rich is glorious!
A stubborn porcupine: heredity & nationhood. Meditate, brother!
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