Imperialism or Internationalism

Category: Politics
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Throughout history, the failure of states has contributed to the rise of great powers as a solution to this collective problem. A variety of states have emerged throughout time each seeking to exert their sphere of influence over the given state(s). Specifically, these great powers embodied the practice of imperialism to which they sought to influence others through military force and/or diplomacy. Many states have historically used imperialism as a counterattack to the increased threat of the disorder and chaos that lingers from the failure of states. English author Sebastian Mallaby, takes two different cases on the threat that state failure poses to developed states and how to effectively solve this problem.

In Mallaby’s article, “The Reluctant Imperialist”, he makes the case that the U.S. has historically took on the role of being the “reluctant imperialist” in response to terrorism and the rise of power vacuums. Specifically, this means that the U.S. has strategically refrained from imperialism, and he argues that this role has proven to be ineffective as the growing disorder that follows developing countries becomes increasingly threatening to superpowers. Mallaby notes that state failure launches a vicious cycle to which poverty, instability, and violence emerge and it can be very difficult to rid of and break habit. The failure of states and its contagiousness is rooted in several reasons such as increased and severe interstate conflict, population growth and the incapability of poor states to accompany this growth. This failure also poses certain threats such as the rise of extremist groups and terrorism, and the emergence of illegal activity across borders. Since WWII, the chief alternative solution has been to offer assistance in the form of foreign aid and development projects instead of the traditional resolution of imposing their own, typically democratic, institutions upon those failed states. However, Mallaby argues these efforts are deemed not as reliable as the conventional answer of imperialism. Both democratization and the donation of capital have not totally failed, yet the author claims there is a missing piece to resolving the problems associated with disordlerly states. Mallaby explains that there is too much chaos and disorder in the world, and the current efforts to solve these issues is not enough. He believes that a new international order spearheaded by an imperial U.S.,through its leadership and legitimacy, is necessary if we want to see any improvements in the world. In order to accomodate the changing world and both the chaos and disorder that becomes increasingly threatening to rich states, the author conveys that a policy of imperialism, particularly by the U.S., is crucial in addressing the problem of state failure and what succeeds it.

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Two years later Mallaby wrote a separate article, “Liberal Imperialism” in which he denounces his previous claim on imperialism. Specifically, he explains that the use of the term “imperialism” falsely objectifies the beneficiary and need for a sole great power. Instead, he advocates for the concept of “liberal internationalism” to which rich states use reconstruction and development projects post-conflict as the solution to the problems associated with state failure. Mallaby notes that by tagging rich states with an “imperial” mark leaves us with an overbearing central power that does not contribute to solving the problem at hand. Historically, imperialism has been the answer to these problems within the international system, however today, he argues, we do not have the resources or materials to resolve these issues solely with the use of imperialism. That is to say, the author still reminds us that state failure does pose a serious threat to developed states and their interests, and it is the responsibility of rich states to tackle these problems. Our historically successful approach of imperialism is outdated and will not provide us with the results that Mallaby had earlier argued in his first article, yet the creation of development and post-conflict reconstruction projects, and new foreign policy measures may help us face these challenges and enjoy success, as well.

Both of Mallaby’s articles takes different approaches on the idea of state failure and how rich states are able to resolve its aftermath. In 2002, Mallaby wrote an article advocating for rich states, especially the U.S., to exert a more imperial attitude toward poorer, developing states in order to contain the disorder that follows them and limit their threat to the developed countries. Two years later in 2004, Mallaby wrote a separate article tweaking his previous claim to which he highlights the idea of “liberal internationalism” and the creation of international reconstruction and development projects that don’t boast the idea of a single superpower within the international system. In my opinion, I believe that the second approach of liberal internationalism is the more effective solution to state failure. Imperialism, as Mallaby notes, is outdated and in this day, would not be proven effective especially with the importance of sovereignty in today’s international order. Instead, development and reconstruction plans can allow states to exhibit self-sustaining growth that can free of them of the vicious cycle of state failure. In addition, foreign aid that goes towards these projects that will allow for economic growth and political stability may be one of the best options in allowing developing states to escape the dangers of state failure, and enjoy upward mobility in the international system. All in all, the author provides two approaches on how to solve certain problems within the international order, such as state failure, and personally, I believe that liberal internationalism and developmental projects is the best solution to grapple the challenges that today’s world has to offer.

Historically, state failure and the problems that follow it have led to the emergence of superpowers, particularly through imperialism. Imperialism, for hundreds of years, had provided the answer to most of the problem’s in the international system. However, many argue that this approach is anqtiquated and in today’s changing world, we must seek new techniques and policies towards problems encountered. Mallaby highlights two different views regarding solutions to the issue that increasingly threatens the interests of rich states: imperialism or internationalism. In my opinion, internationalism is the best proven method in resolving both state failure and the chaos that surrounds it; by implementing reconstructions projects and foreign assistance that can stimulate self-sustaining economic growth, poorer states may be able to escape the vicious cycle that state failure launches. In today’s world, imperialism will not provide us with a single solution to all our problems, we need to use the materials and tools we have to develop a new modern approach to deal with the challenges that are faced currently in international system.

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Imperialism or Internationalism. (2019, Jul 20). Retrieved from