Imperialism and the great powers of the past

I was in an online discussion recently, and when describing the Japanese colonization of Korea I almost said “liberation.”

After thinking about it for some time, I think “liberation” would have been the right word.

As popular as it is to run down colonization and imperialism, many historical examples exist of very beneficial empires. Nial Ferguson’s “British Imperialism Revised: The costs and benefits of ‘Anglobalization” (PDF), for instance, argues that the British Empire was beneficial not just to the white dominions such as Canada, but also to more culturally alien states such as India.

I think good arguments can be made for other empires too, such as the United States, France, and Japan (at least during the years of peace). Even empires that we are glad are gone, such as the Soviet Union, managed to provide a lower-middle-class lifestyle to millions who would otherwise not have obtained that.

A few months back I overheard a podcast interview with a blogger who was obviously angered by a comparison between America and the British Empire, and who responded by saying that British imperialism was a well known evil, that many studies demonstrate that, etc. Some, like Michelle Obama, seem to be agree. However, I think a more balanced view shows that wise imperialism can be beneficial to states subjected to it.

It is a tragedy that such imperial powers barely exist anymore. And not just in terms of wasted lives and generations, but in the genocides that exist in anarchies where no civilizing, imperial power is present.

The ECFA and F-22, in context

This post is a follow on to “Right and Wrong Ways to Secure the Western Pacific.”  Like that post, here I again criticize the F-22 (as being an expensive waste of everyone’s energy) and support the peaceful integration of China into the western Pacific region.

On the F-22:

– In “Uncle Sam Buys an Airplane,” in the Atlantic in 2002, I described the genesis of the “Joint Strike Fighter,” now known as the F-35. Its whole rationale was the fear that the F-22 would become so expensive that the U.S. would never be able to buy and field more than a tiny force. The F-35 has had problems of its own since then, and the contract officer at the center of my story has since been jailed for corruption on an unrelated matter, but the economic questions remain. (Excerpt after the jump.)

– In “F-22, Fact vs Fiction,” published in, 2000, the fighter pilot and aircraft designer Everest Riccioni assessed the F-22’s abilities relative to the F-15’s and other planes and argued that in the real circumstances of air combat, it would offer few advantages to pilots that would justify its costs — and that the excessive cost of the airplane jeopardized pilots, since it meant too small a fighting force. The link above opens his paper as a Word document.

via Let a thousand flowers bloom, Atlantic-style (F-22 dept) – James Fallows .

On China’s Peaceful Integration:

In his opening speech to the National People’s Congress, Mr. Wen clearly signaled the Chinese leadership’s support for a series of economic measures that negotiators from Beijing and Taiwan were already discussing. These include the gradual integration of banking and other financial services across the Taiwan Straits, and the drafting of a “comprehensive agreement on economic cooperation” that could eventually become the basis for a free-trade agreement.

Mr. Wen also called for “fair and reasonable arrangements” on Taiwanese participation in international organizations and a formal cessation of hostilities with Taiwan, without providing any details on how these thorny goals could be achieved. And he did not mention any specific measures of military cooperation, like a possible hot line between the People’s Liberation Army and Taiwan’s military that had been previously mentioned. President Hu of China and President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan had each expressed some interest in this in recent months.

Taiwanese officials said they were satisfied with focusing on economic issues for now. “On the political aspects, when the relationship between Taiwan and the mainland reaches a certain level of mutual trust, only then can discussions be move forward,” the island’s Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement.

via China calls for closer ties with Taiwan – New York Times.

The Taiwan-China Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) may do more to prevent war than all the F-35s and F-22s we might buy.  Additionally, considering how both fifth-generation fighters( the F-22 and F-35) are governed by economies of scale, it would make more sense to buy more F-35s (which we can also share, and share the costs, with our allies) and less F-22s (which we can’t).  Finally, building up our capacity to work with China in areas of mutual concern – like Afghanistan, the Sudan, North Korea, and elsewhere  – is more important to peace than whatever fifth-generation fighters we aquire.