American Empire

For other uses, see American Empire (disambiguation)

The American Empire is a politically-charged, informal term used to describe the current political, economic and cultural influence of the United States on a global scale. It is generally, though by no means always, used with a negative connotation. Proponents of the term claim that it is an appropriate one, based on American history and an evident American expansionism ideology, as conveyed in the cultural ethos of "Manifest Destiny" —often called "American exceptionalism."



As one of the motivations underlying the American Revolution and secession from Great Britain was the constraint imposed by the British government on westward territorial expansion beyond the Appalachian Mountains, an expansionist tendency was thus present in the United States at the beginning of the nation. At first, the focus was on expansion within North America and internal agricultural and industrial development. Some 130 years after independence, however, the Spanish American War (which was partially provoked by American politicians and businessmen, like William Randolph Hearst, interested in overt European-style imperialism) initiated the period of overt empire-building involving the annexation of territory formerly held by foreign governments. After the war, the defeated Kingdom of Spain ceded most of its colonial possessions (including, for example, the Philippines and Puerto Rico) to the control of the United States.

American colonial posessions

The following areas have at one time or another been part of a sort of "American Empire," that is to say colonies that were annexed to the United States, yet not granted statehood or self-rule during the period of U.S. rule:

Further, although never under the sovereignty or control of the government of the United States, colonization of areas along the western coast of Africa by former slaves and free blacks from the United States led to the creation of the nation of Liberia starting in 1823. Because this colonization was at various times either tacitly or explicitly supported by the U.S. government, and because the colonizers consisted of American nationals, Liberia may also be considered among the results of American colonialism.

Also, the occupations of Germany and Japan and subsequent deployment of large contingents of military forces therein, or even the close cooperation and support of the South Korea along with the substantial, long-term presence of the U.S. military there, have been suggested to constitute a de-facto military colonization of those countries. However, absent an intention to incorporate parts of those countries into the national territory of the United States or to exercise political sovereignty over them, such long-term military presence falls short of the characteristics of traditional colonization.

Many of America's former colonies have since become independent countries, states of the American union, or self-governing commonwealths. However, despite the fact that these countries are legally independent, the US has often intervened military or otherwise influenced their domestic affairs. Examples of military intervention are the US invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965 or the invasion of Panama in 1989. An example of non-military intervention in former U.S. colonies are the assassination attempts on Fidel Castro and the CIA-supported Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961.

Contemporary use of the term

Today, what many consider to be the "American Empire" is much more informal. Critics allege that although the United States no longer colonizes countries in the traditional sense, the nation's government still engages in psuedo-colonial "patron-client" relationships with many states. The allegation is that such relationships undermine the sovereignty of such states, and make their governments subsidiary or submissive to the persuit of US interests.

This phenomenon is not new, nor necessarily a sufficient condition of imperialism, but has always been one facet of imperialistic control. Critics have likened this form of "American imperialism" to similar actions taken by European nations such as Britain and France in relation to soverign states such as China and Egypt in the late 19th Century.

America's military presence by itself is widespread and influential. According to researchers [1] (, around the world, the United States maintains 750 military bases or installations staffed by American military personnel in roughly 130 countries. The economic and cultural influence of the United States is also substantial, which has engendered resentment of Americanisation of many countries.

It has been suggested that America has achieved the status of world hegemon (in the sense of a superpower lacking opposition of comparable power or influence, similar to Rome after the Punic Wars or Britain after the Napoleonic Wars). Put another way, the United States's power is such that it can act unilaterally without fear of substantial reprisal because of the superiority of its military forces in any relevant theater of operations.

The term "American Empire" is today most often used as a derogatory expression to criticize America's military and cultural effects in various parts of the world.

At the same time, many statesmen, scholars, and historians within the United States insist that America is an empire in the sense that the country holds tremendous power over the world, comparable to other great empires of history. Many thus argue that the United States should thus not shy away from using this power as a way of maintaining order, peace, and safety for both America and the world at large. This is ideology is exemplified by the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, which became influential in the 2003 decision to invade Iraq. As recited among the PNAC's statement of principles:

We need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles. [2] (

While supporters cite such ideology as one with motivations of global peace and stability, many in opposition view it as harmful to diversity, and reject the notion of a single dominating superpower in order to maintain "balance", "equality", "mutual respect", and "harmony" among all nations around the world. Another criticism is that recent history has shown that despite US claims to the contrary US foreign policy has much more often brought war and conflict than peace.

As an example of the viewpoint commonly expressed by those accusing the United States of imperialism, William Blum wrote in his book Killing Hope - US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II ( that "From 1945 to 2003, the United States attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements fighting against "intolerable" regimes. In the process, the US bombed some 25 countries, caused the deaths of several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair."


There has been much literature in recent years about the current state of what some consider to be the "American Empire."

In American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (2002), Andrew J. Bacevich argues that the end of the Cold War did not mark the end of an era in American history, because (he says) American foreign policy did not fundamentally change after the Cold War. Bacevich argues, like historians Charles Beard and William Appleman Williams before him, that American foreign policy has long been driven by the desire to expand access to foreign markets in order to benefit the domestic economy. Bacevich believes that the moralistic reasons given for American foreign intervention mask the true economic reasons, and he warns that American economic imperialism (in the guise of globalization) may not be in the best interests of the United States.

In the book Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, the USA is seen as central for the development and constitution of a new global regime of international power and sovereignty, termed empire by Hardt and Negri. The book builds on neomarxist, postcolonial, postmodern ideas and globalization theories. Because the empire of Hardt and Negri is decentralized and global, not the rule of one sovereign state over another, it may be differentiated from the American Empire described in this article.

Though many critics and analysis of "American Imperialism" tend to be on the left side of the political spectrum, there are right-wing critics as well. Prominant American conservative activist Patrick Buchanan discusses American foreign policy in his book A Republic, Not an Empire and argues that the modern United States has betrayed its founding principles by engaging in excessive "meddling" around the world. Buchanan in turn argues that acts of terrorism against the United States, such as the September 11, 2001 attacks are the direct result of America's ill-fated attempts to intervene in places where she should never have been involved in the first place. Buchanan's arguements have been interpreted as the latest form of American isolationism, long a critical counter-voice in American foreign policy discussions.

In his books Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (2003) and Colossus: The Price of America's Empire (2004), historian Niall Ferguson has drawn parallels between the British Empire and the imperial role of the United States in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. However, he describes the United States political and social structures as more like those of the Roman Empire than of the British. In contrast to Hardt and Negri, Ferguson views empire as a neutral description, with both positive and negative aspects.

See also

eo:Usona Imperio ja:アメリカ帝国


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