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Political Imperialism: The USA


Empire building takes its place in the world history. Societies aimed at dominating weaker neighbors to prove their power. The main motives for expansion included desire to get natural resources, wealth, subdue as many enemies as possible, win power, become glorious, and others. The combination of centralized governments, industrialized economies, and sea power enabled European nations to unite their efforts to build empires around the globe. The term of American imperialism is defined as the influence of the USA on other countries. It became a reality in the 1800s. At that time, Americans wanted to reach new international markets. Nowadays, imperialism is considered to be a major force that shapes the modern world.

The creation of the first empires in the western part dates back to the early 1500s. Portugal and Spain did not remain powerful countries and by the 1800s, the largest British colony was taken over by the USA. In the 19th century, the USA and Japan decided to join the European nations becoming imperialist power (Wolfe 1997).

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In the 1800, there were several types of imperialism. Colonial imperialism means an area takeover and presupposes political, economic, and social-cultural domination. Hence, a subjugated area was deprived of the independence (Hassig 1994). At that time, almost every African country as well as southeast and southern parts of Asia were colonized. Another type was economic imperialism that allowed a subjugated nation to operate independently but under complete control over its business and trade. During that era, the greatest part of Latin America and China were under economic imperialism. Political imperialism means that a nation may have its own government (Stathakis 2008). However, the control over the government was temporary. A good instance is the Dominican Republic that was subjugated by the USA and controlled only until the country got out of debt. Socio-cultural imperialism presupposed a deliberate change of religions, customs, traditions, values, and languages in some countries. British India was under this type of imperialism. Therefore, English was a dominating language, the local soldiers had to wear the uniform of the British style, and the country was to follow the westernized rules of trading.

In the 19th century, the USA was empowered and enriched by constant industrialization and became interested in imperialism. Imperial growth was enhanced by the new technologies of that time (Todd 2004). The first US experiment of imperialism began with the decision to buy Alaska from Russia. Then there was a government coup in Hawaii. Hence, the Hawaiian Islands were sponsored by Americans. Despite the fact that the purchase of Alaska was questioned, the takeover of Hawaii had clear economic motives.

In 1898, the USA won the Spanish American War. At that time, the country signed a peace treaty that gave Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and the Pacific island of Guan to the USA as protectorates. In addition, the country gained a considerable economic control over Cuba. The US president wanted to keep a new empire and decided to sponsor the building of the Panama Canal allowing the fleet to have an easy access to the west and east coasts.

The US imperialism presupposes military, economic, and cultural influence on other countries that is associated with the foreign territory expansion. The concept of the US Empire became popular during the James K. Polk’s presidency. It resulted in the Mexican-American War (1846) and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that suggested the annexation of California and other western territories.

By the 1890s, many US leaders had had new attitudes and views concerning international imperialistic adventures. One of the causes of imperialism was the future need for raw materials that were insufficient in America. Political reasons are considered to be among other reasons of American expansion (The age of imperialism 2013). The need in the Pacific as a strategic location was another reason. Social Darwinism was closely related to the Anglo-Saxon racial superiority.

At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, imperialism became a necessity for industrializing countries that wanted to secure their political and economic prosperity. At that time, the industrial powers sought imperialism as they saw it as a means that would guarantee the consumption of their products and secure foreign markets. This led to the need for a cheap raw material source to improve home businesses (Berger et al. 2013).

The outcomes and effects of political imperialism have been interpreted from different points of view (Lal 2000). The major events associated with imperialism occurred during the late 19th and early 20th century. When imperialism occurs, it seems to be a positive influence. However, in the long run, it proves to have numerous negative effects. Hence, it is believed that political imperialism in the modern world has more negative than positive influences. The negative outcomes of political imperialism are forced labor, economic exploitation, introduction of new laws, and the destruction of old society. Another negative effect is the use of cheap labor. For example, many Africans were to work hard due to American imperialism.

Negative influences of the US imperialism are clearly seen in African and Asian countries where local people were deprived of their rights. Imperialism prevented ethnic groups from following their nationalistic feelings. According to Petras (2014), the US Empire implements a unique conception of its power. It is linked to the overseas expansion and is associated with the state growth and the decline of living standards and economic competitiveness.

The US political imperialism partly derives from the American exceptionalism that means that the USA is different from other nations due to specific mission in the world that is related to democracy and liberty. Hassig (1994) found that an imperial political structure tended to be established as a territorial empire that had a direct control using force, and as a hegemonic empire with indirect control using power. The first way provides the increase of political control and tribute, while the second way results in the limitation of further expansion due to the absorption of military forces to fixed garrisons.

The global colony partitioning into the spheres of the imperial power influence has caused a number of linguistic, ethnic, and religious groups in a single political entity. This was the most evident in Africa where partitioning did not coincide with the ethnic, political, historical, and cultural boundaries of African societies before colonization. It led to the creation of states with diverse ethnic populations. They had no ethical identity and no connection to the political identity. Hence, imperialism was the cause of the political legacy that left a feeling of artificially-formed nations without any cultural similarities.

Some countries were subjected to a profound imperialism and were substantially divided along ethnic lines. Hence, political imperialism resulted in political instability and increased violence. Moreover, it has led to a permanent liability in the geo-political situation of many countries around the globe (Robinson 2007).

As imperial states got control over political affairs of the colonized territory, welfare interests of the colonized nations had no influence on political policies in the country (The age of imperialism 2013). It is believed that the long-term well-being and prosperity of the colonized country was not the interest of the imperial state; sustainable development was treated as unnecessary and unimportant for any imperial government, the USA in particular.

As soon as a country got political independence from the imperialist country, it became extremely sensitive to the fluctuations of the market prices. Moreover, the unwillingness of imperial nations to reinvest the colonial profits in political and industrial development deprived them of the finite natural resources (Lens & Howard 2003). Hence, imperialism had negatively influenced political and economic growth of subjugated nations.

One of the positive effects is measured by what larger nations give to the smaller ones. The powerful nations help colonies build roads, railways, schools, and improve political and economic life. In addition, the colonial governments provided improved sanitation methods and medical care. Other positive outcomes include freedom, political and economic development, and improved infrastructure. Hence, Bosnia and Kosovo are the examples of a successful modern-day imperialism model. In addition, Obama’s policy in Africa shows imperialistic efforts of domination.

The term imperialism was often used in the 20th century to describe the USA as the country that wanted to rule in the world and interfere with other governments. But the question of the USA imperialism has been raising constant debates since the time it acquired formal empire at the end of the 19th century (Tremblay 2004). Nowadays, the American empire represents optimism and danger at the same time. Many scientists speak about potential military aggression, tyranny, terrorism, and proliferation of weapons. The US dominated the world unlike any other country. Since the Cold War, it has become ideological and geopolitical contender. The USA still helps Japan and Germany to get security (Ikenberry 2004). Empire is usually associated with the political control of a dominant country over a weaker one.

The USA is considered to be a superpower that actively pursues its interests. In addition, it is the main producer of the world order. During the age of imperialism, the USA received economic, political and social control over Cuba, Austria, Germany, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. One of the most prominent examples was the annexation of Hawaii as the USA got the control and possession of all local buildings, public property, harbors, ports, military equipment, and other objects that belonged to Hawaiian government (Ikenberry 2004). As a result, Hawaii became American in 1959.


The notion of political imperialism was of vital importance during the 19th and 20th centuries as it was considered to be a need of industrializing countries that wanted to secure their political and economic prosperity. The US imperialism is characterized by cultural, political, economic and military influence on other countries to expand foreign territories. Despite the potential technological and economic advantages of imperialism, it is really difficult to justify immense losses it caused. However, it is evident that political imperialism has both negative and positive influences on the life of subjugated use of technological advances because of easy access to and connection with other imperial states. It remains arguable that the introduction of western traditions and values through the practice of imperialism assisted the colonized areas in getting rid of out of date and morally condemned values. The benefits of political imperialism are tiny in comparison with the negative influences. Imperialism is considered to be mostly a negative practice of the late 19th and early 20th centuries because it was achieved by repression, violence, and other unjustifiable means.

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