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                                                                                                                           Asean Affairs November 5, 2013  



There is much discussion these days whether the American Empire is in decline, and whether other countries – notably China – are rising to take its place.

The answer to the first question is relatively simple. Even if the American Empire were not currently declining, history very clearly states that it will, because all previous empires have crumbled, and there is no reason to believe that the American Empire will be any exception. Though it is the first empire to rule without physically occupying – in general – other countries – nevertheless, the principles on which empires are built inevitably contain the seeds of their own destruction. Empires subjugated others for their own material gain, and eventually, those subjugated people will rise to overthrow their alien masters. The Germanic tribes of the Roman Empire eventually sacked Rome in retaliation for the subjugation imposed on them by the Roman legions.

Though the U.S. exerted its power predominantly through the instruments of modern finance instead of by territorial acquisition, nevertheless it forced many countries to do its will. One of the ironies of the current U.S. malaise is that in significant part, it damaged itself. Its quest for the maximization of profit led it to inflict on itself the beginnings of its economic demise by sending  millions of manufacturing and service jobs overseas because the labor there was cheaper. This savaged the purchasing power of American workers,  and began the downward spiral of American industry. It has not reached 3rd. world status yet, but it is moving inexorably in that direction. This has already led to reductions in its military expenditures – a sure sign that its power is contracting.

The answer to the second question is twofold. First, whether China or some other country takes the place of the American empire is an empirical question. Only history has the final answer.

But the answer to the second part of the question is itself a question. Should there be any more empires? The answer is NO for at least the following reasons.

1.    Ethical: each human being, no matter where they live, no matter their looks, talents (or lack thereof), all possess an inherent dignity that can never ever be violated. Empires violate that principle in many ways by subjugating groups of people for their own perceived advantage. Empires have done many good things. The Romans built almost a quarter million miles of roads, enabling increased transportation and trade. But they also violated the rights of peoples such as the Gauls and Germanic tribes. Very often, empires hold the belief that its people are superior to the “savages”. Today, even a highly educated person as Barack Obama, president of the U.S., publicly claims that Americans are exceptional. Whether he actually believes this or says it for political purposes, we may never know, but it is dangerous as it leads to feelings of superiority that may justify dehumanizing actions towards other. Some statistics may seriously question whether it is even true. For example, one international study shows that America’s 4th. grade students came in 29th. in science and 42nd. in math (right behind Cyprus). China – which maybe poised to take over the #1 spot in the near future – has also had similar superiority complexes in the past. Advanced technological ability does not necessarily make a person a better human being. A kind human being is higher on the scale of humanity than a selfish tech-savvy engineer from Silicon Valley.

2.    Pragmatic: there are many pragmatic reasons why today one nation should not lord it over another. For example, technology has made it possible for even a very small nation to have nuclear weapons that it can launch on its enemies, large and small. Israel, for example, has an estimated 100 nuclear weapons that it could use to decimate the populations of many nations. Ironically, technology has made empires out of date. Cyber warfare by a small nation could shut down the computers of any empire. A cyber attack on the Pentagon could prevent any plane from flying, any missile from being launched, any communication system to go dead, making all its troops unable to function. The universalization of  technology has made it to be in each country’s selfish interest not to seek to be an empire. The universalization of technology has made the pursuit of empire status outmoded, a thing of the past. The sooner current empires and future empire-aspirants recognize that, the better for them – and the world.


For the first time in its history since its migration out of Africa, humanity can and should think globally. We can fly to almost  any place in the world in 24 hours. We can pick up a phone and call anybody anywhere in the world. We have an inexhaustible source of global knowledge at our fingertips with the internet. Computer programs provide instant translations of many languages.  Science transcends national boundaries.

All this puts within reach the ability of each person to contribute their insights and wisdom to the betterment of all of humanity. A farmer in Sub-Sahara Africa may come up with a cure for cancer. A fisherman on a remote island may produce a poem of incredible beauty. When one group of people seeks to dominate others, the whole of humanity suffers.

So we are a point in human history when empires should and will become things of the past. If we come in contact with intelligent life on other planets – which seems increasingly likely – the sense of common humanity will be strengthened even further.

Therefore we need to strengthen global institutions and create new ones if necessary. We have a lot of work to do here on planet earth. When almost a billion people live on less than $1.25 a day, we cannot wait until 2030 to feed them. A child dies of starvation every 5 seconds who does not have to die – 16,000 a day, 5.2 million a year. We have the resources and logistical capability to prevent those deaths NOW. Another 2 billon live on $2 a day.

There is enough room at the human table for all. Let us think globally and nobly.  Only then can we think with the fullness of humanity. Empires impoverish the human spirit, preventing both conquerors and conquered from becoming fully human.

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This year in Thailand-what next?

AseanAffairs   04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More






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