FOUR NEW EMPIRES
ENTER WORLD STAGE
And one sleeper
By Franz Schurmann
NCM Ethnic Media Nationwide
Friday, September 16, 2005
SAN FRANCISCO -- As he leaves the U.N. summit in New York amid
his domestic troubles, President Bush might be mulling whether
America is a declining empire. In fact, there are four other contenders
for revival of empire waiting in the wings, and one sleeper.
Historians know that regardless of the political differences
of empires, they hold one key factor in common. All of them wield
direct power over big chunks of the world. Every time a new empire
appears, some countries decide to cling to it and others resist
America became an empire in 1945 when it vanquished Germany and
Japan, both of whom had sought empires. Germany still clings to
America and so does Japan. But there are big differences between
the two. Germany is now the center of the European Union (EU),
which has 25 countries as members. The EU is also firmly tied
to America through NATO.
In contrast to the EU, few countries, if any, have any inclination
to join a Japan-led East Asian counterpart to the EU, let alone
join a NATO under American command. The reason is that there are
four new empires in the making that resist America. They are China
in the East, Russia in the North, India in the South and Iran
in the West. The sleeper is Turkey. All the new wannabes resist
America in various ways and all are Asian.
Even Russia. After World War II, Stalin looked to non-white Asia
instead of Europe. He told Japanese Foreign Minister Yosuko Matsuoka
in 1941, "I too am an Asian." This was the first time
a white ruler referred to himself as such. Stalin only declared
war on Japan in the two days between the first and second atomic
In December 1949, when Mao Zedong took a lengthy train trip to
Moscow to get help from Stalin to offset a furious America, he
likely remembered Matsuoka's quote from Stalin.
China is now clearly an empire and the Pentagon fears it, as
is revealed in its latest "China threat" report. But
the other three are also in the game of empire.
When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, its last president
Mikhail Gorbachev used the phrase "from Vladivostok to San
Francisco," to indicate that the newly democratic Russia
would be a part of the West and including America. Now, however,
the current Russian president, Vladimir Putin, appears to have
sided with China, as was evident in the recent China-Russia joint
If the youngest empire is the Russian (14th century), the oldest
is the Chinese (11th century B.C.). But India is as old as China.
Contemporary India prides itself as the "largest democracy
in the world." Recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
pleaded with her Indian hosts not to build a pipeline that would
carry natural gas from Iran into India through Pakistan. Instead,
the democratically elected Indian government turned to China,
which successfully brokered a truce between India and Pakistan.
Washington was left out in the cold.
As an ancient empire, India prefers dealing with brothers who
are also ancient empires. Now that Russia and China have resolved
their quarrels India can easily deal smoothly with both.
Iran, or more correctly in ancient times, "Persia,"
created its empire in the 6th century B.C. Its language was a
dialect of Sanskrit, the holy language of India. But the word
Iran implied much more than Persia. In fact, it encompassed Central
Asia and parts of western China. Persia looked toward the west
but Iran looked east, especially to China and various Turkish
kingdoms in China and Central Asia.
Now the only two countries outside modern Iran where Farsi is
widely spoken are Afghanistan and Tajikistan. But the big wall
that prevents Iran from expanding eastward is a different Islamic
creed. Iran is overwhelmingly Shiite, but the other two are Sunni.
Iran now has no way to expand except westwards toward Iraq. But
if it pushes too hard it comes up against American armed forces.
Over the last 80 years Turkey had tried hard to switch from Islamic
civilization to Western. During World War I, Turkey was an ally
of Imperial Germany. But during World War II Hitler ignored Mustafa
Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic and its first president,
because he did not want to see Asians in his ranks. President
Truman, however, was eager to enroll the Turks into NATO and then
formally into Europe. A half-century later, Turkey is still waiting
to get into Europe.
However, Turkey is the motherland of millions of Turks spread
all over Russia from Eastern Siberia (Yakutia) to Poland and the
Balkans in newly independent republics. Their dialects are about
as far apart as Mandarin and Cantonese or German and Dutch.
The Turks are both Western and Eastern. During the Bosnian and
Kosovo wars many ethnic Turks fled to Turkey hoping that membership
in NATO came with automatic entry to Europe. But Europe wants
no more of Muslims, especially Turks.
Turkey is losing patience with America and Europe. More and more,
it feels like pursuing "a back to the future" scenario
that will restore its self-esteem. For the last three centuries
the Indian Mughal empire, the Iranian Safavid/Qajar empires and
the Ottoman empire enjoyed peace and prosperity, until bloody
wars erupted after the oil revolution. President Bush hopes that
the peace and prosperity will soon come. But more likely the Middle
East will go back to the future.
Schurmann is emeritus professor of history and sociology at U.C.
Berkeley and author of numerous books.