Sometimes the associations that one makes are odd ones. At least that is the case for me. This morning, looking at the nations and dependencies that had looked at my blog overnight, I saw a view from Guam and another from the Virgin Islands, and I was reminded of our status as an imperial nation. To be sure, the United States is not the only empire which contains unincorporated territory that is nonetheless considered integral to its nation. Great Britain is perhaps the best known imperial state, and even in much smaller form it still has the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, Gibraltar, the Turks and Caicos, St. Helena, the Falkland Islands, and many other dependencies that lack full self-rule but have some degree of autonomy. Denmark has the Faroe Islands and Greenland. These empires, at least, are the subject of occasional discussion . Even Norway, a nation we would not tend to think of as an empire, has Jan Mayen and Svalbard as “integral overseas areas” that are not incorporated and that serve as a small and frigid Arctic empire, besides its claimed land in Antarctica as a result of its excellence in exploration and its victory in the race to the South Pole.
Yet as an American citizen, I reflect often on the fact that imperialism is directly contrary to our core ideals and principles as a nation. Even a superficial understanding of American history will lead one to understand that the territories of the United States were, for the most part, former imperial possessions of the English, French, Spanish, Russian, Dutch, and Swedish, and even the short-lived Mexican Empire. At least two of our states were independent republics of their own, Texas and Hawaii, and one could likely count Vermont among that number as well. Our constitution guarantees its constituent parts a republic form of government, and allows no inequality between older and newer states. Within the American political tradition, there are only two ultimate ends for a given territory: either it is being groomed for eventual statehood, or it is being groomed for eventual independence. Any other status is temporary. As a person with a particular abhorrence for domination and oppression, I hold to this ideal, and feel that it is inevitable that eventually the United States will be getting out of the empire business, whether by free choice or under compulsion.
When it comes to imperial possessions, they must be examined on a case-by-case basis. Some areas, like the Falkland Islands or Gibraltar, have a strong tie to Great Britain because of its role in defending them against much larger and aggressive neighbors, namely Argentina and Spain. A long-term status as a protected state with guaranteed defense responsibilities for the United Kingdom to protect those areas and their territorial integrity would appear to be an obvious solution. This would also appear to be a possible solution for Guam or American Samoa or the Virgin Islands (both British and American) as well, since those areas are likely to be too small to become states and not likely to ever have even close to the half-million people or so that it would require to be granted statehood in the United States. A different case applies to Puerto Rico , which has expressed a desire for statehood that has not yet been taken up by the U.S. House of Representatives, where there is obviously sufficient size for full incorporation into the United States but where differences in language and culture and a much lower standard of living present difficulties in full integration at present.
Yet despite the fact that a determination of the best long-term option for a given dependency requires investigation of geography, history, culture, demography, and other contexts, there are at least a few principles that can be drawn in broad terms to be applied as the facts warrant in a specific situation. For one, given the fact that the only two acceptable outcomes of an imperial project are full incorporation on the basis of equality into the metropolitan core or independence, hopefully on terms that allow for the full development and protection of the new regime and its viability as a state, perhaps even as a protected state, imperialism is best undertaken with an exit plan in mind. When the United States expanded across the continent of North America, for example, there was little doubt that the lands purchased or conquered were intended to be farmsteads in future states on a level of full equality. Likewise, the temporary acquisitions of Cuba and the Philippines, to give two examples, during the Spanish-American War were done in the full knowledge that the end result would be eventual independence as there was no likelihood that either area would be considered culturally close enough with the core American culture to be suitable states on the basis of full internal equality. Likewise, the policy of grabbing uninhabited guano islands was feasible only because these “minor outlying islands” were uninhabited, and therefore had no population either to seek statehood or independence, otherwise their seizure would be invalid, as the argument over the status of Wake Island demonstrates.
This is not only important as far as geopolitics goes, but also regarding our own behavior in corporate acquisitions, institutional, and family behavior. When engaging in merging and acquisitions, or church planting, it is important to know what the intended goal of such effort is to be. Is one acquiring or building something that is designed to be a fully integral internally equal department or congregation, or is one planning for an eventual spinoff or separation? In order to make such decisions, one needs to have an understanding of what areas of core agreement are necessary for full union, and whether one is acceptable with making a partnership and alliance that does not include common central authority. These are questions that people do not always ask, and even when asked are not always answered accurately. Looking at all imperial ventures as ending in either full equality or the granting of independence, one sees the difference between marriage and raising children. When we marry, we are engaging in a full political union, on the basis of equality under common authority, where certain duties are divided but where there is mutual respect and outgoing concern, and where a long chain of abuses can lead to painful and ugly separation, as is all too common in many marriages. Yet starting marriage with an understanding of it being a parity covenant between equal parties with different but often complementary goals and aims in their union is surely a worthwhile place to begin. Likewise, when raising children it ought to be obvious that one wishes for them to be independent, even if for a long time they may need to be “protected” realms as they establish themselves  and gain resources, especially before marriage. If we begin with the end in mind, we have a much better chance for success, by having a target to align with that consciously reminds us what we are aiming for—either full union or independence with treaties of alliance and partnership and lasting good feelings.
Getting out of the empire business simply means that one foreswears any attempt to dominate over others. That said, there are situations where smaller states or institutions will happily and unilaterally delegate some aspects of their sovereignty for favorable terms that serve their interests as far as economy or security is concerned, and where it is preferable to the larger state or institution to have friends rather than subjects, especially when it comes to voting on international or ecumenical boards. In such situations a person, institution, or state can have increased power and influence without having the opprobrium of imperial domination of others, as a result of being able to serve others effectively while receiving honor and respect and deference in return. This would appear to be an obvious way where those who are hungry for honor and esteem would, through their service, demonstrate their importance among neighbors and allies, but in a world where so often power is sought to rule over others, this often appears to be the road less traveled. Moreover, it is a lot easier to commit oneself to never entering the empire business in the first place than it is so successfully leave the empire business with the sort of respect and friendship and honor that one wishes. As is often the case, prevention is the best cure, as little as that cure is taken.
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