Power, the currency of international politics was the primary drive behind the New Imperialism

To discuss the topic “Power, the currency of international politics was the primary drive behind the New Imperialism”, without properly defining the terms, POWER and NEW IMPERIALISM.

Wikipedia explain power in international politics in four different ways, power as a goal, power as influence, power as security and power as capability, these four definitions would be used to have a proper understanding of the subject matter.

Power as a Goal

Primary usage of “power” as a goal in international relations belongs to political theorists, such as Niccolò Machiavelli and Hans Morgenthau. Especially among Classical Realist thinkers, power is an inherent goal of mankind and of states. Economic growth, military growth, cultural spread etc. can all be considered as working towards the ultimate goal of international power. The German military thinker Carl von Clausewitz  is considered to be the quintessential projection of European growth across the continent. In more modern times, Claus Moser has elucidated theories centre of distribution of power in Europe after the Holocaust, and the power of universal learning as its counterpoint. Jean Monnet was a French left-wing social theorist, stimulating expansive Euro communism, who followed on the creator of modern European community, the diplomat and statesman Robert Schuman.

Power as Influence

Political scientists principally use “power” in terms of an actor’s ability to exercise influence over other actors within the international system. This influence can be coercive, attractive, cooperative, or competitive. Mechanisms of influence can include the threat or use of force, economic interaction or pressure, diplomacy, and cultural exchange.

Under certain circumstances, states can organize a sphere of influence or a bloc within which they exercise predominant influence. Historical examples include the spheres of influence recognized under the Concert of Europe, or the recognition of spheres during the Cold War following the Yalta Conference. The Warsaw Pact, the “Free World“, and the Non-Aligned Movement were the blocs that arose out of the Cold War contest. Military alliances like NATO and the Warsaw Pact are another forum through which influence is exercised. However, “realist” theory attempted to maintain the balance of power from the development of meaningful diplomatic relations that can create a hegemony within the region. British foreign policy, for example, dominated Europe through the Congress of Vienna after the defeat of France. They continued the balancing act with the Congress of Berlin in 1878, to appease Russia and Germany from attacking Turkey. Britain has sided against the aggressors on the European continent—i.e. the German EmpireNazi GermanyNapoleonic France or Habsburg Austria, known during the Great War as the Central Powers and, in the World War Two were called the Axis Powers.

Power as Security

Power is also used when describing states or actors that have achieved military victories or security for their state in the international system. This general usage is most commonly found among the writings of historians or popular writers. For instance, a state that has achieved a string of combat victories in a military campaign against other states can be described as powerful. An actor that has succeeded in protecting its security, sovereignty, or strategic interests from repeated or significant challenge can also be described as powerful.

Power as Capability

American author Charles W. Freeman, Jr. described power as the following:

Power is the capacity to direct the decisions and actions of others. Power derives from strength and will. Strength comes from the transformation of resources into capabilities. Will infuses objectives with resolve. Strategy marshals capabilities and brings them to bear with precision. Statecraft seeks through strategy to magnify the mass, relevance, impact, and irresistibility of power. It guides the ways the state deploys and applies its power abroad. These ways embrace the arts of war, espionage, and diplomacy. The practitioners of these three arts are the paladins of statecraft.

Power is also used to describe the resources and capabilities of a state. This definition is quantitative and is most often used by geopoliticians and the military. Capabilities are thought of in tangible terms—they are measurable, weighable, quantifiable assets. A good example for this kind of measurement is the Composite Indicator on Aggregate Power, which involves 54 indicators and covers the capabilities of 44 states in Asia-Pacific from 1992 to 2012. Thomas Hobbes spoke of power as “present means to obtain some future apparent good. Hard power can be treated as a potential and is not often enforced on the international stage.

Chinese strategists have such a concept of national power that can be measured quantitatively using an index known as comprehensive national power.1

According to Wikipedia, New Imperialism in historical contexts, characterizes a period of colonial expansion by European powers, the United States, and Japan during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The period featured an unprecedented pursuit of overseas territorial acquisitions. At the time, states focused on building their empires with new technological advances and developments, making their territory bigger through conquest, and exploiting their resources.

During the era of New Imperialism, the Western powers (and Japan) individually conquered almost all of Africa and parts of Asia. The new wave of imperialism reflected ongoing rivalries among the great powers, the economic desire for new resources and markets, and a “civilizing mission” ethos. Many of the colonies established during this era gained independence during the era of decolonization that followed World War II.

The qualifier “new” is used to differentiate modern imperialism from earlier imperial activity, such as the so-called first wave of European colonization between the 15th and early-19th centuries. In the first wave of colonization, European powers conquered and colonized the Americas and Siberia; they then later established more outposts in Africa and Asia.

Expansion in overseas economic and military pursuits could only be achieved if you possessed a reasonable amount of power. The period of gaining territories was a struggle, it was not for the faint hearted, or for states that did not have their home affairs well sorted out. This period highlighted serious rivalries among the great powers in Europe, because of the need to create more avenues for political, military and especially economic strength, through the annexing of other countries/states other than the home state, especially in Africa and Asia.

With the above definitions this study is going to explain how Power is the primary drive behind the new imperialism, and in doing this, this study will first like to go into history to describe how the issue of New Imperialism came about.2

From a history perspective, the most noticeable event of the 19th century was the annexation of non-European states by the European powers. This domination took several forms from economic penetration to outright annexation. No area of the world no matter how far, was completely free from the influence of the westerners and missionaries.

Although the Industrial Revolution and nationalism shaped European society in the nineteenth century, imperialism—the domination by one country or people over another group of people—dramatically changed the world during the latter half of that century. Imperialism did not begin in the nineteenth century. From the sixteenth to the early nineteenth century, an era dominated by what is now termed Old Imperialism, European nations sought trade routes with the Far East, explored the New World, and established settlements in North and South America as well as in Southeast Asia. They set up trading posts and gained footholds on the coasts of Africa and China, and worked closely with the local rulers to ensure the protection of European economic interests. Their influence, however, was limited. In the Age of New Imperialism that began in the 1870s, European states established vast empires mainly in Africa, but also in Asia and the Middle East. Unlike the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century method of establishing settlements, the new imperialists set up the administration of the native areas for the benefit of the colonial power. European nations pursued an aggressive expansion policy that was motivated by economic needs that were created by the Industrial Revolution. Between 1870 and 1914, Europe went through a “Second Industrial Revolution,” which quickened the pace of change as science, technology, and industry spurred economic growth. Improvements in steel production revolutionized shipbuilding and transportation. The development of the railroad, the internal combustion engine, and electrical power generation contributed to the growing industrial economies of Europe and their need to seek new avenues of expansion. The expansion policy was also motivated by political needs that associated empire building with national greatness, and social and religious reasons that promoted the superiority of Western society over “backward” societies. Through the use of direct military force, economic spheres of influence, and annexation, European countries dominated the continents of Africa and Asia. By 1914, Great Britain controlled the largest number of colonies, and the phrase, “the sun never sets on the British Empire,” described the vastness of its holdings. Imperialism had consequences that affected the colonial nations, Europe, and the world. It also led to increased competition among nations and to conflicts that would disrupt world peace in 1914.

It can be argued that during the 19th century, states in Europe were clamouring for power, because this was a necessity to be regarded as a major force to deal with in Europe, it became very important to look beyond your borders to get, annex this power.

The scramble for Africa should be dated, not from 1882, when the British occupied Egypt, but from the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. The strategic importance of that waterway cannot be overstated. It was the gateway to India and East Asia and hence a vital interest nonpareil for the British Empire. When the Khedive of Egypt defaulted on loans owed to France and Britain, and a nationalist uprising ensued—the first such Arab rebellion against the Western presence—the French backed away from military occupation, although with Bismarck’s encouragement and moral support they occupied Tunis in 1881, expanding their North African presence from Algeria. Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, otherwise an adamant anticolonialist, then established a British protectorate in Egypt. When the French reacted bitterly, Bismarck further encouraged French colonial expansion in hopes of distracting them from Europe, and he then took his own country into the fray by claiming four large segments of Africa for Germany in 1884. In that year the King of the Belgians cast his eye on the entire Congo Basin. The Berlin West Africa Conference of 1884-85 was called to settle a variety of disputes involved in European colonial occupation, and over the next 10 years all the Great Powers of Europe save Austria and Russia staked out colonies and protectorates on the African continent. But whatever the ambitions and rivalries of military adventurers, explorers, and private empire-builders on the scene, the cabinets of Europe came to agreements on colonial boundaries with surprising neighbourliness. Colonial wars did ensue after 1894, but never between two European colonial powers.

It has been suggested that imperial rivalries were a long-range cause of World War I. It has also been said that they were a safety valve, drawing off European energies that might otherwise have erupted in war much sooner. But the links between imperialism and the war are more subtle. The heyday of the New Imperialism, especially after 1894, created a tacit understanding in the European elites and the broad literate classes that the days of the old European balance of power were over, that a new world order was dawning, and that any nation left behind in the pursuit of world power would sink into obscurity. This intuition must surely have fed a growing sense of desperation among Germans, and one of paranoia among Britons, about trends in global politics. A second point, subtler still, is that the New Imperialism, while it did not directly provoke World War I, did occasion a transformation of alliances that proved dangerous beyond reckoning once the Great Powers turned their attention back to Europe.3

Western imperialism in Asia pertains to Western European entry into what was first called the East Indies. This was sparked early in the 15th century by the search for trade routes to China that led directly to the Age of Discovery, and the introduction of early modern warfare into what was then called the Far East. By the early 16th century the Age of Sail greatly expanded Western European influence and development of the Spice Trade under colonialism. There has been a presence of Western European colonial empires and imperialism in Asia throughout six centuries of colonialism, formally ending with the independence of the Portuguese Empire’s last colony East Timor in 2002. The empires introduced Western concepts of nation and the multinational state. This article attempts to outline the consequent development of the Western concept of the nation state.

The thrust of European political power, commerce, and culture in Asia gave rise to growing trade in commodities—a key development in the rise of today’s modern world free market economy. In the 16th century, the Portuguese broke the (overland) monopoly of the Arabs and Italians of trade between Asia and Europe by the discovery of the sea route to India around the Cape of Good Hope. With the ensuing rise of the rival Dutch East India Company, Portuguese influence in Asia was gradually eclipsed. Dutch forces first established independent bases in the East (most significantly Batavia, the heavily fortified headquarters of the Dutch East India Company) and then between 1640 and 1660 wrestled Malacca, Ceylon, some southern Indian ports, and the lucrative Japan trade from the Portuguese. Later, the English and the French established settlements in India and established a trade with China and their own acquisitions would gradually surpass those of the Dutch. Following the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, the British eliminated French influence in India and established the British East India Company as the most important political force on the Indian Subcontinent.

Before the Industrial Revolution in the mid-to-late 19th century, demand for oriental goods such as (porcelain, silk, spices and tea) remained the driving force behind European imperialism, and (with the important exception of British East India Company rule in India) the European stake in Asia remained confined largely to trading stations and strategic outposts necessary to protect trade. Industrialisation, however, dramatically increased European demand for Asian raw materials; and the severe Long Depression of the 1870s provoked a scramble for new markets for European industrial products and financial services in Africa, the Americas, Eastern Europe, and especially in Asia. This scramble coincided with a new era in global colonial expansion known as “the New Imperialism,” which saw a shift in focus from trade and indirect rule to formal colonial control of vast overseas territories ruled as political extensions of their mother countries. Between the 1870s and the beginning of World War I in 1914, the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands—the established colonial powers in Asia—added to their empires vast expanses of territory in the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, and South East Asia. In the same period, the Empire of Japan, following the Meiji Restoration; the German Empire, following the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871; Tsarist Russia; and the United States, following the Spanish–American War in 1898, quickly emerged as new imperial powers in East Asia and in the Pacific Ocean area.

In Asia, World War I and World War II were played out as struggles among several key imperial powers—conflicts involving the European powers along with Russia and the rising American and Japanese powers. None of the colonial powers, however, possessed the resources to withstand the strains of both world wars and maintain their direct rule in Asia. Although nationalist movements throughout the colonial world led to the political independence of nearly all of the Asia’s remaining colonies, decolonisation was intercepted by the Cold War; and South East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and East Asia remained embedded in a world economic, financial, and military system in which the great powers compete to extend their influence. However, the rapid post-war economic development of the East Asian Tigers, India, the People’s Republic of China, along with the collapse of the Soviet Union, have loosened European and American influence in Asia, generating speculation today about emergence of modern India and China as potential superpowers.4


The reason European states got involved in New Imperialism was to get power over themselves and this can be divided into four;

Economic motives: The extension of a nation’s power over other lands in the 1880s, European states set up colonies and trading posts in Africa and Asia and were content to carry on trade and missionary activity. However, in the late nineteenth century, “new imperialism” had surfaced and European states began to seek control over vast territories. Capitalist states in the West were looking for raw materials to sell in markets, such as rubber, oil, and tin; and control over the markets in their new conquered territories.

The second reason was for political motives. At this time, European affairs grew very tense, and many countries wanted to not only expand their territory, but also to showcase their military strength and exercise their superiority over other countries and the best way to show this was to take colonies.

The third reason new imperialism can about was because of religious motives. Most European colonial powers wanted to spread Christianity and promote education, hoping that the new found faith in Africa and Asia would help to abolish slavery. Religious Europeans also believed that they had a moral responsibility to civilize primitive people, this responsibility is known as “the white man’s burden”. Thus, seeing themselves as the ones supposed to show the world the right way.

The final reason for new imperialism was for exploration motives. The European states were very curious and wanted to explore unknown territory. They explored their newly conquered lands to find any “hidden gems” they could keep for themselves. This was a very huge level of greed and it only kept increasing as the years went by, the need to have more increased.

Finally, European states had strong economic, political, religious, and exploration motives to use new imperialism. All of these reasons led to a tense rivalry between countries on who could get more land first.

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