Imperial Power: Can an Empire Commit Itself to Global Equity and Justice?

Article excerpt

IN THOSE DAYS Caesar Augustus issued a decree ..." With those words the writer of Luke's Gospel acknowledged the political backdrop of Jesus' life. The Roman Empire was the world's unrivaled superpower. Its influence extended throughout the Mediterranean, and it had developed the capacity to enforce its will in such remote outposts as Judea. The imperial power figured into Jesus' birth even as it presided at his death.

The unrivaled power that shapes the globe for those who would follow Jesus two millennia later is the U.S. Its culture is inescapable, its economic interests range from polar slopes to subequatorial forests to central Asian deserts, and its military might is unprecedented. While U.S. citizens may prefer not to think of their country in terms of empire, they must face up to their nation's immense power if only to consider how to use it. Given its vast but not unlimited global power, what kind of international system should America seek to foster?

Throughout the cold war, the U.S. pursued a foreign policy governed principally by the consensus that communism should be contained. When the bipolar world of American and Soviet power collapsed, so did this longstanding policy. The U.S. emerged as the world's sole superpower precisely when a domestic consensus about its international role was dissolving.

For the moment the war on terrorism is forming an overarching foreign-policy objective. But if terrorism is to be defeated, the U.S. must quickly embrace broader global goals. And these goals must be defined by something more than the quest for wealth--developing markets, securing resources, and in general making the world safe for corporations to do business. …