Newspaper article International New York Times

The Crises Borne by Imperialism

Newspaper article International New York Times

The Crises Borne by Imperialism

Article excerpt

The seeds that were sowed as Western powers like Britain faded after the world wars have contributed to some persistent problems of the present.

The calendar is filling with moments marking Britain's role in molding events that changed the world.

On July 1, the centenary of the start of the Battle of the Somme will inspire memories of one of the bloodiest contests of World War I, which pitted French and British forces against German adversaries. A few days later, on July 6, after many delays, an official inquiry into Britain's role in the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 is set to finally produce its voluminous report.

What binds the two is the ambiguous legacy of power projected onto foreign fields. World War I fueled an urge to build new orders as old empires collapsed. Borders were redrawn, countries carved up. The seeds that were sowed as Western powers like Britain faded after the world wars have contributed to some of the most persistent problems and dangerous phenomena of the present. The Iraq inquiry is likely to shine a light on a weakened Britain's uncomfortable role in trying to fix some of the mistakes that were born less than a century after the Somme.

Frail nations shaped by the victors of World War I have faced challenges of their own -- the Arab Spring convulsed North Africa and the Middle East, and Iraq and Syria descended into turmoil, helping give rise to the Islamic State.

Frontiers redrawn after World War I could not contain the populations within them. The claimed right of imperial-minded Westerners to expand their presence and influence has been reversed.

"We have entered the age of migration," Mark Leonard, the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank, wrote recently. "If all the people who live outside the country of their birth united to form their own -- a republic of the rootless - - it would be the fifth-largest country in the world with a population of more than 240 million," Mr. Leonard pointed out.

That, in turn, has redefined the balance of geopolitical advantage. A million Chinese settlers in sub-Saharan Africa have recast economies and alliances there. …

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