Imperialism is defined as the act of extending the influence and power of a specific country to others. It can be done through acts of diplomacy. It can also be accomplished through the use of military force. It occurs when a strong nation takes over a weaker one to dominate its life culturally, politically, and economically.
There are numerous examples of nations doing this through the periods of global colonization. Some of the efforts at imperialism are still evident in today’s world, such as the presence of French Guiana in South America.
Here are the pros and cons of imperialism to examine.
List of the Pros of Imperialism
1. Developing countries gain access to new technologies.
Strong nations bring their technologies to the weaker nations that they are influencing through imperialism. This process has allowed the principles of the Industrial Revolution to spread to the developing world. It has helped nations modernize their economies, grow new crops, and build new infrastructures. Over time, this process of development tends to create safer societies because it allows people from different cultures and ethnicities to communicate more opening.
2. Healthcare access is improved through imperialism.
Strong nations develop their strength because of the overall health of its population. This strength can only be developed through a proactive system of healthcare access. When people can go to a doctor with confidence, knowing that their issues will be directly addressed, it allows them to continue pursuing their dreams. Modern healthcare access, through imperialism, has provided vaccines, medication, and modern knowledge to the developing world and this has saved countless lives.
3. Agriculture production is also improved.
An example of U.S. imperialism provides evidence for this benefit. With the sugarcane market depressed in the Hawaiian Islands, local farmers and agricultural workers were struggling to make ends meet. The U.S. was using tariffs as a way to impose their will on the islands. By forcing the people to join the United States, the tariff was removed, which then created economic opportunities. Improved irrigation and cultivation methods helped to restore the viability of the crops as well.
4. Defensive networks are created through imperialism.
When the world becomes somewhat borderless, it becomes safer for the average person to pursue opportunities. Acts of imperialism may dominate “weaker” cultures, but they also provide a stronger defense. By creating common borders that are ultimately under the ownership of the strong nation, more people are able to benefit from modern defensive technologies. Although this benefit can come at a high cost, the defensive expenses can then be spread out through more households, which lessens the per capita cost of such a network.
5. Imperialism exposes people to new ethnicities and cultures.
Forging forward as a strong nation creates opportunities to find new cultures and learn from their ways. Every ethnicity and culture have certain strengths that make them unique. The stronger nation can then take these strengths and replicate them on a mass scale. This may reduce the identity of certain cultures over time, though it also creates multiple benefits for the whole of humanity.
6. There is better market access because of imperialism.
Territory acquisition is not the only priority of nations engaged in the practice of imperialism. There is a desire to seek out more markets for product and service access as well. By moving into the Caribbean, access to tropical agricultural items is possible, which is why Britain, France, the Netherlands, and the United States have all sought to establish a presence on the islands in the region.
7. More educational opportunities exist.
Imperialism may change cultures because of how the strong dominates the weak. It also provides new opportunities for those cultures to learn. Modern educational curriculums and teaching methods come with the practice of imperialism, helping more people gain a basic understanding of core needs, such as mathematics and language. More people have access to higher-level educational opportunities as well, which creates more chances at long-term growth.
List of the Cons of Imperialism
1. Imperialism almost always creates conflict.
People take pride in their nation and culture. They do not want someone else coming into their home, demanding compliance to a different perspective. Many of the conflicts in the 20th century have been based on the imposition of imperialistic tendencies and a local rebellion against them. Numerous wars have been fought by smaller nations for independence against a stronger foe. Even the United States became a nation because it rebelled against imperialism in the 18th century.
2. Exploitation is much easier through the imperialistic process.
Stronger nations must work to build weaker nations up for the benefits of imperialism to happen. Far too often, an opposite result occurs. The stronger nation goes to the weaker nation, exploits local resources for themselves, and then leaves the local population to fend for itself with fewer resources than it had before.
3. It can be an expensive process to pursue.
The United States focused on imperialism after World War II for some time, especially in the South Pacific. There is still a network of about 800 military facilities around the world that support these past efforts. The cost to U.S. taxpayers for this defensive network is more than $600 billion annually. Americans spend more on defense than the other Top 9 countries in the world combined for defensive spending. Ongoing aid to local populations is also required to maintain the extension of borders. In total, about $1 trillion is spent annually from the U.S. budget to support a global presence.
4. Imperialism creates conflicts amongst the strong.
Countries often compete with one another for resource access. If one strong nation moves in on a weaker nation because there is a wealth of resources available, another strong nation may wish to challenge that process. Not only does this process result in political issues that can be difficult to resolve, there are times when it can even lead to all-out war.
5. It changes the spiritual beliefs of local populations.
Imperialistic nations often perceive themselves to be the best at what they do. They believe that their culture and society is the one true standard that the rest of the world should follow. That perspective is often founded in a specific religious belief. Many of the world’s great atrocities have occurred because one society felt that they were superior to another and decided to prove that superiority in some way. Forcing one’s way of life on someone can provide certain benefits, like a better education. It also strips people of their cultural identity in the process.
6. Discrimination is often formed through imperialism.
The efforts at imperialism from the United States are very evident in the territory of Puerto Rico. A representative can be elected in Puerto Rico to be sent to the U.S. Congress, but has no voting power on legislation debated there. Delegates can be sent to political conventions, but Puerto Rico does not have electoral voting power for a presidential election. That leads people to treat the island differently, even though they are American citizens, just like anyone else on the U.S. mainland.
7. Imperialism spread slavery.
Expansion by strong nations almost always creates slavery of some type. In past centuries, it encouraged the outright ownership of others, often against their will. In modern imperialism, governments can force people to work for specific businesses or be involved in specific enterprises as the only way to earn a paycheck. If they choose to do something else, they may find themselves struggling to meet their basic needs. It should be noted that the developed world benefits directly from the cheap labor of the developing world, where a majority of people earn between $1-$2 per day for their work.
8. It can spread disease.
When Europeans first came to the New World, the local populations had no immunities against smallpox and other diseases. That caused many cultures to be completely devastated. Now the opposite issue occurs. Nations acting in an imperialistic fashion find that the diseases of the developing world have a detrimental effect on their own populations. Issues like malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS represent more than 90% of deaths in the developing world. Without proactive treatment, those from the developed world encounter its issues as well.
9. It eliminates cultures.
Numerous ethnic groups have become extinct over the centuries because of the actions of imperialism. The Guanches living on the Canary Islands, the Taino of the West Indies, and even the Aborigines in Tasmania were all victimized because the needs of the strong were perceived to be more important than their own cultural needs.
These imperialism pros and cons show that nations with the best interests of others in mind can cause good things to happen through its practice. The problem is that “good” is a relative term. Many cultures do not want other nations or cultures interfering with their own. That desire creates conflict, which will ultimately affect the lives of everyone in the world at some point in time.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.