Imperialism is product of power, and a manifestation of our lingering autocratic tendencies. There is an imperialist impulse inherent in every state and it manifests itself in ways commensurate with her power. Only free and empowered people acting inside each state can ever check that impulse. This is why empowering people is important. This is why the fight for democracy is important. Democracies can come together to establish real lasting alliances, but the best that can be achieved in case of autocracies is limited-scope agreements and temporary truces.
Democracies function on the basis of separation of powers, checks and balances, universal vote, collective bargaining and individual rights. We need to create the equivalent of that on the international scale. But success in this regard requires fair representation of all peoples. Autocratic regimes only represent themselves and their parochial interests, not their peoples and their real national interests. That’s why peoples living in autocratic states need the help of their counterparts living in democratic states: un-empowered, they can never check the imperialist impulses of their state. People who cannot protect themselves from the oppressive tendencies of their rulers cannot protect their neighbors from that. The people who live in democracies and who think that they can afford to ignore the struggle for democracies in other parts of the world, or who push their governments to stay out of the fray, fail to realize that they are leaving the stage to autocrats, and encouraging their leaders to adopt cynical approaches to foreign policy, the last institutional bastion in the free world where autocratic tendencies tend to prevail (that and the military institutions of course).
We cannot call ourselves true anti-imperialists if we only oppose American imperialism while we remain silent in regard to Russian and Iranian ventures in this regard. And we cannot be true lovers of freedom if we only stand for it where it is already given, and ignore the fight for it where it is not. Anti-imperialism and democracy promotion should go hand-in-hand. Our challenge is to find ways to work for both, not to choose between them. Unfortunately, anti-imperialist movements in Western and democratic countries seem oblivious to this, or unable to find ways to strike the necessary balance.
But without support for democracy-promotion, the people of the free world cannot protect themselves from any blowbacks resulting from the imperialism ventures carried out in their names. But democracy promotion and the protection of basic human rights does on occasion call for intervention, not disengagement. Identifying those situations where intervention is not only legitimate but also necessary was exactly what the people and states that elaborated and signed the Responsibility to Protect had on their minds. R2P has been approved by the UN in 2005; it “holds States accountable for the welfare of their people,” and allows other countries to intervene when these states fail to protect their peoples, or when they are themselves responsible for abusing them. Over 190 states have so far ratified this doctrine.
But what’s the point of this when the will to act is missing, or when moral leadership is lacking? Until we understand that the fight against tyranny and imperialism and for liberty and security are one and the same we will remain condemned to supporting fragmentary, haphazard and conflicting efforts allowing the forces of extremism, greed and cynicism to dictate the pace of events, and the quality of our lives.