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Imperialism is an unequal and exploitative human and territorial relationship, usually in the form of an empire, based on ideas of superiority and practices of dominance, and involving the extension of authority and control of one state or people over another.
Imperialism has been a central component of nations for much of human history; both ancient polities, like the Roman Empire and Persia, and modern states, including France, Germany, Japan, the United States and the Soviet Union, have created empires.
Colonialism is the act of one country taking over some other area and settling it or ruling over it. It is very similar to imperialism, although colonists can be invited by the receiving country. Colonialism has been around since at least the Classical World: the Phoenicians and the Greeks colonized much of the fringes of Northern Africa, the Black Sea, Sicily, Spain, etc.
Usually, when speaking of colonialism, people refer to European colonialism (glossing over the Japanese colonial-era takeover of Taiwan in 1895 and of the Korean Empire in 1910). European countries — most notably Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands — engaged in large amounts of colonialism. After a false start with the Kingdom of Jerusalem (1099-1291), which saw settlers from Western Europe encouraged to migrate to Palestine and other parts of Outremer, serious systematic European colonization started in the 15th century (in Africa) and mostly ended in the 20th. Most of the world's surface is composed of former colonies. For example, all of the Americas and Australia, and almost all of Africa and Asia were colonized at some point. Some states, such as France and Great Britain, still have overseas colonies/dependencies/overseas-territories. However, the largest colonial empire was that of Great Britain, which ruled much of Africa and the Middle East, along with India, parts of China, Australia, New Zealand and a large part of North America.
Colonialism as a worldwide system began to fade after World War II, due to a multitude of causes. In part, many of the old colonial powers came to accept the need for self-determination in the colonies. At the same time, there had been great advances in "asymmetric warfare", as evidenced by the ability of the poorly-equipped Vietnamese forces to fight off both France and the United States.
These days, accusations of colonialism are most often leveled at the United States, Israel, and China. This might be unreasonable, since Russia, via the former Russian Empire and the later Soviet Union, colonized much of eastern Europe and western and northern Asia. In the Bad Old Days troops in the service of Russia or of the Soviet Union forcibly suppressed attempts by Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and others to remove the colonial yoke. But a new era of independence has dawned — Germany is now one nation and Czechoslovakia has become the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Russia under Vladimir Putin shows signs of trying to revive the old modality as seen in Crimea in 2014, and in less brazen interventions in places such as Georgia (2008) and Moldova. It must be said that Moscow pursues worldwide colonization with some trepidation in comparison with that of the recent activities of the United States.
A particular branch of study, "postcolonialism", has arisen to study the effects and aftermaths of colonialism on different parts of the world, from the point of view of the former colonies. It particularly focuses on differences in colonial structures and their results. Meanwhile "neocolonialism" has become one of the new snarl-words used to condemn the venerable age-old practice of exercising foreign control and economic dominance/exploitation.
Empires based on racism and exploitation are of more recent origin — Britain being the largest colonial power. Even in colonialist empires, attitudes on race varied from "White Man's Burden" type "We have to lift up those savages" rationalizations to outright extermination of "lower races" in the Imperial Japanese and Nazi German colonization attempts. Some Empires relied on local allies for administrative and military purposes and either overlooked their race or employed a "hierarchy" with certain local groups destined to rule over others, which was one of the origins of the hatred and divide between Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda.
A puppet, client or satellite state is an example of indirect imperialism, in which a country's government is outwardly independent but is controlled by a foreign power. Historically, the governor of a client state was referred to as a satrap and their state as a satrapy. Modern incarnations of client states started with Revolutionary France and its "sister Republics" that were created via "Revolution Export". Later on, Napoleon put his family and other rulers to his liking in control of most of Europe, creating puppet states in the process. The most famous examples come from WWII, when the Nazis pulled the strings of the Vichy French government and the Japanese set up the puppet government of Manchukuo (now Manchuria) in Northern China. After that war, it occurred on an even larger scale during the Cold War in which the Soviet Union dominated its satellites in the Eastern Bloc. One example, important in the development of Christianity and its mythology, was the Herodian kingdom which was a Roman client state whose rulers figure in several events of the New Testament.
The British Empire was a massive Juggernaut that spanned across the world. Starting with the colonization of the Americas, it continues to exist in a much reduced form. At the height of the Empire its image was that of mustachioed men wearing silly white helmets and sipping tea while the dark-skinned people did all the hard work.
The king of Belgium took over what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo and fucked shit over mightily.
The Treaty of Paris in 1783 left the United States of America with an imperial scale even if the United States decisively rejected any concept of hereditary rule.
Other than the establishment of Liberia as a colony for freed slaves it didn't want and its involvement in the slave trade, America stayed out of Africa, though they did engage in imperialist behavior elsewhere. The Spanish American War was effectively an excuse to exert power over the Caribbean. While many Americans at the time were isolationist, the US engaged in such actions as the Open Door policy, as well as sending the Great White Fleet around the world as a show of power.
During the Cold War, the US felt the need to
poke their nose in everyone's business fight the spectre of Communism. They accomplished this goal by intervening in other nations' civil wars and basing troops in countries, ostensibly for their protection. This meant that America had a military presence worldwide, just in case someone acted up, though a quick fix was to ask the CIA to engineer a coup.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States was left as the world's sole superpower. Neoconservatives formulated a new foreign policy focused on maintaining America's superpower status by preventing any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would make them a viable threat. 
Some critics of American Foreign Policy argue that it amounts to little more than modern-day colonization. There are two main forms of colonization which the Americans pursue.
One is establishing "free markets", so that foreign markets can freely be flooded with American goods. This can also be associated with the privatization of national assets, which usually fall into the hands of private American contractors. The Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq planned to sell approximately 150 of 200 state-owned enterprises in 2004, prompting critics from the Washington Post to claim: "It took L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Baghdad, no more than a stroke of the pen … to accomplish what eluded Republicans over the course of a decade and two presidential campaigns".
The other is military occupation. The American Armed Forces currently have permanent bases in 61 countries worldwide. They have a military presence in over 100 countries worldwide, including 100,000 troops in Europe, 77,000 in the Pacific and East Asia, and a total of 270,000 troops in foreign countries not currently in action. In 2012, there were an estimated 67,500 servicemen and servicewomen in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Seldom has history seen such a dominant, unilateral power astride the international scene." This is taken from a report to Congress and the President: "Commission on Review of Overseas Military Facility Structure of the United States". The ambitions of the American foreign policy are clearly stated and not at all secretive, as seen in this extract from the above Commission:
"We have undertaken a transformation of strategy that is far-reaching in its implications on our ability to defend ourselves at home and to pursue our interests in the world. We have formulated new doctrines, organized new unit structures, developed new weapons, communications, intelligence, logistics, and command and control systems, and sought new allies and altered basing locations at home and abroad. We are adopting new techniques and procedures, shifting our forces around the globe, and otherwise launching a myriad of innovations."
Any thinking person must wonder what could be implied by "our ability to defend ourselves at home and to pursue our interests in the world", when the American government insists its current military actions are purely defensive measures, put in place to "counter terrorism".
France extensively colonized Africa and Indochina, and still held many of its colonies until the 1970s and still retains real estate all over the globe as former colonies have been incorporated as overseas territories. Another remnant of France's empire is the French parallel to the British Commonwealth of Nations, the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, an international organization of French-speaking states. France is still very active in promoting its language abroad and has intervened various times in former colonies, deposing or installing governments at will. The Quebec sovereignty movement was also backed and boosted by Charles de Gaulle and later French leaders, creating a major headache in Canadian politics. Another remnant of french colonialism is the CFA franc, the name of two currencies: the West African CFA franc, used by the UEMOA (West African Economic and Monetary Union) and the Central Africa CFA franc used by the CEMAC (Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa). CFA's value is pegged to the euro (whose monetary policy is set by the European Central Bank). The CEMAC, the UEMOA and their central banks can't make decisions without agreement from the French Central Bank.
“”All the World under one
Japan joined the empire game relatively late, but nonetheless managed to acquire a sizable one. Initially an absolute monarchy, then a constitutional monarchy, it eventually spiraled into a fascist system which, though it kept up a façade of elections and party politics, was effectively run by a military-industrial complex. The Japanese also invented a wonderful Newspeak title for their empire (the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere), thus being Orwellian before the term was even coined. Like the Russian Empire, the Empire of Japan had the emperor play a spiritual role. Unlike the Russians however, the Emperor was actively worshipped. This caused some trouble later. The pre-World War II colonies of Japan included what is now Taiwan, Korea, Manchuria, and Micronesia.
“”"Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Nationality"
|—Maxim of Alexander III|
Tsarist Russia had ambitions in Asia, it being literally next door and Africa already having been taken. The Russians attempted to gain control of Manchuria and Korea, but unfortunately for them, they came in conflict with the Empire of Japan. Russia suffered a humiliating defeat, losing much of its navy while the successful Japanese assault on the Russian stronghold of Port Arthur gave some European observers some unfortunate ideas about the effectiveness of massed infantry attacks against entrenchments, machine guns and modern artillery. The Russian Empire was an autocracy with a sizable theocratic element. Unlike the aforementioned Empire of Japan, the Tsar was "merely" head of the church and answered only to God rather than being worshipped himself. It didn't end well.
At the time of the October Revolution, the successors to the tsars were hotly debating "the national question", with Lenin in favour of keeping a tight grip on the Finnish, Georgian, and Polish possessions, while Stalin (himself a Georgian), favouring more self-determination and even an eventual path to independence. Lenin saw the independence of the Tsar's possessions to be a 'betrayal of internationalist principles', and when Stalin sensed which way the wind was blowing, he switched to Lenin's side on the issue for good. Lenin also favoured turning Russia's participation in World War I into a revolutionary struggle, with the aim of making Europe's population so enraged by the war that they would rise up as he and his party had done. Ironically, this had imperialist overtones, and when Lenin grasped how unpopular the war had become in Russia, he dropped the idea.
The Bolsheviks certainly didn't want to adopt anything like a theocratic Russian autocracy—well, not theocratic at least. Lenin didn't mind expanding Russia's domain beyond the Tsars' wildest dreams when he was able, while Uncle Joe thought that the red gospel was so fantastic that the Eastern half of Europe couldn't possibly live without it. However, when his successors tried to convince the Afghans, things ended about as well as could be expected given the history of Afghanistan.
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire, but it did last some 900 years in varying forms, occasionally acquiring territories only to lose others. It never directly engaged in overseas imperial conquest. This may have been due to its generally questionable ability to effectively exert central control over the plethora of
independent prince-electors, bishops, free cities and merchant republics, not to mention its failure to control external threats from France and curtail the Protestant Reformation.
However, during the reign of Charles V (1519-1556), the Emperor of the HRE inadvertently found himself in control of a blossoming global empire. In Europe, Charles V inherited Austrian territories from the Habsburg dynasty, Netherlands from the House of Valois-Burgundy, and Castile and Aragon (now Spain) from the Trastámara dynasties. This last inheritance not only gave him Aragon's considerable colonies and territories in the Mediterranean, but Castile's American and Asian possessions too. By sheer luck, Charles V found himself ruling half of Europe, Spanish Mexico, the Spanish Philippines, the Spanish West Indies, and enclaves along the coast of Northern Africa at the same time. Thus, he is said to be the first monarch to rule over an empire "on which the sun never sets", despite never engaging directly in overseas discoveries or colonization.
Second and Third Reichs
The German Empire didn't last long: from unification in 1871 to collapse after the Great War was a mere 47 years. Germany got into the overseas empire game late, getting only some bits of Africa, a small colony in China, and some Pacific islands.
Hitler was ambiguous on the colonial question, first endorsing a desire to regain colonies but later reneging it and ultimately his main focus was on conquering Eastern Europe, enslaving or exterminating everything "un-German" that lived there and building a large scale land empire on the ashes. So, hooray for confining his murderous tyranny to Europe?
The behavior of some former colonies could be interpreted as colonialism. For example, the Konfrontasi during Sukarno's presidency in Indonesia resulted in ineffective invasions of neighboring Malaysia and Brunei, and the effective annexation of Irian Jaya (later Papua Province). President Suharto later annexed East Timor. Several revolts against "Javanese Imperialism" have taken place within Indonesia in attempts to break away from the state: the Molucca (or Maluku) islands (1950, unsuccessful), Aceh Province (limited autonomy in 2002), East Timor (full independence in 2002), and Papua Province (ongoing). The imperialist aspect is expressed not just by the various independence movements, but by government and military control resting largely in the hands of ethnic Javanese, and ongoing transmigration (transmigrasi) of (mostly) Javanese to far-flung provinces for what is effectively colonization.
- Note the legend of the Britons inviting Hengist and Horsa into Britain and triggering the Anglo-Saxon takeover, and the legend of the Slavs inviting Rurik to restore order in proto-Russia. Later the Maori would invite the Anglo-Saxons to colonise New Zealand (1840), whereas King George XII of Georgia and Chairman of the Presidium of the Revolutionary Council of Afghanistan Hafizullah Amin would allegedly invite the Russians/Soviets to restore order in Georgia (1800) and in Afghanistan (1979) respectively.
- Most (in)famously the almost certainly fictitious Massacre of the Innocents in Matthew 2:16-18
- Navies were like the nuclear missiles of the day, everyone had to have the biggest and fanciest.
- McGowan, J. (2007). "Neoconservatism". American Liberalism: An Interpretation for Our Time. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 124–133. ISBN 0-807-83171-9.
- Examples given of the modern Iraq conflict
- Neil King Jr. (May 1, 2003). "Bush Officials Draft Broad Plan For Free-Market Economy in Iraq". https://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/168/34776.html.
-  (Paywall) and 
- Troop Levels in the Afghan and Iraq Wars, FY2001-FY2012: Cost and Other Potential Issues, PDF
- E.g. French Guiana in South America, Martinique in the Caribbean, and Réunion in the Indian Ocean, as well as the slightly looser affiliated French Polynesia and New Caledonia in the Pacific.
- The state backed Alliance Française has over 800 locations in 136 countries, all offering French classes — this is much more than comparable institutes of other countries
- See here for a controversial speech he gave
- Whether George Orwell had Japan's euphemistic title for its empire in mind when he invented such entities as the "Ministry of Truth" for Nineteen Eighty-Four is anyone's guess.
- The content of "Nationality" ("Narodnost") was the problem: Did it refer to Russian nationalism? Love of the empire? The people? While usually translated as "nationality", other possible translations are something like the "spiritual identity of the people", or even "populism"
- Although communism has more than a little whiff of religious and messianic fervor about it.
- history of the entire world, i guess
- There is an argument to be made that the Third Reich was an imperial project, but an even briefer one, lasting all of 12 years, 3 months and 8 days from start to finish.
- What is today Namibia, Tanzania and parts of Cameroon, Ghana and Togo
- Specifically, what is today Samoa, most of Papua New Guinea, along with parts of the Solomon Islands, Northern Mariana and Marshall Islands, as well the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru and Palau.
- West Irian and Jakarta Imperialism by Kees Lagerberg (1980) Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0312863225.