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International Insights: empires in 2024

Sindhuja Pannuri
From Europe to Asia, South America to Africa, and all the way to Australia, Wingspan staff reporter Sindhuja Pannuri provides her insight on international events in this weekly blog.

When people typically think of “empires”, civilizations like the Roman Empire and Qing Dynasty come to mind. Society has long accepted that empires are a thing of the past. But although they are not called that by name, empires are alive and well in the 21st century – and each of them pose a unique danger to the balance of our world.

Russia’s war against Ukraine, reminiscent of Rome’s territorial expansions, reflects Moscow’s desire to reclaim lost territories and assert its dominance over neighboring lands. However, like the pursuits of the Roman Empire, Russia’s incursion into Ukraine has sparked regional instability, highlighting the perils of imperial overreach. Moreover, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine bears striking parallels to historical disputes over contested territories. Just as ancient empires clashed over strategic regions, such as the Balkans or Anatolia, Russia’s intervention in Eastern Ukraine has fueled tensions and exacerbated divisions within the region. Similar to Rome’s encounters with resistance, Moscow’s actions face international condemnation, revealing the risks inherent in such expansionist ventures in modern society.

Turning to the U.S. and its interventions in the Middle East, parallels emerge with the conquests of ancient empires. Like the Roman Empire, which justified its expansions in the name of spreading civilization, the U.S. often cites noble intentions such as promoting democracy. Yet, akin to historical patterns, America’s interventions have frequently led to destabilization and resentment among affected populations, underscoring the complexities and risks of imperial ventures. One such example is clearly highlighted by the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in 2021, after which the Taliban, an internationally recognized terrorist group, easily overtook the capital and continues to rule to this day. U.S. troops have existed in Afghanistan since 2001, and remained for 20 years – but native citizens questioned if they really helped at all, or were there for personal and political gain. 

In the case of China’s assertive maneuvers in the South China Sea, similarities arise with the maritime dominance pursued by ancient powers like Venice and Portugal, whose dominance of strategic waterways facilitated their ascent to global power. By asserting territorial claims and bolstering naval capabilities, China seeks to establish itself as a maritime powerhouse. China;s desire to control Taiwan represents a vital piece of its historical territory, akin to how ancient empires sought to expand their realms. However, the island’s status as a self-governing democracy complicates matters, drawing parallels to historical instances where contested territories sparked conflict and rivalry. The situation with Taiwan has become a focal point of tension in East Asia. Nevertheless, as history cautions, such ambitions risk provoking tensions and conflicts over control of vital maritime routes, echoing the challenges faced by past empires.

In each of these situations, it’s clear that modern powers are following in the footsteps of historical empires, showing how tempting it is to pursue dominance and expand territories. Whether through military might, economic pressure, or clever maneuvering, they’re walking a dangerous line, repeating the same mistakes of past empires driven by pride and ambition.

But have we not learned from the past? History reminds us that this pursuit comes with serious risks. We’ve seen how it can lead to the downfall of ancient civilizations and fuel devastating conflicts. The echoes of past empires serve as a stark warning, showing us the dangers of letting ambition run unchecked.

In the end, the actions of nations like Russia, the U.S., and China, and several others mirror the imperial ambitions of old. It’s up to us to learn from history and avoid the pitfalls of unchecked expansionism. By doing so, we can work towards a world where countries peacefully coexist, free from the shadows of past empires.

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About the Contributor
Sindhuja Pannuri
Sindhuja Pannuri, Staff Reporter
Sindhuja (Sindhu) Pannuri is a senior entering her second year of Wingspan staff. At school, she is captain of the varsity debate team and President of Youth and Government. In her free time, she reads books to escape reality and enjoys boxing in the ring. She’s so excited for what this year will hold!

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