Imperialism has always been extremely harmful and dangerous, bringing immense distress, death and destruction. However there are at least seven reasons due to which the present phase of imperialism has become the most dangerous ever in human history.
Firstly, the kind of highly destructive weapons available today have been unprecedented, and these are rapidly being made even more destructive, in some contexts may even get outside the control of their own creators and handlers, by the use of AI and by increasing possibilities of space warfare. Some of the most important treaties and agreements for more responsible handling of the most destructive weapons are being weakened or even phased out instead of being strengthened.
Secondly, the present phase of imperialism also is the one in which an unprecedented human-made survival crisis already exists– in the sense that the basic life-nurturing conditions are seriously threatened within the normal lifetime of most people inhabiting earth today, and certainly within the lifetime of their children, if corrective steps are not taken very soon. Imperialism, and all that it represents, is completely incompatible with the resolving of this survival crisis in time, a very important aspect that is ignored in all international conferences on various aspects of the survival crisis such as climate change and water crisis ( comprehensively thought out conferences on all aspects of survival crisis are seldom organized, if at all!). Hence it is quite likely that imperialism will be one of the strongest forces dragging all life-forms of earth towards destruction, even though millions of thoughtful people may be struggling hard with the noblest intentions to resolve the survival crisis before it is too late. This threat is increased by the insistence of imperialist forces in exporting and spreading highly hazardous technologies in such critical areas as agriculture, food and health, technologies aimed at gaining control but spread in the name of development.
Thirdly, imperialism today is wounded imperialism, and like a wounded tiger, has become all the more dangerous today due to this factor. Due to a series of largely self-inflicted harms ( all destructive forces are also self-destructive), imperialism has become highly vulnerable regarding the strength of its economic base, and is forced into rather desperate actions to harm others to maintain its superiority, or else becomes more dependent on asserting its military superiority. Both these tendencies make it more dangerous, as also the very high levels of political corruption, the political-military and political-corporate nexus.
Another factor which makes the present phase of imperialism more dangerous, in terms of the likelihood of the most dangerous wars breaking out, is that the forces or countries in conflict with the main imperialism powers are also armed with very highly destructive weapons.
Another important factor is the existence of a force like NATO, tying together the main imperialist force with several willing countries and increasingly also less than willing countries, the only such comparable military alliance in the world making constant efforts to maintain its military superiority and encircle its potential rivals as its main or only agenda. This is a continuing factor increasing dangers and escalating tensions at world level.
Sixth, although this is not recognized by several analysts of imperialism, the fact remains that even if the present forces of imperialism led by the USA decline due to some factors without causing too much destruction, there remains a chance that different forces of imperialism, likely to be led by China, can emerge. After all China has been increasingly guided by the same capitalist compulsions, has been repeatedly revealed to be aggressively nationalist and authoritarian, is known to be much less transparent with lesser checks and balances, almost never had any reservations regarding cooperation with the most corrupt and authoritarian regimes in the name of avoiding interference with internal affairs.
In increasing situations of big power rivalry, brinkmanship, arms race and escalating military expenditure including on scientific research, (incorporating several hidden projects as well), there is the ever-present danger of new weapon systems being found which will give a very clear edge to one side at least for a few years in terms of weapon superiority. This may lead to a sudden escalation of the already dangerous situation, with the advantaged side thinking in terms of achieving a quick victory before the other side has a chance to catch up. Such a situation had in fact emerged around 1946 with the USA having the nuclear weapons but the USSR (then till recently a part of the Allies) yet to get them, and there was a strong line of thinking by several western militarists, including Winston Churchill, to attack the USSR with nuclear weapons in a big way before it had a chance to acquire them. This very dangerous idea was somehow avoided but the danger remains today of either the main imperialist force or its rival(s) finding new weapon systems which give them a clear edge over the other and then rushing to war to make full use of this temporary weapon superiority.
Hence clearly imperialism is in its most dangerous phase. This fact should be recognized by all those who are struggling to create a world based on peace, justice and environment protection and for resolving the survival crisis before it is too late. Hence a peaceful, transparent, broad-based struggle against imperialism must become an integral part of these wider efforts.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children, Earth without Borders and A Day in 2071.