The Spanish empire started the trend of their being only 1 or 2 global empires that dominated the world stage. Great Britain was at the zenith of this trend when it directly ruled 20% of the world’s landmass and controlled the majority of world trade; this trend (and Britain) has been on the decline since. In the wake of Britain’s soft collapse the USA and the USSR fought, during the cold war, to claim Britain’s lost position of dominance for themselves, the USSR fell and so the USA gained status as the world’s sole superpower, and the end of the USA dominance is now approaching. In the wake of its decline and collapse, new world orders will appear, most likely after the competing powers have sorted themselves out through the standard imperial sorting method of war, strategic positioning and international politics. In a continuation of the current trend, another (or two) global empire/s would arise, the main contenders currently including China and a now resurgent Russia. However, with the process of overshoot entering the decline phase, this assumption needs to be questioned and alternatives examined. The decline of global transport and communication infrastructure will hamper force projection, whether it’s economic, militarily, cultural or political projection. Relocalisation of industry will strengthen local powers at the expense of imperial ones, the technology gradient that has existed since the days of Spain when European armies could outfight any locals using superior weapons, training and tactics has diminished greatly and military tactics/technology has changed in favour of the defender as opposed to the attacker. See the 2006 Lebanon war where Hezbollah used defences to negate the Israeli armour and airforce. How can a global hegemony function in these conditions? What imperial structures can exist and thrive under the stress this change brings? I propose a potential model based on the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) nations with a potential, though unlikely, continental European empire.
This system would mark a dramatic shift in the way major powers relate to one another and act in the world. Under the current system, each empire (or group of empires) has only one major opponent at any time and everyone coalesced around one of the contenders. Think of the Axis and Allies or the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance. This new system is more like the constantly warring Greek city states or Renaissance Italy, with multiple powerful factions unable to permanently dominate, note this system can and has changed into a similar form of what we have now e.g. the Peloponnesian war or France and Spain entering Italy, Machiavelli mentions this in the Prince. For each major power, there are now multiple major enemies at any time and they are restricted how far they can act against any other power, major and minor, before their ability to respond to other powers is compromised. This creates a highly complex playing field where even minor powers can have significant effects on the grand scheme. To accommodate these changes Australia’s foreign policy and actions on the world stage would have to adapt. I’m assuming the Federation will remain for mainland Australia, however this isn’t a certainty and it would further complicate things if the federation dissolves.
Gearing for a more independent role and more ties with the other regional powers around us, rather than choosing America or China as imperial powers (yes, China is a regional power but the relationship is very different) and worrying about global problems or areas far away, like Iraq or Afghanistan, is the sensible path forward. Since the global empire/s would have less control overall than the USA or Britain did and we live in a peripheral part of the world (less than the days of Britain but still peripheral), we and our neighbours will now have an opportunity to write our own history (bloody as it may be) independent from powerful outsiders. Moving our military focus towards our navy (but in a non-expeditionary way) as opposed to our current focus on our army and expeditionary forces (see the Canberra Class), we’d still have an army, just a modified form, would be among the first steps since Australia and all our neighbours are islands, instead of simply allying with the next rising power, instead becoming a fully independent actor with which an imperial power entering our region must entreat, and deal with. Using our strategic position, isolation and superior local forces we could wring a few concessions out of them and via the support of local resistance (guerrilla or otherwise) we could drain the forces of any imperial power that decides to enter our region against our will. This path will require us to take more responsibilities and a far more active approach in our region; alternatively, we could become highly isolationist.
So what could relations among the BRICS’s empires look like? An important detail is their respective strengths in light of their locations and different strengths and weaknesses. Russia and China are likely to be the strongest of the five empires, for historical, economic and military reasons, however Brazil and South Africa are on their own continents and so they will mainly act with the others in colonial or local sphere of influence events, as well as being distant from RIC, where their powers have a home advantage. India is in a more interesting situation since it sits on the opposite side of China compared to Russia and is in a very good position to cut of China’s sea routes to Africa and Europe, especially the Malacca strait, which India has looked into. While on its own, China could easily overpower or bully India into submission, Russia could be very interested in an alliance to contain China. These sorts of power plays would be quite common, the more empires there are, the more common, and complex they become. This is where Australia could affect the world stage in a substantial way, leveraging our strengths for or against one side, acting as a lynchpin of some plan or other or even as deal breakers or makers.