The period leading up to the commencement of World War I is an illustration of the tendency toward larger imperial units subordinating the smaller nation-states around the world. It took the cataclysmic clashes of empires of World War I to reinvigorate the competing tendency toward nationalism and self-standing independent nations. Sri Aurobindo provides numerous examples of the imperial trend and its momentum in the pre-war period:
“Korea had disappeared into the nascent Japanese empire on the mainland of Asia. Persian nationalism had succumbed and lay suppressed under a system of spheres of influence which were really a veiled protectorate, — and all experience shows that the beginning of a protectorate is also the beginning of the end of the protected nation; it is a euphemistic name for the first process of chewing previous to deglutition. Tibet and Siam were so weak and visibly declining that their continued immunity could not be hoped for. … The partition of all Asia between four or five or at the most six great empires seemed a foregone conclusion which nothing but an unexampled international convulsion could prevent. The European conquest of North Africa had practically been completed by the disappearance of Morocco, the confirmed English protectorate over Egypt and the Italian hold on Tripoli. … All the rest of Africa practically was the private property of three great Powers and two small ones.”
Europe had also been split into imperial blocs with great Powers jockeying for control of various segments such as the Balkans or the Germanic states.
“There remained America where imperialism had not yet arisen, but it was already emerging in the form of Rooseveltian Republicanism, and the interference in Mexico, hesitating as it was, yet pointed to the inevitability of a protectorate and a final absorption of the disorderly Central American republics; the union of South America would then have become a defensive necessity. it was only the stupendous cataclysm of the world war which interfered with the progressive march towards the division of the world into less than a dozen great empires.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 29, The Idea of a League of Nations, pp. 255-256