Five hundred years ago, with the combination of the steerable sail and a powerful rudder, several countries of Europe — Portugal, Spain, Holland, France, Denmark, Germany and Britain — crossed oceans . . . with a great deal more efficiency than the Vikings had done 500 years previously, but with similar ruthless self-interest, exploited country after country all over the world.
Meanwhile, stimulated by the militarism of Europe, Japan and Russia tried it on just before and after the Second World War respectively but were both beaten back — albeit by different methods — militarily and economically — by a fast-rising, immensely more powerful nation. Although America became by far the strongest military power on earth, its very origins had already inoculated it against ever becoming a colonising power itself, but it became a close-run thing when planting military bases all over the world and interfering with many governments from then onwards.
This, America has continued to do to this day, although economically its government is now fast losing its world-wide power, partially to the astonishing growth of China since the 1980s and partially to the equally astonishing growth of mammoth multinational corporations which are increasingly developing minds of their own.
Quite how this will all pan out in due course is a matter of great fascination and not a little speculation. It could be by the continuing rise of the multinationals forcing nation-states into becoming little more than local and regional authorities, or by the continuing rise of a handful of financial super-city-states, or by some internet-based unitary power manipulating a world-wide economy electronically or my own personal (but very long term) bet that we will revert to the sort of relatively small welfare-rich communities to which our genes had been adjusted for million of years.
In the last condition we would also revert to being dependent on solar energy again, though not indirectly as previously by hunter-gathering but directly with DNA-based methods making carbon-based materials and equipment of far greater variety and sophistication than our present mainly metals-based ones. So there we are.