As other educators have clarified in detail the causal relationship between industrialization and economic colonialism, let’s start by looking at the distinction you make about the question of “empire.” An imperialist system of government is certainly interested in dominating a foreign nation for opening new trade markets and extracting resources. And it is also true that throughout history, technological advance with new materials and methods, as well as new production capabilities, have always driven exploration and conquest.
Yet, since the apex of the industrial revolution with the late nineteenth century’s perfection of large-scale steel manufacturing for railroads, naval vessels, and mechanized weaponry, the most advanced industrial states, like the UK, US, Japan, and Germany, began to pursue a more aggressive and militaristic agenda.
Beyond the traditional economic or religious justifications for colonialization, modern capabilities had given the global powers new might, extending the reach of their dominance further than had previously been feasible. The convergence of the new technological and productive know-how with the typical colonialist ideology of dehumanizing supremacism ushered in a new era of military-industrial imperialism that defined the global order until the end of World War II. In 1898, the United States defeated the old Spanish empire to take control of the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, allowing the American military to begin to establish its lingering presence in strategic regions of the world. Not unlike the British in India, China, and Southeast Asia, the muscular American imperialist policy was based in notions of a Christian “civilizing” mission bestowing democracy on a “backwards” people.
Even more overtly militaristic than the Americans was the Japanese Empire, whose rapidly advanced industrial capability emboldened the island nation to seize control of parts of China, Russia, and all of Korea. Meanwhile, the German industrial state fueled its imperialist expansion into China and Africa, and its technological and organizational advantages would lead to its menacing Europe in the runup to both the First and Second World Wars.