And here I answer a comment in the long form, because I think it deserves a longer and more general answer than would fit in just the comment post:
To fill in some background first for those who aren’t regular or long-term readers, the thing that is particularly important to point out, here, is that by human standards the Imperials in general and the eldrae in particular are sociopathically disinterested in the consequences of their actions.
Okay, that’s not strictly true, since they have a very great care for consequences which might impinge on someone’s life, liberty, property (which includes concrete externalities), or the obligation of contracts, but as far as consequences which are mediated through someone else’s volition go – well, there’s a P. J. O’Rourke quotation I’ve always liked: “One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it’s remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver’s license.”, and as very strong believers in free will and valxijir, the Imperials are very, very good at owning their own actions and their own mistakes. But they’re also equally good at the implied corollary, which is that other people’s actions and mistakes are their responsibility.
And so, to put it the way they would, arrogance included, “when you decide to throw a planet-wide riot or found a religion when you saw the lighthugger scout backing down into your system, hey, no-one made you do it, right?”
“And sophs have an unalienable right to life (and hence to self-defense), to property, and via liberty to freedom of information and freedom of contract, so if your people are willing to defy your laws to buy immortagens, weapons, and smuggled goods, conceal their money by taking advantage of banking privacy and nomomachy services, and get hold of all kinds of information, dangerous or “dangerous”, that you’d prefer they not have, well, then, that’s their right according to us, and we can’t ethically do anything to stop them. Or anyone who helps them. And if your society is so badly constructed that letting people not die, bear arms, hold on to their rightful earnings and know things makes it fall over, then your society sucks, and it almost certainly deserved what just happened to it. Do better next time.”
“And we don’t, by and large, sell technologies to people obviously just off the cackling-evil bus, but the inventor of the match isn’t responsible for arson, any more than the inventor of the gun is responsible for where the bullets end up, or the inventor of the drug is responsible for the addict. We invented nanotechnology, and ubiquitous law enforcement, and noetics, and applied memetics, and any dozen other technologies you care to name to put them to use in benign, responsible, rational ways, and that’s how we advertise them. It is in no way our fault or responsibility if y’all let a bunch of idiot jackasses who got their application concepts from dystopian fiction reverse-engineer them and do horrible things to you with them. We don’t have to stuff the fire back into the bottle and go back to shitting in the woods just because we’re surrounded by morons, thugs, and moronic thugs.”
“And finally, when it comes to ‘cultural imperialism’ – and for that matter the spread of dissent and subversion and revolutionary ideals – it’s definitely not our fault if your people find libertism-technepraxism and its wacky cultural corollaries preferable to whatever they had before. It’s evolution in action, sweethearts; if you can’t make your culture more appealing, at least try to sell the product better. But it’s not our job to hide, or be worse, just so you don’t look so bad.”
“You have the same free will we do. We got our shit together, and we, unlike you, had no example of how. Go and do likewise.”
And, yes – and the foreign policy that it and their strict internal laissez-faire implies – this creates pretty much the blowback you might imagine it would from people who like a little archy with their nutritious breakfast.
“The path between over-regulated societies, and the Empire’s style of enlightened libertarianism (which requires, as they themselves admit, properly sane smart and enlightened citizens), is a rocky and potentially unbridgeable one. Somalian style warlording chaos is not out of the question. Does the Empire then move in to help restore public safety and trade routes when that happens? And if so, how do they deal with the blowback from the other major powers?“
So, to narrow in to the specific, they would acknowledge that their laissez-faire, not respecting what they see as illegitimate law, openness, etc., etc., does tend to be, ah, corrosive to more regulated societies, with consequences that tend to break them in one way or another – even for values of “another” equal to “completely”, Somalia-style ungentlemanly anarchy included – but, as the above suggests, they certainly wouldn’t acknowledge any responsibility for it. You broke it, it’s yours, you fix it, in other words.
(Although it’s by no means universal – a lot of polities see what’s coming and, acknowledging the problem, try adapting to at least the necessary chunks of the Imperial Way of Life, on the grounds that it’s better to be inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in, and some try and split the difference, in an analogy to the Chinese economic-freedom-without-political-freedom approach, with varying degrees of success. The Empire actually contains a number of companies that specialize in helping polities do this, “sociocultural uplift consultants” and the like, as while “Obviously everyone wants to be wild, rich, and largely tax free, just like us!” isn’t any kind of policy, it’s still very widely believed.)
So there’s no moving in to “restore public safety” or any such thing – “nation-building” has never been in style, and old-fashioned imperialism went out of it once they’d unified their homeworld – it just gets left alone. Protecting trade routes, that happens, but really just in the sense of a step-up in the intensity of the IN’s regular anti-piracy patrols, which is routine enough not to be complaintworthy; and if there’s a need to trade with someone in the broken area, it’s usually left up to the traders in question to hire as many of UARC’s finest mercenaries as they feel they need for their personal security.
Regarding such blowback as is caused, though, and such as is caused directly by the issues above rather than the response to them, it breaks down something like this:
When it comes to the other acknowledged Great Powers, which maps pretty well onto “the other members of the Presidium”, there’s usually not too much of a problem. The Photonic Network is a very solid ally, there, because they aren’t too bothered about organic internal affairs anyway, and since they are the other accepted polity that takes the same position as the Empire on digital slavery (“never acceptable, ever, not even a little”), they’re a pretty reliable voting bloc. The League of Meridian and the other two probably wouldn’t mind sticking it to the Imperials over these issues, at least sometimes, but there, it’s mutually assured destruction. All the Presidium powers have a good grasp on where the other guys’ bodies are buried, and understand that it really doesn’t pay them to start an open conflict over someone’s points of fundamental principle.
Especially because if they’re looking for someone willing to set fire to the Galaxy over a point of principle, they know exactly where to look.
The Voniensa Republic, which isn’t a member of the Accord but does count as a Great Power by sheer size and weight of metal, already hates them about as much as it’s possible for them to hate anything, because as a good Federation-expy, the Vonnies regard the Imperials as a horrid, horrid example of Everything That Is Wrong With The Galaxy, Especially In Re Ethics, Economics, Science, Misapplied Technology and Decadence all wrapped up into one neat package with a bow on top. So they don’t care about any blowback from that direction, since they can’t possibly make it any worse.
As for the rest of the Accord – well, there, it’s the time-honored “carrot and stick” strategy. The carrot isn’t all money – the Imperials, after all, are nice people in person, and always willing to make a deal, and even those legionaries in their power suits are Your Friends, inasmuch as if there’s a big earthquake on your planet while the patrol is in-system, they’ll call you and offer to be down there shifting rubble off people and cleaning up toxic spills before it even occurs to you to consider asking them. But a lot of it is money; getting into a big conflict with the Empire is a bad idea simply because they’re a big part of the galactic economy and financial system, and a major exporter of capital to boot. It’s like trying to economically sanction the US or China, for most countries; you may be able to hurt them, but you’ll hurt yourself worse trying.
(Plus, on a corporate level and on the stick end of things, Ring Dynamics owns and leases a frighteningly large part of the extra-Imperial interstellar transportation infrastructure, Bright Shadow owns and operates a similarly large part of the extranet, and so forth. While in both theory and practice the Imperial Couple’s powers to make them do anything hostile extend to asking nicely, there’s absolutely no penalty attached to them saying no, and in any case they are utterly devoted to the obligations of their contracts, in practice (a) there’s a decent overlap between things you could do against the Empire and things you could do that would annoy its corporations, and (b) polities with more high-regulation governments don’t really grok that, and since they’re going to have the notion anyway, the Imperials don’t mind playing on it…)
And finally the stick, most applicable, they would say, to non-governmental blowback, which is just the traditional Big Stick. They do, despite all those things they “regret they cannot stop”, work pretty hard on the hearts-and-minds, being loved part of being feared and loved, but they hardly neglect the feared part, either. While they don’t have to make many examples, they also make no secret of the fact that unlike us, they Never Leave Anyone Behind, practice Disproportionate Retribution, and so on and so forth. They’ve got a good record for not engaging in offensive wars or otherwise starting trouble, but their record for finishing trouble – and anyone who overtly or implicitly supported trouble, and anyone who let trouble hide behind them, and so forth – is equally impressive, and that’s the one that turns a lot of bowels to water at the thought of Starting Something, and indeed positively encourages a lot of governments to round up assorted terrorists and the like and hand them over preemptively just in case they find themselves The People Hiding Trouble the next time the Imperials pull Caliéne Sargas off the beach and tell her to go shoot it.
The Imperials have few worries about blowback because:
1. Strangers can’t walk into their territory without being scanned.
2. Their technology is “failsafe” enough that a minimally trained immigrant can’t use a common device to cause thousands of permanent deaths (cf 9/11).
3. The population is tolerant of killing innocents by the millions in the course of maintaining the Imperial reputation.
#1 pretty much requires a science fiction setting. #2 also requires one, this time on the upslope of the singularity. #3 happens often in real life, but rarely in conjunction with a pleasant domestic government.
1 is mostly true, so far as identity is concerned. The systems aren’t perfect, and the coverage isn’t total, but getting around them tends to require either a high degree of technical competence, or the willingness to stay in the deep wilderness – or preferably both. (As far as other scanning goes – there’s not much you could bring with you that you couldn’t just buy over the counter, anyway.)
2. Is also sort of true, given the increase in technological sophistication, although also it is worth noting the tendency of their technology to be designed to assume that you know what you’re doing if you tell it so loudly enough. And Jon’s Law and its corollaries are very much in effect regarding the doomly potential of everything from the spacegoing equivalent of a VW Microbus upwards. The only reason this isn’t a major problem is because every polity agrees entirely with what will happen to anyone who takes the lid off that box.
3. That depends on what the meaning of “innocents” is.
By their own lights, they are exquisitely scrupulous about not killing innocents, with great care and surgical precision.
They would, however, go so far as to point out that if you hide the bad guys, you’re not innocents, you’re accessories. If you support the government that supports the bad guys, you’re still accessories. If you control that government – and here’s where it sucks in particular to be a democracy; fortunately democracies are a bit less likely to indulge in this sort of crap – then you gave the ultimate orders, and are very definitely responsible. (If you happen to live under an autocracy of some sort and would appear to the reasonable bystander to be some sort of dupe, for example, you may just wake up one morning to find that all the facilities belonging to your former government have turned into craters overnight and you now have a chance to build a saner society; of course, as they would point out, if you instead take the opportunity to do Bad Things to each other, that’s really your free choice, now isn’t it?)
And if you throw a big old street party and scream “Death to the Impies!” after something equivalent to 9/11, say, then the Imperial Navy thanks you for painting yourselves with the “enemy” target designation and simplifying their firing solutions immensely, and something within delta of no-one back home will consider y’all innocents after voluntarily associating yourselves with Those People Who Did That.
In short, the Imperial civilian population is intolerant of killing innocents. They just have a higher standard of innocence.
The “Burning of Litath” series did not end with the Navy picking up unharmed, newly orphaned infants from the rubble. It was pretty strongly implied that dependents in the area were also dead. So “innocents” by Imperial standard doesn’t seem to include preverbal children with bad luck in parents.
To an extent, that’s fair, but a couple of points. Remember, Litash was essentially Space Tortuga – an entire colony whose business model centered around hosting and servicing piracy. Not exactly a family-friendly environment (even the people who are willing to live there to do business don’t exactly want to raise their children where all the brutal space-thugs take their shore leave, for which read boozing, whoring, and fighting – and while the middle one produced a lot of bastards in the historical Tortuga, that was pre-contraception), or one filled with lots of family types, for that matter. This demographic quirk is among the things that made it a suitable target for the stranglet bomb; unlike, say, a regular colony world with a single port that hosted that type of activity.
But there undoubtedly were some, yes. Regarding which, though, keeping children in Pirate Central is pretty much isomorphic to the human shield/hostage case in which people build their military bases in the middle of civilian areas, hide missiles in schools, transport military supplies on the same train as refugees, etc., etc. – and in which case, standing procedure is to shoot the hostage, because to do anything else only encourages people to do this sort of thing more often by showing that it works, and the moral responsibility for the consequences is on the people who put the “hostages” in harm’s way.
(Usual follow-up procedure is to execute anyone you catch afterward who ordered this sort of co-location, but that’s not relevant in this case because it’s not like you can make quark shrapnel any deader that it already is.)
So, in short, there was certainly some collateral damage, yes, but I don’t think they exceeded their budget on this one.