Thursday, May 3, 2012

Will America go the way of Great Britain?


I wanted to find something that illustrated the
granduer of Great Britain at her height.  I found
this and I couldn't resist.
Greetings Citizens!
A lot has been said of Americas decline, that our days as a world super power or numbered, or at best we will be a great nation admits other great nations.  Two analogies are often used to describe our decline, one Rome, the other Britain.  Rome remains a poor comparison because the vast majority of individuals have a very basic understanding of the Roman Empire.  They are unaware of the ever changing fortunes of the eternal city, it had been sacked numerous times by barbarians throughout its history, and Caesar was not the first powerful general to seize power.  The other comparison is more apt, at least on the surface, and that is the comparison to Great Britain.

An article by Straftor, a very good geo-political reporting company you should check up on, lays it out perfectly.  And it also helps differentiate why the United States will not go the way of Great Britain.  Great Britain was unique in that it was an island nation that was able to exert influence and control over vasts amounts of the globe.  Its unique position, an island, helped ensure that this would happen.  While Great Britain was a backwater amidst backwaters, we need to remember that Europe was indeed a backwater after the fall of Rome and up to the Renaissance, and few at the time would have guessed that Britain would become a super power.  The Renaissance, the rediscovery of Roman and Greek ideals, led to advances in European society, coupled with a desire for valuable and rare spices, created the impetus for them to discover the new world.  European nations began to venture out and stake claims on the rest of the New World. If anyone would have picked the a nation that would be a super power that would dominate the globe at the time; it would have been Spain. Their, the Spanish, former glory is clear when one considers that from the Rio Grande down to the Falkland’s those nations cultures are heavily influenced by their former Spanish overlords; however, the fact that Spain was attached to the mainland of Europe proved to be a hindrance. Spain squandered much of its wealth fighting continental wars that were not in its best interest, trying to hold territories in the Netherlands and the Italian peninsula. This created a need to spend vast amounts of treasure and its proximity to other European powers, Portugal and France, helped bleed away its advantage.
Britain, in contrast, did not have this problem; it had seas that protected it from its European neighbors.  It did not matter who was dominant at the moment in Europe, since it was protected by a potential rival by sea, and could make alliances with other European nations to contain any rival on the continent.  The other thing to consider is that any potential naval rival would have a difficult time containing Britain.  As an island, Britain was offered many avenues from which to access the sea and oceans, and few choke points that could be used against it. Contrast that with the rest of Europe were Britain itself acted as a choke point in Northern Europe, and Gibraltar, which Britain eventually controlled, acted as a choke point in the Mediterranean.  This meant that only the nations that had access to the Bay of Biscay or the Atlantic Ocean via the Spanish peninsula had any real possibility of rivaling Great Britain overseas.  Because of its special position it could spend less resources on maintaining its security in Europe, and more on dominating overseas.
Stratfor covers the economic and political structure of its empire. But one should play close attention to what it writes about for World War I.  The rise of Germany changed the equation, as unlike with France, Britain was unable to be as successful in containing the burgeoning power.  Moreover, World War I hurt Great Britain in two ways, one it never solved the German problem.  By German problem I mean its place in the world.  The nation of Germany was far more powerful, and less secure given its location, that it’s current status in European politics at the time should have dictated.  Strong nations in unfavorable conditions will act to remedy their situation.  This is why war broke out.  Germany sought to dominate Europe, either directly through Imperial control or indirectly through diplomatic means.  Britain saw this as unbearable; as a secure Germany would better be able to make moves overseas. And for many decades Germany had done just that by sending military and technical advisers to other nations, such as Cuba or Mexico.  Since the German problem was never solved, it ensured that another war would eventually break out between the two nations.  Secondly, it greatly injured Britain’s economic base and made it more difficult to maintain its empire; it is about this time we see the Commonwealth nations exert more independence in their affairs.  Now the breakup of the empire was not a sure thing, but it certainly weakened it.  WWII was what ended their empire.
Now a war with Germany alone mightn’t have brought about the end of British domination, however, two factors need to be taken into account. One was Germany’s ability to do something that had never been done in its history, effectively blockade the nation, though never fully.  Germany's U-boats wreaked havoc in the north Atlantic, which required Britain spend more resources to prevent a total blockade of its nation. If the German surface navy had been more capable of instituting a blockade, then the war may have gone very differently.  The other aspect to consider is the Japanese.  Since Britain was effectively cut off from its territories, these territories were largely left to by themselves, and could not offer as much aid to its mother country.  In WWI the commonwealth nations sent tens of thousands of its young men to aid Britain.  In WWII, while nations like Canada did send men. Nations such as Australia, or British forces in India, were consumed with fighting the Japanese.  This meant that the commonwealth nations relied much more on themselves for protection, or was often the case, throwing in their lot with the United States.
The final nail in the coffin was the United States.  Great Britain might have been able to salvage its empire, though admittedly doubtful, but for the actions of the United States.  Few of us realize that the lend lease act was what ensured Americas Navy would supersede Britain’s Navy permanently.  The US used the destroyers for bases agreement to effectively remove the only naval threat that existed in the Atlantic ocean.  The Pacific had already been an American domain since the end of the Spanish-American war, now the Atlantic was Americas as well. But how does this relate to the United States and its dominance?
Well there are a few key things to take out from my lengthy background post and the Stratfor article.  One, Great Britain is an island that depended on its overseas positions to help foster industrial growth, especially raw materials.  Two, Britain did not control the continent, and while using alliances and diplomacy to play the mainland European nations off each other worked well for nearly 300 years, once Germany confederated and became powerful enough, the alliances were not enough to prevent heavy British involvement it could no longer ignore the continent.  The United States is very different.  It is a powerful continental nation with peaceful neighbors to the north and south, though one day Stratfor thinks Mexico could become a geo-political rival with the United States.  It has abundant access to raw resources required for an industrially and technologically advanced nation.  It is virtually impossible to blockade the nation.  And the US still has firm control of its overseas basis that allows it to project force.

China, India, Russia, and Brazil will not rise up to significantly challenge the United States outside of each nation’s immediate sphere of influence for various reasons.  I will write more about each nation later, but Stratfor has articles on some of the nation’s global strategies (China, Russia)
Now I need to stress that power is relative, and that just because the US remains a world super power, it doesn’t necessarily mean everything will be honky dory for American citizens.  The Soviet Union was an incredibly poor nation; yet able to influence the global scene.  And the fact is, that the US could still have great influence around the world, yet see Americans quality of life still degrade. As long as key power structures remain in place for America it will remain a super power; hint its the Mississippi river, which acts as a natural highway system.  Along with our control of the western pacific and northern Atlantic through which are the axis along which global trade travels.  Unless the United States looses control of the Mississippi river or trade shifts from the Northern Pacific and Atlantic to say the Indian ocean, we will continue to have the means and wealth to exert enormous influence over the world.
 In fact, if things get worse at home it might instigate America to become more Machiavellian overseas.  America doesn’t have an empire, but we certainly execute hegemony.  The US is very much like the Roman republic, which often formed military and diplomatic alliances that forced other kingdoms and nations to defer their international actions to Rome, yet still retain their autonomy in internal politics.  The US effectively does this now with the various nations of Europe, Japan, and Korea.  Yes, these countries have their own military, and yes they make treaties with other nations, but it isn’t often that you see these nations take action that would be severely detrimental to the United States. In fact, many of these nations militaries would be completely ineffective without the support that the US military provdies.  If you need proof of this just look at Libya. The European intervention would not have happened without the United States. The US subtly, compared to previous hegemons and empires, moves the levers of power.

 If things get worse here at home, that might change.  As nations began to try an exert more autonomy in foreign affairs, which always happen when less powerful nations view a hegemon as weak, we might see the US use force more often to direct nations along paths that our government feels is beneficial to it. In fact, the actions by our federal government could cause the US to one day become very much like Imperial Rome. And while in the sort term it would bring wealth and stability to the American people and the world, in the end the collapse of an imperial system the size of America, and empires do eventually collapse, would wreak long term havoc on the global stage.

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Seattle resident whose real name is Kevin Daniels. This blog covers the following topics, libertarian philosophy, realpolitik, western culture, history and the pursuit of truth from the perspective of a libertarian traditionalist.