Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

I think, as you can see now in Africa, today and more so in the future countries will simply change their partners when one partner demands things which seem to be unbearable.

That is exactly why this phase in the Long Cycle has always been fairly tumultous ... its been a time when it is much easier for semi-peripheral countries to contemplate playing one core economy off against another, because the prevailing hegemon has lost much of its edge.

Just as, for example, the American colonies played the British and the French off against each other (though as it turned out to the greater eventual damage to the French government that was our ally than to the British government that was our adversary).

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Apr 28th, 2008 at 09:07:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
so can explain why this phase should come to an end? I know it is a bit easy to predict the future will just be the extrapolation of ongoing trends, but I can't see what should end this phase, except the diary becomes true, which I don't see as a likely outcome.

I'm not a fan of Hegelian automatism in history prediction, except their is a reason. Many historic phases have had 'cycles', which finally came to an end, so just pattern recognition really is not such a reason, if other parts of the historic situation are completely different.

Der Amerikaner ist die Orchidee unter den Menschen
Volker Pispers

by Martin (weiser.mensch(at)googlemail.com) on Mon Apr 28th, 2008 at 10:04:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because it would be such an incredible coincidence if two great powers were exactly evenly matched in the first place, and even more if they stayed exactly evenly matched for a long period.

  • Hegemonic wars start because different great powers, seeing the fading of the importance of what used to be dominant power resources, have different views of where they stand relative to the other great powers.
  • The hegemonic war settles which power resources really are the dominant combination.
  • Winning the hegemonic conflict puts the hegemon in a position to work on reforming the previous world order, normally in its interests, and that reinforces the hegemon's position.
  • But ongoing social and technological change ensures that no set of dominant power resources is permanent, so sooner or later the benefit of the power resources that lead to the dominance of the hegemon begins to fade.
  • It is one of those powers that are gaining under the new conditions that is most likely to pass the incumbent hegemonic power to become a new hegemon, but of course its always possible that the existing hegemon develops the power resources that end up being critical in the next cycle.

So like cycles in economics, its a standing wave ... not driven by exogenous shocks, or by some kind of interplay of ideal underlying forces, but a self-perpetuating dynamic system.

Its most closely associated with the rise of Europe (and then a former European settler colony) from LDC backwater status pre-1500 to world dominance. There is of course much dispute (that is much of the relevance in the fight over the dash and capitalization between world-system theory and World System Theory) whether that's an extension of an older pattern or a pattern that was launched in the second half of the previous millenium. For Wallerstein, it is a pattern that is typical of the European world-system, which grew from a region of the world in 1500 to nearly encompass the world by the 1800's, others have other views on that.

And it is certainly not seen as the only possible historical pattern ... for example, if a hegemon continues rising in power to the point that it establishes an Empire, then the dynamic of rival powers vying for their position in a system of state does not apply, and that would break the standing wave.

Indeed, one of the concerns of both world-system and World System theorists is how to disrupt the perpetuation of the pattern so that we can avoid having "the next" hegemonic war ... which in an age of nuclear and biological weapons is a terrible thing to contemplate.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Apr 28th, 2008 at 11:05:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
but not a determination.
I would say what makes the time pretty unique is, that
  • the most advanced economies have a demography which simply does not need nor sustains empire like expansion. The Romans wanted an empire in 0. Napoleon wanted it, the German Kaiser, Hitler, and Stalin wanted it, Dshingis Khan, the Ottoman califs,.... Most people in the current developed world don't.
  • distances in todays world still matter. A world hegemon is by far not a self evident outcome compared with more regional developments. The EU e.g. shows, that this has not to be violent. Sure the EU is unique in a sense up to now, but ASEAN or the AU perhaps take a similar direction. Long range transport of military equipment is very energy intensive, especially if it must be fast. (FAZ wrote last weekend, that inland water transport has an energy need proportional to speed^(3.5)) That's really nasty for oversea military operations.
  • the weapons you named make it nonsense to start open conflict. So far leaders have acted very reasonable.
  • there can be more than 2 parties, which cancel each other out. UK was not a hegemon in Europe in 1900. With a simple politics of balance of power - ally with the weaker - there is no need for a hegemon. Sure, this is not necessarily a long-term stable situation, but today there are so many international contracts, that I guess it is much more stable than ever before.
The outlined problem in the diary is resolved in a capitalistic system. You give the resource to the person who is paying the most. My personal guess is, that the European countries with their very low level of military spending as a share of GDP are doing exactly the right thing. There will be no serious war in the foreseeable future and the big armies some other countries have are just resource drags.

Der Amerikaner ist die Orchidee unter den Menschen
Volker Pispers
by Martin (weiser.mensch(at)googlemail.com) on Mon Apr 28th, 2008 at 11:39:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... China quite definitely cannot continue with its current political economy based on the resources of its region alone, so it must look to project influence abroad ...

... and hegemony is not empire. An "empire" could be a participant in a system of states, but if the entirety of a relevant arena of power conflict is within an Empire, like the Mediterranean world under Rome at its height, then that is not hegemony. Hegemony is something less than imperial power, but something more than equality.

... the UK could not be a hegemon in Europe in the 1900's because at the time Europe was part of a larger international system, and the UK nothing more than a medium power in that international system.

... more than two great powers is the situation of all of the hegemonic wars of the last 500 years, so the existence of more than two great powers does not seem to be a great consolation.

... on the other hand, the weapons of mass destruction could well be a game changer. In the end it is often observed by protagonists of hegemonic wars that few participants were winners ... by the time that the hegemonic war is well underway, all that many participants are hoping for is survival. If more political elites are more convinced at the outset that nobody will be the winner of a war, will it be possible to avoid the war?

I would have been more optimistic on this score before the Bush Residency. The US military industrial complex may be in the same position as the military establishment built up by Napoleon after he seized power in France, of being an unsustainable system that requires external wars of aggression in order to keep things running.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Apr 28th, 2008 at 11:58:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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