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No, Britain was never a hegemon comparable to the way the US is today.  Britain was one of the Great Powers of the European balance of power drama, and it ended up being the strongest of them for a while, but had the US not intervened on its behalf, Germany and/or Russia might well have bested it in the 20th century.  The shifting treaties between the states to try to maintain the balance had a lot to do with whether a world war developed out of a smaller conflict which were pretty much continuous throughout the period, unlike now. Also a factor was the presence of Napoleon, an actor who threatened to end the balance of power system and therefore encouraged all states to get involved to preserve it.
by santiago on Tue May 1st, 2012 at 09:28:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, Britain was never a hegemon comparable to the way the US is today.

Except for the fact that at the turn of the 19th century its navy was able to bomb the capitals of other countries which strayed out of line without fear of retaliation.

guaranteed to evoke a violent reaction from police is to challenge their right to "define the situation." --- David Graeber citing Marc Cooper

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue May 1st, 2012 at 09:59:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Regarding my question: so you agree with me on the primary significance of treaties in how likely a a proto-world-war was during the 1648-1919 period?

a smaller conflict which were pretty much continuous throughout the period, unlike now

Again, 1878 to 1912 was a pretty long time without direct conflict in Europe.

As for why the balance of powers situation was gone after WWI, methinks you ignore factors other than military reliance on US hegemony. The European Coal and Steel Union had direct significance by eliminating the surplus steel-producing capabilities which would have enabled the armament race seen in the peaceful decades prior to WWI, and created a political culture (and institutions for altercation between leaders) which eliminated the balance-of-powers system's supceptibility for diplomatic escalation. (And both of these were stated goals of the architects of the system.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 04:32:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I agree on the significance of treaties.  The question for the European Coal and Steel Union is whether it could ever have come to pass if not for the dominance of the US in Western Europe. I don't see how it would have.
by santiago on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 08:42:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 08:46:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because something like the Morgenthau Plan was much more likely, until the Americans decided they needed the Marshall Plan.

guaranteed to evoke a violent reaction from police is to challenge their right to "define the situation." --- David Graeber citing Marc Cooper
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 08:50:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Both the Morgenthau Plan and the Marshall Plan would have been expressions of US dominance, that's not a way to make a distinction. As for the hypothetical of the viability of an ECSU under the Morgenthau Plan: methinks the latter would have eliminated steel-making over-capacities, too, so an ECSU would likely have become obsolete. The Marshall Plan however worked towards re-viving those over-capacities.

In actual history, I think US hegemonic influence had less to do with the ECSU and a lot more to do with the failure of the second part of Monnet's plan, the defense comunity.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 09:03:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because without US dominance and the political and military re-organization of Europe against Russia instead of against each other, Europe would never have achieved the political unity required to come up with and ECSU, or eventually and EU. Power is the process of gaining cooperation in a group project instead of individual ones, and US has exercised that kind of power in Europe since WWII, and that's what allowed pan-European institutions to develop.  If the US were to recede from European military consideration, the EU would very quickly dissolve and countries would be killing each other again, like they have been for more than thousand of years before WWII.  
by santiago on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 01:42:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
without US dominance and the political and military re-organization of Europe against Russia instead of against each other, Europe would never have achieved the political unity required to come up with and ECSU

There is a logical error in your argument: the ECSU was the political and military re-organization of Europe away from each other. Furthermore, West Germany wasn't in NATO until 1955, while France wasn't a happy camper for long. (BTW, I found that de Gaulle was an initial opponent of the ECSU because he wasn't convinced of the government's argument that it will reduce US dependence.)

I can agree that NATO and the later re-armament of Germany were a military re-organization of Europe against the USSR, but that's a counter-force aganst the ECSU (increase, not decrease of military capacity). You would have a better argument if you claimed that US military presence fostered the demilitarisation of allies, but this doesn't apply to the late forties-early fifties.

For an example of US allies with a history of bilateral conflict who boost military capacity in absence of political rapprochemkent, see Greece/Cyprus and Turkey, who fought each other even under the US umbrella. No, it's not the US who keeps us from killing each other (and if we'll start again then I suspect it will be entirely our fault, whatever the level and nature of US presence at the time).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 02:17:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is also Argentina and Britain as examples of fighting among US military allies, or, more recently even, Peru and Ecuador in 1995. It's not that such fighting is impossible, but just much less and with much fewer causalities. Crime also exists within the United States, and a Civil War has even occurred. The point, however, is that military strategies for contesting power make much less sense in a hegemonic system than they do in a balance of power system, so it occurs less frequently.
by santiago on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 04:04:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, Britain was never a hegemon comparable to the way the US is today.  Britain was one of the Great Powers of the European balance of power drama, and it ended up being the strongest of them for a while, ...

So, in other words, it was a hegemon ... since hegemon means leading or paramount power ... but its hegemony is not comparable to the US's present hegemony.

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 Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 01:26:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Really, a hegemon means an entity that is stronger, by itself, than the rest of a system arrayed against it, and Britain was never that, either militarily or through any network of alliances.  Many argue that the US by that definition really isn't a hegemon either since it likely could not defend itself against the rest of the world arrayed against it. But it would be close.  The US really does expend more on its military than nearly the entire rest of the world combined, something unique in history.  The US Navy, for example, has more aircraft carriers than exist in the entire rest of world.  But more importantly, most of the rest of the major powers in the world are not military allies but organized completely within the US military and diplomatic infrastructure for projecting force worldwide.  This is a capability this is also truly unique in world history, so an analyst has to be careful about drawing conclusions from the experiences of other major world powers from the colonial age. We're on pretty new ground here, so we cannot really assume that globalization or any of the other things we see happening in other countries could even continue at all if the kind of governance resources the US brings to world affairs were to evaporate.
by santiago on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 01:51:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Really, a hegemon means an entity that is stronger, by itself, than the rest of a system arrayed against it ...

That is not the definition of a hegemon, which is a leading state that exercises power over subordinate states by the implied means of power rather than by direct use of force, so the question is whether that is necessary and sufficient to be a hegemonic power.

However, its clear that a power being stronger, by itself, than the rest of the system if arrayed against it is not a necessary condition to exercising such indirect rule ... and its not clear that its sufficient, since if the rest of the system were to be arrayed against it, that would make the exercise of indirect rule difficult or impossible.


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 Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 02:14:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think you're correct on the definition of hegemon, at least in the national security literature, but that's semantic point, regardless.  Your definition is what I mean by "dominant" which is what I am talking really talking about anyway, so I'll go with that.

Was Britain able to wield power over continental European affairs in 1900 in the same way the US is able to do so today, in Europe as well as in most of the rest of world?  I think the answer is clearly no, and largely because Britain's sphere of influence -- the sea -- was not as critical to continental Europe's prosperity as is the sea, air, space, intellectual property and many other institutional spaces in which the US is not only dominant but also the principal custodial authority today.

Could US power be reduced to Britain's ca. 1900 level, and thus make it vulnerable to attack, by military or non-violent means of contesting its dominance?  Yes, but we have to ask specifically how that might occur instead of just saying something like, "Look, China is really big and growing fast!"  Really, we have to ask whether globalization and all that it means today could really continue at anything like it is today if the US were to retire suddenly from world affairs and become like, say, France, or even Russia, instead.

by santiago on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 05:10:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
EMP and/or cyber attack would do it.

Chrish Cook has argued here that China has already defined US foreign policy wrt Iran.

In any case, experienced Kremlinologists are aware that US foreign policy is an odd amalgam of AIPAC, Saudi interests and MIC interests.

It's highly debatable whether 'US foreign policy' actually exists at all in the true imperial sense now.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 06:09:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
An empire is a polity, not a one-way dictatorship.  It is always possible for subjects to influence the policy decisions of the elite, so the fact that a country, whether it is China, or Israel, or anywhere else can influence the policy priorities of the Washington does not mean that the Washington is not the dominant power in the world. It just means that the elite respond strategically to events in real time, as they should.
by santiago on Thu May 3rd, 2012 at 12:39:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
China didn't just influence US policy, it vetoed it.

You don't veto an effective hegemon.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu May 3rd, 2012 at 03:54:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As I've argued elsewhere, empire is a probabilistic game, not a deterministic one.  The fact that you can sometimes contest power with a dominant rival at times does not invalidate the fact that the rival is, in fact, dominant.  As hockey coach Herb Brooks famously said to the US olympic hockey team before going on to beat the almighty Soviet team in 1980, "The Russians may beat us nine times out of ten because they are the best team in the world, but just not tonight."
by santiago on Thu May 3rd, 2012 at 01:12:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
santiago:
Really, we have to ask whether globalization and all that it means today could really continue at anything like it is today

and it needs a globocop hegemon to ensure that dubious point of pride?

sounds like a superbug, not a feature, except for halliburton.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 09:40:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, it needs a global cop to allow for trade, communications, migration, financing, and all kinds of transnational relationships to continue to happen that the high level they currently are.  

Here's how to test my hypothesis that the US is the de facto world government and that at least some dreadful things would occur without it: trade, commerce, financing, migration, and communication (modes of globalization activities) should be observed to occur among more different countries today than it was during the last wave of globalization around 1900 (or whenever it was) when international trade and commerce were comparable in scale to today. During the previous globalization period, we should be able to observe that more transnational relationships occurred within the commonwealths of the colonial empires, not between such empires.

by santiago on Thu May 3rd, 2012 at 12:47:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... in 1900 in the same way the US is able to do so today ...

What you are doing here is not defining hegemony in general and then looking at what is common to different systems with hegemonic powers and what is different, but rather defining hegemony as "the US in much of the world today", and then using similarity to test whether something is a hegemony or not.

I don't doubt that much national security literature adopts such a lazy and ahistorical definition of hegemony, but I don't see any reason why its more useful than the definitions of hegemony in world history and the social sciences.


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 Thu May 3rd, 2012 at 03:04:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the point of globalization, its not as if globalization is something that "the US does to the world" ~ its something that transnational corporations do to the world by winning their preferred policies.

On the one hand, if they are equally capable of winning their preferred policies in a different balance of power, then we still get the imposition of globalization.

On the other hand, since the policies are not sustainable, either physically or institutionally, over the long term, then over the long term one way or another they will break down, and its an open question the extent to which US hegemony survives, and in what form.

Regarding the meaning of the term hegemony, it does not apply to the original hegemons, Sparta in the Peloponnesian League, throughout their hegemony. And its not a practical test: far more critical in practice is the ability to dominate any combination of states which could be reasonably be expected to be arrayed against them.


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 Fri May 4th, 2012 at 09:05:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On the point of globalization, its not as if globalization is something that "the US does to the world" ~ its something that transnational corporations do to the world by winning their preferred policies.

Isn't it though?  That's really the question.  Could globalization actually have ever existed without US global domination? There is a falsifiable way of answering that question, if there is sufficient historical data.  If I'm right, an analysis of trade or other transnational relationships during the last globalization period of a century ago should show that more of the trade and relationships occurred within the spheres of influence of the various empires and less occurred between empires.  While today the relationships should be more spread out because its largely under one empire.

by santiago on Thu May 10th, 2012 at 10:14:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't have sufficient data, nor do I know if it has been colllected. But just to put some datapoints out there, far as I know Sweden (lacking significant colonies in the 19th century) had no problems trading within the colonial empires. And Norway had one of the largest merchant marines until the Great War (the representation of which was one of the points of disagreement during the Swedish-Norwegian union that led to its dissolvement).

I think we should also remember that the colonial powers not only divided the world into neat spheres of influence where they were free to suppress the natives, they also helped each other out in crushing rebellions. But again, I don't know if there is data on the trade to compare with todays.

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by A swedish kind of death on Sun May 13th, 2012 at 06:46:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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