in world affairs, the relative strength of leading countries will never remain unchanged, and all countries can not enjoy exactly equal benefits from economic, technological and social changes. Especially in the industrial age, successive wars have ruthlessly declared that countries that lack strong industrial infrastructure and economic resources to maintain the modern military machine will fail.
on February 10, 1906, the British navy ship “fearless” was launched, which triggered a dangerous arms race.
Henry Kissinger said in his famous “great diplomacy” that it seems that every century there will be a country with the power, will, wisdom and moral driving force to transform the whole international relations according to its own values. Since 1500, when the world entered the era of globalization and the trade center gradually shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, European countries have made use of their advantages in industrial technology, economy and political system to tirelessly explore the way to seek hegemony in this new era: from King Philip II of Spain to Cardinal Richelieu of France, British Prime Minister William Pitt and even their followers, such as gorchakov or ITO Bowen, clearly understand that economic development, overseas expansion and military conquest will become the three necessary pillars of building a great power.
not only that, the past rise and fall history tells us that in world affairs, the relative strength of leading countries will never remain unchanged, and all countries cannot enjoy exactly equal benefits from economic, technological and social changes. Especially in the industrial age, successive wars have ruthlessly declared that countries that lack strong industrial infrastructure and economic resources to maintain the modern military machine will fail.
in 1987, Paul, a famous historian at Yale University, launched the rise and fall of great powers, which is a far-reaching book. It vividly outlines the rise and fall curve of European powers from 1500 to the end of the 20th century: countries have obtained wealth from economic development and overseas expansion. However, at the same time, we must safeguard these sources of interests, deal with the international conflicts brought by the rise and fulfill the corresponding “great power obligations”. The final result is often ironic. The defense of these “interests” and “obligations” exhausted the accumulation of resources and wealth of large countries, and finally led to their decline. It doesn’t depend on the number of German countries that von Shangri von pointed out 300 years ago. Therefore, the policies of major powers in domestic and foreign affairs are like a set of extremely accurate linkage gears. As long as one of them fails, it will immediately lead to the shaking of the hegemony of the whole major power. In this dynamic background of change, although modern powers were born in Europe emphasizing “balance of power”, the international system established with this diplomatic concept is more and more fragile. The Westphalia System lasted 150 years, the Vienna conference international system lasted 100 years, and the Versailles system lasted only 20 years. The main reason for this turbulent global “era of great powers” is the European industrial revolution that began to take place in the middle of the 19th century. In the second half of the 20th century, Britain, Germany and the United States, three different types of new and old powers, maneuvered and performed the most magnificent scene in the history of the rise and fall of great powers.
Britain – the forerunner of global power
“in my opinion, spinning machines, railways, ships and telegrams, to some extent, mark that we are consistent with the universe; there must be a great God working among us, who is the God who creates and dominates everything.” In May 1851, when the first World Expo was held in London, British novelist Charles Kingsley wrote these words in front of the magnificent Crystal Palace. The industrial revolution of
took off, making the national wealth and people’s consumption power of the UK continuously exceed the growth of the population. From 1801 to 1901, the average annual growth of the UK population was 1.26%, and finally reached 41.8 million from 10.5 million. However, the UK’s GDP increased by 14 times. The average real wage increased by 25% in the first half of the 19th century and 80% in the following half century. Due to the lack of forest resources in Britain, Britain adopted coal as the fuel in the era of industrial revolution. By 1870, the United Kingdom had consumed 100 million tons of coal, with the heat equivalent to 800 trillion calories. These amazing heat promoted the energy of 40 million horsepower steam engine, which is equivalent to about 40 million strong labor force working day and night in all corners of the British Empire. Mechanical power enables industry to achieve amazing growth without being subject to the limitations of human resources and the pressure of population growth.
in the year of the World Expo, Britain accounted for 23% of the total industrial output of Europe and 20% of the world commercial trade. Thus, William Stanley givens, a British classical economist, proudly said: “North America and Russia are our corn fields, Canada and the Baltic coast are our timber forests, Oceania is our pasture, Peru provides silver, South Africa provides gold, India and China grow tea for Britain, and the Mediterranean is our orchard.” Compared with Europe, the raw materials produced in other traditional agricultural areas are either plundered or consumed immediately by the huge production population. They are simply unable to generate enough surplus to realize industrialization or buy expensive and advanced war machines. This not only strengthened the leading firepower and mobility of the European powers in the colonial war, but also brought new changes to the balance of power between them: in the battle of ntuman in 1898, the British Egyptian coalition under the command of major general Herbert Kitchener destroyed 11000 Islamic dervists in one morning with markchin machine guns and Lee Enfield rifles, He only paid 48 casualties.
correspond to the industrial revolution, a “financial revolution” in banks and stock exchanges, which together constitute the two wheels on the chariot of Britain’s great powers. The direct tax system and higher tariffs implemented in Britain not only strengthened the savings capacity of the whole society, but also causedLarge reserves of wealth. With the establishment of the National Bank of England and the stock exchange, the government can use its strong loan credit to support the long-term war in the era of great powers. During the third anti French Alliance, Britain promised Russia and Austria an allowance of £ 1.75 million per 100000 people. At the same time, British goods poured into the European continent like a tide through smuggling, which made its total export soar from £ 21.7 million in 1796 to £ 44.4 million in 1816.
the government’s arms orders have more strongly stimulated the steel, coal, wood and cotton textile industries. Between 1793 and 1815, Britain received £ 1.217 billion from taxes and borrowed £ 440 million from the international financial market without harming its credit and balance of payments. The bill settlement, maritime insurance and war loan business brought by the long war have made London a new center of world financial transactions. By 1875, Britain’s annual output of £ 75 million not only received huge interest, but most of it was invested overseas again as investment, forming a spiral rise. Countries are increasingly accepting the gold standard and the balance of payments exchange relationship based on notes issued in London. As field marshal Prussia and general Auguste genesennau, who was famous in the battle of Leipzig, said: “Britain should thank this mob because of his ambition to make Britain greater, prosperous and strong.”
is different from HABs fortress Empire, France under the rule of Louis XIV or Napoleon. Britain’s great power hegemony maintains its existence in a new way. Mahan claimed in the theory of sea power that if a country’s position makes it neither forced to defend itself from the land, nor tempted by the expansion of territory from the land. Then this single marine goal makes it have some advantages over continental countries. Before 1860, Britain’s defense expenditure was strictly limited to about 3% of its gross national product, and the total number of Navy and army never exceeded 350000. However, the presence of British fleet masts at sea level anywhere in the world is enough to frighten local rulers from Guangzhou to Zanzibar. Tobago, French Guiana, Haiti and Java, which are particularly important economic or strategic landmarks, have been incorporated into the vast territory of the Empire one by one. When the Vienna conference was held in 1815, Britain had basically controlled the Indian subcontinent, and Santo Domingo, which had contributed 75% of the French colonial trade volume, became a British entrepot trade hub. In the next half century, the colonies of the British Empire were still increasing at the rate of 100000 square miles per year.
however, just when the power of the British Empire was at its peak, its decline was already doomed. Just as it mercilessly replaced Venice, Iberian Peninsula and the Netherlands, the lessons brought by the rise of Britain will be absorbed and used for reference by other latecomers, and will eventually make those land-based powers with more territory, population and resources surpass their imitators.
Germany and the United States — rising stars from humble beginnings
as in previous history, the challengers of British power hegemony are from those seemingly insignificant opponents. In 1835, de Tocqueville predicted in his famous “on American democracy” that this emerging country with an area of only 2.3 million square kilometers would, like Russia, “have been doomed by the will of God to control the fate of half the earth”. However, at the time of Tocqueville’s statement, few people were willing to believe it.