Faculty Publications

Historical Lessons To Extend America's Great Power Tenure

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World Affairs





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The United States has three blueprints from previous hegemons for how (and how not) to respond to challengers: The Spanish I (1621-40) response of punishment everywhere. Philip IV and his deputy, Olivares, engaged in total warfare against the Dutch, the French, and the English, as well as against the Ottomans and the Swedes, on several fronts and often simultaneously. Prolonged and excessive spending eroded Spain's fiscal strength and, ultimately, its military power, and the stress from the search for new sources of revenue contributed to revolts in Catalonia and Portugal in 1640. The British II (1932-39) response of cooperation everywhere. Chamberlain and his supporters moderated the ascents of Germany, Japan, and Italy through economic concessions, arms limitation agreements, and territorial agreements. As a result, Britain's military, industrial, and economic preparations for war were delayed. In addition, the challengers' reneging on or not renewing arms control agreements meant that Britain's military capability was insufficient to defend its global commitments. The British I (1889-1912) response of selective engagement. Britain cooperated with the United States, France (after 1904), and Japan through devolving leadership, extending loans, reducing protectionism, and assisting in their naval ascents, and it punished imperial Germany, France (until 1904), and Russia through naval building programs, tariffs, and preferential trading arrangements. This strategy ensured that London had ample fiscal and military capability to be a leading player in the great power game. So what are the lessons of history for perpetuating U.S. predominance? The good news is that Washington is now less likely to select the British II option of cooperation everywhere, which could endanger America's national security. The bad news is that Washington could select the neo-imperial Spanish I path of punishment everywhere (that is, in Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria, China, Libya, and Saudi Arabia), which could erode America's economic staying power.


Department of Political Science

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