The wars to maintain world dominance have always been special; something unlike more local wars. World dominance for the holder has always been of such importance that any sacrifice of humans or property has been, as they see it, worth the losses. The we I refer to are the leaders of the world at any one time. Foreign policy has always played second place to domestic and has allowed leaders of government, banks, and major industry, to follow policies abroad outside the scope of public opinion…. Until perhaps today.
And when historians examine each past struggle to control the whole world they tend to separate them by time. Compared to domestic affairs overseas policies have been carried out in the main outside the gaze of public opinion. It is my argument that the struggles for global dominance are something special by itself. So far to date, which ever Nation in the ascendancy has been willing to sacrifice its own peoples on a huge scale in order to maintain its world power. And in the last 70 years, the Americans have been willing to lay countries that don’t conform to waste …. To destroy developments that had been previously underway. Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya are some recent examples.
The Cold War against the USSR
Between 1948 and 1991 The USA versus USSR Cold War blew across the globe. At the time few people questioned its utility. Like so much else this cold war was accepted, almost as a fact of nature. Yet it almost did not occur. If President Roosevelt had not suddenly died in 1945 The USA might well have co-operated with the USSR. If’s in history are not very useful, Roosevelt did die and the new incumbents to the USA Presidency, including the two Dulles brothers head of the CIA and the Department of State instituted a policy in the USA that had very far reaching consequences.
The Left movement in the USA was eviscerated. A constant USA foreign policy antagonism to any government which had the suggestion of the Left was put into play. Left leaning leaders in Africa, Latin America and Asia were assassinated; governments were undermined. Complex and often hidden policies were created by the CIA to destroy anything which breathe socialism were put into place. All this has been well documented.
The point is a simple one, the struggle for world power, had been established by the USA after 1945. The USA was determined that the future was theirs and theirs alone.
The struggle for World Power from 1750s to 1914
We should not be surprised about this. The struggle for world power had by 1945 been going on for at least 150 years, and if we look carefully for around 200 years. Before what historians call the modern period, no power had ever had the technology to cover the whole world. Even the oldest great empires of the past had covered only a relatively small section of the world. By the time American settlers threw out the British from the East Coast of what is now North America the struggle for world dominance had begun.
The period from 1750s to 1815 is replete with wars, in Europe in particular. These included the French Revolution and Napoleon’s attempts to unify the entire land of East and West Europe. The eventual outcome was as everyone knows the dominance of Britain and the subservience of France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands. Britain held on to World Power until 1914.
Again, everyone knows that Britain was challenged by Germany in 1914. The struggle continued as Britain with the support of France and the USA, attempted to demote Germany to vassal status over the following 30 years. The story of this struggle over the 30 years has been told endlessly, but always or nearly always to maintain the “Great” status of Britain. Rarely in terms of war to maintain global dominance.
Britain was willing to sacrifice everything, in particular its own people to maintain its world status. There were numerous opportunities that occurred over the years between 1914 and 1945 when the opportunity to make peace and create development was turned aside. BY 1945 it was clear that Britain had lost everything she had fought to achieve over the previous two centuries. The USA took over world power seamlessly in 1944, the British economy was broken.
The post-1945 period of global power
The USA then extended global power in its own image. She did away with Colonies and expected all countries to run their affairs in accord with rules she alone laid down. Any nation that failed in this respect, were punished through an array of organisations from the IMF, to invasion.
The USSR stood in the way of USA world dominance. The Russian revolution in 1917, had been one of the unexpected consequences of that war. And despite the fact that Stalin’s USSR was able to transform country and lead it into rapid growth despite all the manifold obstacles placed in the way, The USSR was understood as the chief enemy of the American people and society.
When the USSR unexpectedly collapsed in 1989, the USA stood supreme for a few years. And like dominant Nations of our period, she made no attempt to support the welfare of the people. Standards of living plummeted and much of the old USSR was broken up. So no one should have been surprised that a nationalist leadership took over Russia and standards of living began to rise again. The USA had had the opportunity to maintain its world power status long into the 21st century if she treated the old USSR humanely. The arrogance of world power once more hid the basic nature of that power to lead the world.
It is easy to argue ‘what if’. The USA’s treatment of the old USSR was in all of a single piece. The USA had set up a wide range of global institutions after 1944 to run the affairs of the world. Those countries that did not adhere were punished severely in many cases. The countries bordering the USA to its south, namely in what is termed Central America and including Mexico were treated particularly harshly if they moved policy outside the accepted political and economic parameters acceptable to the USA. Global power created many blind spots, particularly when leaders believed their own rhetoric which they gave out to their own people. Punishing miscreant countries and leaders rapidly became second nature. The USSR despite its size was no different to the El Salvador’s in this respect.
China and the final struggle for world domination
China snuck up on the USA when her attention was elsewhere. Chinas rapid growth had occurred despite the ups and downs of Chinese policies since 1949. China’s economy had been devasted since the first invasion in 1842. From being the world’s richest country, she had by 1949 just over 100 years later, become nearly the poorest peoples on earth. Under Mao Zedong, the new communist party of China began to turn the economy upside down once again. The Americans once again misunderstood China’s development, and assumed that she would move slowly too the model they had crated for themselves. The arrogance of dominance again drew the blinds over their eyes. China did not begin to move towards a capitalist system or a political democracy like the USA.
By the 2nd decade of the 21st century the American ruling elite, that group of people who ran the foreign policy began to wake up to the fact that China’s economy was overtaking the USA. As in the past those people running overseas policy was not directly the people who ruled over domestic affairs. Critical were the military and the huge companies who supply the military with weapons. Associated were the think tanks who were supplied with money from the weapon manufacturers and the military itself. Then the CIAs and the other 16 or so secret service organisations that carried out foreign policy. The ruling elite of the USA had run imperial policy since 1945, mainly outside the gaze of population.
On the whole the lesson of Vietnam had been learnt….. that long wars could only be run if large numbers of USA troop were not involved. It was this elite that has decided that China needed to be stopped. Party difference made little difference. It now appears that like Britain and the period of the 1914-45, the USA is about to test its world’s dominance of yet another period when it will test China’s to the absolute limit. Just as Britain could have co-operated with Germany in the years coming up to 1914, so today the USA could co-operate with China. It is easy to see how that would benefit everyone especially in a period global ecological disaster. But it seems that the USA is about to follow the arrogance of global power. and to put every thing on the table including their own position in the world.
A version of this essay first appeared at Wealth and Power.