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Britain's Peaceful Ceding of Global Dominance Was a "Shining Exception"



(p. A13) At Harvard, the scholar Graham Allison, with a research team, has studied the historical precedents for power transitions, and his findings are not encouraging. In almost every case, he discovered, conflict was the result. The perennial danger, he explained in "Destined for War," published earlier this year, is that the weakening greater power will force a confrontation with its growing rival in order to stem its own decline, as Athens did with Sparta in the Peloponnesian War. The results can be disastrous, as they were for Athens.

The shining exception to the pattern is the peaceful shift in global dominance between 1870 and 1945. Kori Schake, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, tackles this subject in "Safe Passage: The Transition From British to American Hegemony," a remarkable and timely chronicle--living history of the best sort.


. . .


In the 1840s, the two powers clashed over the Oregon Territory. Britain, though stronger militarily, accepted a compromise that endures to this day in the U.S.-Canadian border along the 49th parallel. Then, during the Civil War, London resisted the temptation to halt the rise of a competitor-power by supporting the Confederacy--say, by breaking the Union blockade. Britain's reasoning, in this case, rested on the self-interested desire to maintain the integrity of the blockade weapon for its own use and, in part, on a growing abhorrence of slavery.

As a result of such decisions, a peaceful transition--a "safe passage"--became possible. Its core logic, in Ms. Schake's view, was a mutuality of ideological and geopolitical interests, a realistic grasp of shifting military and economic power, and a kind of political cross-pollination: The United States, to paraphrase Ms. Schake's formulation, became more imperial as Britain became more democratic.



For the full review, see:

Brendan Simms. "BOOKSHELF; Make Way for the New Boss; The world's dominant nation, as it weakens, often goes to war with its growing rival. In the 19th century, power transferred peaceably. Why?" The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 26, 2017, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: The 'Safe Passage' From British to American Hegemony; The world's dominant nation, as it weakens, often goes to war with its growing rival. In the 19th century, power transferred peaceably. Why?")


The book under review, is:

Schake, Kori. Safe Passage: The Transition from British to American Hegemony. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017.






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