SAFE PASSAGE: THE TRANSITION FROM BRITISH TO AMERICAN HEGEMONY
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SAFE PASSAGE: THE TRANSITION FROM BRITISH TO AMERICAN HEGEMONY
29 May @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
History records only one peaceful transition of hegemonic power: the passage from British to American dominance of the international order. What made that transition uniquely cooperative and nonviolent? Does it offer lessons to guide policy as the United States faces its own challengers – such as China – to the order it has enforced since the 1940s?
To answer these questions, Kori Schake will explore nine points of crisis or tension between Britain and the United States, from the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 to the establishment of the unequal “special relationship” during World War II. On the basis of his review of the book for the Wall Street Journal, Cambridge Professor and President of The Henry Jackson, Brendan Simms, will act as a discussant to Dr Schake’s thesis.
The Henry Jackson Society is delighted to invite you to an event with Kori Schake and Professor Brendan Simms for a discussion on her book on the transition from British to American hegemony.
Dr. Kori Schake is the Deputy Director-General of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. She is the author of Safe Passage: the Transition from British to American Hegemony (Harvard, 2017). She has worked for the National Security Council staff, the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, and both the military and civilian staffs in the Pentagon. In 2008 she was senior policy adviser on the McCain presidential campaign. Dr Schake taught Thinking About War at Stanford University, and also in the faculties of the United States Military Academy, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and the University of Maryland.
Professor Brendan Simms is the President of The Henry Jackson Society. He is also the Professor of the History of European International Relations, Department of Politics and International Studies, at the University of Cambridge. Prof Simms is a frequent contributor to print and broadsheet media. He has advised governments and parliaments, and spoken at Westminster, in the European parliament and at think-tanks in the United Kingdom, the United States and in many eurozone countries.
On the 29th of May the Henry Jackson Society had the pleasure of hosting Kori Schake, the Deputy Director-General at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the author of Safe Passage, and Professor Brendan Simms, the President of the Henry Jackson Society. Our esteemed guests led an engaging and enlightening discussion on Dr Schake’s book and the lessons that can be drawn from the transition from British to American hegemony. Dr Schake opened the floor by reflecting upon the reasons that led her to write the book, asserting that she had been drawn to the topic by the rise of China and by the worry that it cannot happen peacefully.
Dr Schake’s core argument was that the transition from British to American hegemony was able to occur peacefully due to a sense of sameness the two nations share. Now it is common to think that Great Britain and the US are so similar that a peaceful transition would have been natural. However, Dr Schake asserted that in the 19th century the two nations defined themselves in opposition to each other. The British were concerned that the rising US would be characterized by mob rule and enormous corruption while the US harboured a hostility spurred by its conflicts with Britain. Dr Schake defined nine events in the British-American history that were the turning points marking various stages of the transition.
The first point of inflection was the introduction of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. The bilateral agreement to prevent further colonization in the western hemisphere marked the beginning of the transition as the US began to challenge existing rules and allowed for the reassertion its influence in the region with the support of Britain. The second crucial event was the Oregon Boundary Crisis, whereby settling of the disputed reaffirmed that the US was ready and willing to challenge the British hegemony. The third inflection point occurred when Britain did not recognize the Confederacy during the American civil war, choosing to remain neutral and hoping that doing so would restrain the rise of the US.
The fourth crucial point was the process whereby in the 1870s Britain and the US had defined their national mythologies. America chose to be symbolized by Western expansion and the Manifest Destiny. Britain, on the other hand, emphasized peaceful democratization, stability and restrain, which paved the way for the sharing of global responsibility. The fifth point were the Venezuelan Debt Crises, where Britain chose to lesser its contestation of the US in order to avoid war and enabled the US to take on a greater role on the international stage. The sixth event of interest was the War with Spain which set a precedent for US interventions against oppressive governments and British support for such actions.
The seventh point of inflection was World War I, marking America becoming not only regional but also a European power. The eight point were the Washington Naval Treaties, where the US dictated the terms that did not take into consideration British interests. The final ninth point of inflection was World War II which demonstrated the clear signs that the international order became dominated by the US.
Dr Schake asserted that the reason that Britain increasingly subjected itself to the growing US hegemony was the creation of civil society backed by a sense of sameness and of the societies growing together. This is absent in the relations with China, hence if it continues to rise it can be expected that the transition would not be a peaceful one and lacking in political liberalization. Dr Schake warned that a transition to Chinese hegemony could create a macrocosm of their domestic space.
Prof Simms praised Safe Passage for a creative a narrative of living history, a history that illuminates and inspires rather than providing a ridged manual. He asserted that hegemony is not about direct dominance but about the power to set the rules. However, Prof Simms emphasized that China does not want to co-set the rules, it wants to impose their own rules upon the international system.
Dr Schake closed by reflecting upon the potential of European Union becoming a superpower. She asserted that while Macron’s policies are ambitious and she would encourage more European presence in the international arena, such as the European willingness to spend more for defence outside of NATO, Europe lacks a sense of sameness and it still remains very national in nature.
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